End of the Master Brand Strategy

Peter JonesDialogic Design, Innovation

Brandchannel announces that your Master Brand strategy is dead. Master Brands were so millennial anyway, long before Web 2.0 and UGC drove brand messaging up the wall with its po-mo Cluetrain messiness. As this notice issues from the famously inward-looking industry itself, we can assume the trend has been underway for some time. Here is the full paper (from Straightline).

For those who don’t work the consumer-facing side of marketing and design, the Master Brand concept was driven through the influence of giant marketing consultant Interbrand‘s strategy of establishing a mono-megalithic brand that subsumes other brands in a brand family relationship. Since corporate value accrues to the highest-level meaningful brand, the Master Brand presented a way to manage message, visual and corporate brand identity, brand creep – and it attempted to roll up consumer perception to the brand owner as much as possible. A proliferation of brands dilutes the corporate brand and reduces effectiveness, and increase choice complexity – so the Master Brand has its place.

Here’s a blurb:


Master brands and brand architecture are two of the many inward-focused notions that have come to define the world of branding. While these concepts heralded an important milestone, continued adherence to their principles may lead to branding’s downfall. Inflexible models and exclusive language inherent to these concepts are alienating branding’s most critical potential proponents, giving the impression that as branding practitioners, we have built artificial processes to justify higher fees for what otherwise would be considered “expensive marketing.” In this article, we will make the case that traditional brand jargon, brand architecture and its numerous flavors – such as Branded Houses, Houses of Brands, Endorsed Brands and Sub-brands under a Master Brand, and any other “branding” term that puts unnecessary conceptual distance between a business and its brand(s)—is ultimately detrimental to the discipline of branding. We will then provide an alternate view of brand system management that we feel is more relevant to the needs of businesses and the many stakeholders they serve.


Here’s where I really agree with their strategy and intent. They say: “However, to realize its operational and strategic potential, branding must evolve beyond its inaccessible jargon and artificial models to play a more dynamic, inclusive role that bridges connections between stakeholders and adequately represents management challenges and the cultural and motivational realities of the companies they serve.” This part sounds like a dialogic design problem space, and the paper goes on to show how they are encouraging a type of dialogue among various stakeholders, and not a consistent brand image.

I wonder if they have such a methodology for sufficiently engaging multiple, competing, disagreeing stakeholders to reach consensus on a common brand identity and plan? Something like our Dialogic SWOT Analysis?