Max Needs A Brand-Business Architecture Policy

One overlooked area in brand-business learning is the necessity for creating and implementing a brand-business architecture policy. Why is a brand-business architecture policy necessary? 

A brand-business architecture policy defines how the brand-businesses in your portfolio relate to each other. A brand-business architecture policy is an identity approach needed to define the roles of brand-businesses in the branded portfolio. Without a brand-business architecture policy, you risk creating redundancy or generating lack of customer interest.  Lack of a brand-business architecture policy can lead to competition within the portfolio. Rather than compete with actual competition, brand-businesses compete with each other. This is death-wish marketing.

Lack of a brand-business architecture policy appears to be evident in the comments recently reported in The Wall Street Journal. These comments described the streaming name change from HBO Max to Max. These comments can be interpreted to show how fraught a lack of a brand-business architecture policy can be for a portfolio.

Every brand-business has policies from legal to design to ethics to pricing. Some brand-businesses also have a policy on brand-business architecture: Is the brand-business a Hallmark brand, a solo brand-business, an extended brand, an endorsed brand-business or another identity?

There are the five basic brand architecture approaches:

  1. Hallmark brand-businesses use the corporate name with generic product/service labels, such as Lexus (NXHybrid, IS500, LSConvertible, etc.). A Hallmark stands for familiarity, quality, leadership and trust. 
  2. A Solo brand-business is when one product design has one relevant differentiated benefit. P&G promoted solo brands for decades without alerting customers to the corporate parent. Ivory, Crest and Tide became household staples. Mars did the same thing with Snickers, M&M’s, Starburst, Milky Way and Three Musketeers. 
  3. Extended brand-businesses have a relevant, differentiated benefit over multiple product designs. Brand extensions strengthen the conviction of the brand promise and increases customer share. Arm & Hammer has baking soda, toothpaste, deodorant/antiperspirant, laundry detergent, carpet/room deodorizers, liquid hand soap and cat litter. Today’s Tide has powder, liquid, Tide with bleach, Tide Pod, and many other extensions.
  4. Family branding has two types of approaches: Master and Endorsement

With a Master branding approach, there is a parent brand-business standing for origin, quality, leadership, trustworthiness and area of excellence of the brand-business family and an offspring brand-business(es) that stands for relevant differentiation of individual brand-business promises. Sometimes there is a three-level approach with parent, offspring indicating relevance and another level of brands that deliver differentiation. 

General Motors does three-level master brand architecture: for example, GM (parent), Buick (relevance), Enclave, Encore and Envision differentiated Buicks).  Kimberly-Clark created a Kleenex family: Kleenex, Huggies, Pull-Ups, Pull-Ups plus Training Pants. As for two levels of brands, Kraft Velveeta, Kraft Mac & Cheese and Kraft Philadelphia brand cream cheese are examples. 

Endorsement brand allows prominence for the product or service brand-business’ relevant differentiation. The parent brand acts as an endorser of authority, leadership, quality and area of excellence. Endorsement branding is used frequently in the hotel industry. For example, Hilton uses endorsement branding with Spark by Hilton, Tru by Hilton, and so forth.

Family branding is very flexible. Both Hilton and Marriott have families of brands. At both Hilton and Marriott,  there is a mixture of Master branding and Endorsement branding.  

Whichever Family brand approach is selected, one key element is that – just like every family – each offspring (brand-business) must share in the values of the parent (brand-business). 

5. Combination branding. Combination branding also has two versions: component and co-brand.

With component branding, there is a brand within a brand. This means a host brand gains an added benefit from the inclusion of another brand. An example is Pop-Tarts with Apple Jacks – Frosted Apple Cinnamon Apple Jacks® Pop-Tarts. Or Merrill Moab boots with GORE-TEX – Merrill Moab Speed Mid GORE-TEX Hiking boot. Or McDonald’s McFlurry with Oreos.

Co-branding means there is one brand with another brand. An example is Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card. Or, Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos. Or KFC Beyond Meat nuggets. With co-branding, both brands share the identification as the source of the brand-business promise.

In The Wall Street Journal article, the CMO of Warner Bros. Discovery’s (an example of a co-brand-business) direct-to-consumer business (aka streaming), gave a rationale for the deletion of the brand-business HBO from the HBO Max streaming service name. It would have been easy to let us know that Max is the parent brand-business of which HBO is an offspring with its own relevant differentiation. It would have been nice to know what Max promises and what HBO promises and what the offspring HBO shares with its parent. But, instead, the reasoning appeared to become opaque. Customers want transparent, not opaque.

In response to the interviewer’s question, “So HBO lives on underneath the Max name as a brand?” the CMO said we should think about the name change as a mosaic. He said, “The analogy I like to use is that of a mosaic. A mosaic has many tiles that – put together – have this bigger image. The new mosaic is under Max. Under that, one of the big tiles is HBO, but it’s not the only tile. We had to make room for Warner Bros theatrical, the Discovery shows, news and sports.”

OK. This could have been a clear Master brand-business approach to the portfolio. 

Here are the problems with this description from a brand-business-building perspective.

First, what does Max stand for in the eyes of the customer? Right now, there does not appear to be any articulation of what is Max? If Max is to be the parent brand, Max must be perceived as delivering origin, quality, leadership, trustworthiness and area of excellence of the brand-business. 

Second, what are the relevant differentiating benefits of HBO, Discovery and Warner Bros theatrical? They are “tiles.” But each tile in a mosaic has a shape and color. What do the individual brand-businesses deliver to the customer? How do all of these “tiles” help support the Max brand-business promise? The CMO tells us that marketing is all about making promises. What are these promises in the Warner Bros Discovery portfolio that make this portfolio relevantly differentiated?

Third, what is the role of Max relative to Warner Bros Discovery? Is Max the origin, quality, leadership, trustworthiness and area of excellence of the brand-business signifier? Or is the provenance Warner Bros Discovery?

These are important questions. These important questions need thoughtful and competitive answers. The queries about dropping the HBO name and making HBO an offspring brand are real and need proper answers. Customers recognize the HBO provenance in quality content. Max is what? Warner Bros has a provenance under which HBO could live comfortably. But, with either form of family branding, the parent brand-business must provide the authority that allows for trust. Which mosaic or parent provides this authority at Max?

Streaming services have been less interested in brand-business leadership because their focus is on new subscribers. The name of the brand-business is probably less important than the content-per-dollar attracting the numbers of viewers. But, if The Wall Street Journal data are correct, and viewers are cutting back on streaming services, then the authority of the brand-business will really matter as will the promises of the brand-businesses.

The current Max approach needs the clarification of the parent brand’s provenance and the relevant differentiation of the offspring. Additionally, there must be some relationship between the offspring brand-businesses and the Max parent brand-business. The offspring must share some of the values of the parent.

Having a parent brand that generates authority that is transferred to its offspring ensures customers know the trustworthiness of the offspring brand-business promises. This helps build bonds leading to brand-business loyalty. Loyal customers are less price sensitive and more willing to stick with their brand-businesses even, within reason, when prices rise. 

Until Warner Bros Discovery makes brand-business architecture a policy, Max may languish. Knowing that Residence Inn is backed by the authority, quality and trustworthiness of Marriott provides value for customers. Warner Bros Discovery needs to examine its portfolio and create a brand-business architecture policy that is clear, simple and makes sense to the customer.