Sibling Rivalry Applied to Portfolio Management

In my experience, one of the hardest challenges for marketers working within or overseeing a portfolio of brands in the same category is being truly comfortable making choices around differentiation. Typically, the internal team can quickly tell you that brand #1 is for “Healthy Heather,” who knows vitamins are critical, and that brand #2 is for “No-nonsense Nancy,” who seeks ingredients written in English with zero bells and whistles. But in execution, both brands try to be as big as possible by going after the same set of “I just need to put something in this category in my cart right now” shoppers. Despite design targets and brand pyramids that look differentiated, marketers remain reluctant to truly stand out because it presents the risk of turning off some consumers in the process.

In assessing these types of branding situations, one of the best corollaries can be observing how parents manage a “portfolio” of children. In my experience, most parents (and the children themselves) are quickly able to tell you the salient differences between siblings. And it makes complete sense. When I think about my own family, I naturally gravitate towards what distinguishes each of us – do you do the same? (It could be a middle child thing…) Observing these small scale portfolios from the outside, you can see how the core family values stretch across each child, as well as what makes each individual who they are. You can probably predict which disagreements are likely between children and rationalize why the parents would make choices differently for each.

This should be the same for sibling brands! If each brand can claim its own space, it will translate into broader reach and, ultimately, better business results. A good example can be found in today’s beer market, where small craft brands are joining mega-brewers. I believe there is nothing wrong with Budweiser poking fun at those who drink pumpkin peach ale, even though fellow ABInBev brand Elysian brews a pumpkin peach ale. Another, often cited example is the dissonance between Dove promoting “real beauty” and Axe promoting a version of life that is basically the opposite. This could easily be a real life brother and sister combination. And as a consumer, you definitely know which one is for you and which one is not. As long as each brand lives in accordance with the common, shared values of the “family,” they should be comfortable shouting from the rooftops (or through multi-million dollar ad budgets) who they are and what makes them the right choice for their target consumer.

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