Deciding between corporate and product brand

Frantic chatter ensued when Facebook announced a change in its corporate brand to Meta – not surprising for a company whose combined user base constitutes 40%+ of the human race.

The announcement also brought to fore the topic of corporate versus product brands, highlighting the fact that even a company with the might of Facebook had not tackled this issue until quite late in its journey.

More recently, beauty conglomerate, L’Oréal issued a full-page advertisement in the Time of India. The ad was not for a product, but for its corporate brand positioning, ‘Create the beauty that moves the world.’ This is another indication of how corporate brands have moved from being faceless corporations known only to investors and employees, to actively forging relationships with end consumers and potential employees.

L’oreal released this full page ad in the Times of India recently

As Lori Zeppel, Global Director of Marketing, Unilever Corporate Brand, said in this 2014 presentation, product brands are no longer enough.Consumers want to know more about the company behind the products they use.

Indian conglomerates have always veered towards the corporate brand route. The Tatas are the pioneers in this, branding everything from salt to steel with a monolithic brand, thus imbuing every product with the trust that only they command. 

While Reliance has used a monolithic approach to its corporate entities, from Reliance Consumer to Reliance Fresh and Reliance Digital, it introduced Jio as a separate brand – recognising that the personality and positioning of the Reliance umbrella brand would not serve Jio’s digital cause.

The Eponymous Brand Problem

As in Facebook’s case, many companies will be named after the single product they launch with.

As the company expands its portfolio, it often realises that the strong association with one product is limiting or risky. There are now three possible routes open to it:

  1. Keep the names the same, but try and pull apart the corporate and product brand through changes in visual identity and messaging
  2. Tweak the name of either the corporate brand or the product, but maintain a strong connection between them
  3. Change the name of the corporate brand to a completely different one. Two recent examples of this from the tech world are Google and Survey Monkey, who rebranded to Alphabet and Momentive respectively.

Facebook first tried Route 1, and then perhaps realising that its ‘metaverse’ ambitions would not be served by a brand so closely associated with a social networking app from 2004, went whole hog with Route 3.

Facebook corporate logo changes
Facebook changed its corporate brand in stages, first attempting a visual intervention, before moving to Meta

Closer home, Ray+Keshavan, an agency I was partner with, worked on a similar problem with Titan in 2013. Titan had started with watches, but had grown far beyond its first product, launching brands like Tanishq and Fast Track. However, perception, especially amongst potential employees, continued to be linked closely to watches.

Route 3, i.e., a completely new name, was deemed too risky. Instead we changed the name from Titan Industries Ltd to Titan Company, in order to better reflect the company’s new mission of creating ‘elevating lifestyle products and experiences.’ We also crafted a separate identity and personality for the corporate brand.

Titan corporate logo change
Titan launched a new identity to pull part the watch and corporate brand

A young gaming company, Dream 11, adopted a similar strategy recently, when they announced they would be called the Dream 11 Group, to separate the umbrella brand from the eponymous product brand.

Dream 11 group brand product brand
Dream 11 kept the same logo but added ‘Group’ to separate the corporate and product brands

A Reverse Branding Route

Although more rare, there are also instances when a corporation rebrands itself, to gain equity from its most popular product brand. We saw this recently with the rebrand of the Fosun Fashion Group, which owns the fashion label Lanvin. The group rebranded itself to the Lanvin Groupe, because according to chairman Joann Cheng. “In the past, as Fosun Fashion Group, we were not so easily recognised — but if you say Lanvin Group, it is immediately understood.”

Corporate taking product name Lanvin
Fosun Fashion rebranded to Lanvin Group, to be more recognisable

A Decision Framework

How to determine which route is right for you?

As with all branding, there are no absolute right and wrong answers. Follow a logical decision-making tree to arrive at the best solution you can, with the current information you have. Consider the pros and cons of each route before making a final decision.

In order to make this decision, I suggest you ask the following questions:

  1. Will my company only have one product, or is our plan/ambition to launch multiple products?
  2. If you may launch multiple products, then ask if those products will be part of a common suite, adjacent to each other and largely address the same target audience? If the answer to this is Yes, then you can follow a hybrid approach, where products are extensions of the master brand. Most software companies follow this path, as shown by the Freshworks example below.
  3. If however, you believe you are likely to launch multiple products for diverse audiences, then choose a separate name for your corporate brand.
Use this simple decision framework to clarify corporate vs product brand thinking
freshworks brand architecture
If your products are part of a suite or adjacent to each other, choose this route.

Pros & Cons

Here’s a quick look at the pros and cons of each route.

1. Company name and product name are the same

Pros: Only one brand to build, which means a more effective deployment of resources and quicker recall.

Cons: Danger of corporate brand being tied too closely to the product brand and vice versa. It is tricky to add new products and build association with the corporate brand.

2. Company name and product names are different

 Pros: Each brand can be nuanced separately. Even if the company name and product names are different, but there is one dominant consumer-facing brand, this route works. Think of One97 Communication which owns Paytm or FSN E-commerce which owns Nykaa. The problem is exacerbated when there are multiple, strong product brands.

Cons: Multiple brands require higher investment. There is also work required to create an association between product brands and corporate brand.

Functional vs Evocative Names

While picking a corporate brand name, ensure that you do not pick a functional name too closely linked to a product or industry. Rather, pick an evocative name that can serve as an umbrella brand for a diverse set of products.

The larger you grow, the more expensive and cumbersome it is to redo your naming strategy. Consider these brands that have had to change their names because it was too closely tied to a single product.

Functional vs evocative brands
Functional names can become irrelevant with business growth

Another exercise I recommend is imagining a newspaper headline after your company has been publicly listed. Does your corporate brand name sound right? Does it balance uniqueness and familiarity so it is sticky and easy to recall?

An Often-Missed Opportunity

Because financial success is so closely tied to product performance, most companies do not wake up to the importance of the corporate brand until quite late.

In doing so, they disregard their most important ingredient for success – talent. We need to do a deep dive on employer branding, but until then consider this:

You cannot create a company where the best people aspire to work, if you do not nurture your corporate brand. However, organisational structure will often comes in the way. Most often, HR is the custodian of the corporate/employer brand, but brand-building is not their strength. Marketing knows how to build brands, but is not incentivised to think about attracting talent.

A couple of days ago, I inadvertently set off a tweet storm, when I tweeted about receiving numerous calls from companies who ‘wanted an employer brand quickly.‘ Sidu Ponnapa, Senior Vice President, Internal Products, Go-Jek, summed up the situation thus:

“Some people think employer branding is a marketing department problem. Others think employer branding is a recruiting department problem. But it’s actually an identity problem. Which is a C*O department problem. Asking recruiting or marketing or both to ‘fix’ employer branding is the same as asking them to fix your culture.”

Sidu Ponnapa, Senior Vice President, Internal Products, Go-Jek

6 COMMENTS

  1. We have a legacy manufacturing business and we are separating digital component from it. Are rules the same? Or should other factors be considered?

  2. The Great Resignation has everyone running to build employee brands 🤣🤣 but there ain’t no shortcuts. As Sidu says, it’s a leadership thing.

  3. Loved this piece! Your take helped a lot. I was in a conundrum about naming and the identity of a new project. Read about this same school of thought in 22 Immutable Laws of Branding and Marketing. Thanks a lot!

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