When two brands are better than one

Branding gurus (like me) tend to lean toward creating one very strong and well positioned brand. Indeed, I once consulted with 3AM Labs, who had split their technology positioning between two brands – one for the end user and one for the IT professional who lived in fear of renegade end users. The synergy between a unified brand is almost always preferable to the inevitable brand confusion created by multiple public faces, and 3AM Labs made one brand out of two.

But one brand is not enough for Dell, and Dell is right.

Dell has long been about low cost computers. Their painfully well documented history has revolved around optimizing production in ways that reduced build expense, fatten margins while under price competitors. This was a great strategy for an industry that was by and large a commodity business.

But Dell ran into a problem with the segment of the PC market that wants more of everything. High-end PC buyers – radical gamers, power mad executives, those that wanted nothing but the newest and most expensive top-shelf PCs, people with money to spend on services – they were not shopping Dell first. Despite selling some mighty PCs, Dell was not the 1st thought in the minds of buyers of those machines.

So when Dell decided to launch a premium line of PCs, they did not want these machines to be perceived as Dells, which are perceived as inexpensive. Dell thus decided to launch these blazing boxes under a different brand.

What is the lesson for marketing pros in these two examples?

First, your brand communicates the value you deliver to the buyer. That’s why you spend so much time and money on building and refining a brand — because it becomes the all-encompassing statement about why people should buy from you.

Second, keeping one brand is a smart strategy if your different product lines share a mission, a value proposition, or compatibility. In the case of 3AM Labs, they were selling complimentary products to end users and the IT gurus who had to keep these same end users from creating IT havoc and security problems. Better to give the world a single view about how your products interact than to have users and IT guys think you offer incompatible solutions.

Third, if any product or line of business does not reinforce the central brand, it should have its own brand. BMW’s brand is summarized in their slogan, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Do you think the cute and petite Mini Cooper is an Ultimate Driving Machine? Of course not, but it is still a BMW product. This incompatibility of product line and brand is why Mini’s have their own brand – so they can avoid polluting the BMW brand, and so the BMW brand does not turn away buyers who are looking for the qualities found in Mini Coopers.

Dell has chosen wisely. Now, if only HP would catch on . . .


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