The CDO of a multi-brand firm is debating whether to have "a unified digital presence (website, social media) for all brands or separate sites for each brand?" Is it future-proof? The more general question is what their multi-brand digital strategy is. In this post, we will attempt to review the numerous engagement models and associated digital models that have been popular, as well as their relevance to diverse scenarios using examples.
"There is no single best solution." However, there is a logical, user-centric method to developing this strategy."
It is determined by how many (digital) faces the company wishes to display to its consumers and partners. These are defined by the interaction model(s) used by businesses, which are commonly known as the B2C, B2B, B2B2C, and (B2)C2C models. A connected strategy analysis is typically a good starting point for determining such offerings, but it is a topic for another discussion.
It also depends on where the firm is in its journey toward digital maturity. Is it merely brochureware (informational site) or can consumers and partners transact on the digital properties? At the highest degree of maturity, the solution might be an integrated B2B2C platform that weaves customer, employee, and partner needs into seamless journeys, creating a sticky ecosystem that propels digital revenues to the next level. Let us begin with the two obvious types of B2C instances at the opposite extremes of the spectrum: isolated vs. shared.
Take, for example, Lexus.com and Toyota.com. Despite the fact that they are owned by the same business, both brands (and, by extension, their digital presence) go to considerable measures to minimize cross-contamination in order to protect Lexus' premium experience and image. That's all there is to it.
The user segments are radically different in this isolated experience, despite the fact that the brand is the same. The B2C site for Autozone.com is substantially different from the B2B site for auto repair shops, autozonepro.com. Similarly, the B2C site for Nike.com is a totally different experience than the B2B site for Nike.net, which is password-protected. It's a simple choice to separate B2C and B2B experiences because catalog, price, promotion, checkout, and customer support are all extremely different. However, if the end goal is a mature B2B2C ecosystem, the initial design decisions should not preclude the eventual integration of experiences. (We'll go over this again.)
By providing a single face, this strategy, on the other hand, utilizes many brands to produce a flywheel effect. Consider the domains gap.com, oldnavy.com, and bananarepublic.com, which all refer to a single digital presence that leverages brand synergy to deliver a broader selection of products with a unified cart and checkout in one simpler experience. It maintains the vast possibilities for cross-sell/up-sell, pricing, and promotions across brands, particularly those that use a family or umbrella branding strategy.
One advantage of a unified presence is that it combines the SEO leverage of several companies. For example, if a consumer searches Google for "shirt," having the result refer to this one site for all brands is considerably more convenient and cost-effective than having each of the family brands compete for this SEO.
The above examples demonstrate the importance of placing the consumer at the center of all we seek to achieve. Customer experience should define which of the following digital entities can and cannot be shared between brands: Catalog (and Inventory), Content, Cart (Session), Orders, Customer Profiles, Pricing, Promotions, and Customer Support are all examples of web services. This also gives us the first clue(s) about how to organize the digital presence (website, social media). To elaborate, there is a range of options between these two extremes, which we will attempt to detail below.
Let's take a short look at the various models for organizing multi-brand digital footprints. (in addition to the two previously listed extremes)
All brands in this model are dependent on the primary domain. Collections and functional services such as customizations, on the other hand, are assigned to other sub-branded portions of the sites. Nike.com is a fantastic example, with its Nike by you, Jordan, and NikeLab sections. This is also a common method for organizing seasonal promotions such as back-to-school or a special launch event, among other things. The benefit of this arrangement is that SEO and site search can be shared totally. One disadvantage is that they are usually handled as a single site, resulting in mutual dependencies and regression testing. This can be minimized by properly segregating a) content management procedures and b) source code management/DevOps pipelines to guarantee minimum cross-dependencies.
(Affiliated sites are distinct from affiliate sites that bring visitors to amazon.com or another large site in exchange for a commission in an affiliate relationship.)
When the product lines are completely diverse and do not (usually) share the same client base, it is preferable to employ this strategy, in which each brand/product line gets their own secondary domain. Turbotax and Quickbooks are good examples because they share a major domain but are fundamentally different sites that can be operated independently unless they share the codebase and infrastructure. With this secondary domain strategy, intuit cleverly combines SEO benefits to its parent domain.
Multinational corporations have an intriguing challenge. They usually sell many brands in different countries. The funding for these websites is provided by the various P&L owners, who are often solely concerned with their brand in their geographic area. They frequently hire a local boutique to design a marketing site in time for a campaign they are launching since speed to market, adaptability, and understanding of local nuances are critical. Some of these webpages were built for a specific event and are no longer relevant. As a result, there are multiple domains, uneven site design (style guides), and technological choices. As a result, cyberspace is filled with abandoned and disconnected sites. In our experience, worldwide CMO, CIO, and CTO organizations have embarked on time-consuming projects simply to compile a list of all these websites (and their function), which number in the hundreds, if not thousands. We frequently notice a clash between the local brand P&L owner, who prefers quick solutions free of bureaucratic red tape, and the global CMO, CIO, CTO, and CISO companies, who support risk management, consistency, SEO, and technology non-proliferation. For marketing/informational websites, the local method usually wins, even though more of them, such as Philips and Nivea, are going to federated models. However, for functional websites such as B2B commerce, attempts such as Johnson&Johnson were made to unify the many country sites onto a single common technology stack and style guide.
A win-win method is if global standards organizations (CMO, CTO, CISO) and solution suppliers (CIO) can deliver a modular, separated approach, so they don't become a stumbling block to these business owners reaching their goals on time. The specifics of such models will be covered in a future post.
Unaffiliated sites usually have nothing in common other than the fact that they may be hosted on a shared infrastructure. Nike.com and Colehaan.com are two examples.
Sites co-hosted on the same platform may have nothing in common. These platforms are typically Shopify's cloud SaaS eCommerce offerings, as well as, at the low end, the Big 4, Oracle Commerce Cloud (a descendant of ATG Commerce), SAP Commerce Cloud (a descendant of hybris), SalesForce Commerce Cloud (a descendant of Demandware and Cloudcraze), and Magento Commerce Cloud. These are multi-tenant cloud platforms with very similar feature functions, and hosting your website on these is analogous to apartment living. They provide basic data separation, PCI compliance, and security measures to reduce risk for enterprises.
This is the holy grail of mature enterprises, where they can deliver a unified, streamlined experience that connects the journeys of B2C consumers, B2B customers, partners, vendors, and staff. These sites typically use linked techniques. The Amazon ecosystem offers an outstanding illustration of this, with marketplace merchants selling to both B2C and B2B clients, as well as the administrative tools available to sellers via the sellercentral.amazon.com and vendorcentral.amazon.com portals. Here are the considerations for establishing a market place.
Several businesses that utilize an MLM (Multi-level-marketing) model have multi-faced websites that provide separate experiences to MLM members and B2C customers. Jafra.com (consumer site) and jafrabiz.com (consultant site) are two instances, as are avon.com (consumer site) and youravon.com (representative site). They have created tools on their consultant-facing website to track and expand their businesses, which is a win-win situation.
Catalog, Product Content, Marketing Content, Inventory, Pricing, Promotions, Reviews, Ratings, Tax, and Shipping are the functional entities that underpin any digital property. The obvious question is whether the company should share or separate these non-customer-facing entities.
Depending on how the brands came together (typically through acquisitions), how well they were integrated, and how the organization grew globally, these entities might be shared or completely separated. A hybrid or federated model is another option. (This is a whole other problem that deserves its own discussion.)
These entities are further supported by the systems, tools, procedures, and people listed below. Progressive organizations typically relate these entities (by brand) to the various technologies as they exist (current state) and the planned interim and long term (end state). This assists technology teams in determining the best migration options, such as the strangulation pattern, cloud migration, platform updates, and so forth.
Only a few brands (such as gap.com and aeo.com) chose the exclusively multibranded B2C option in our review of over 100 brands belonging to 40 multi-brand firms with which we have worked. Most organizations, such as Mattel, Marriott, and others, selected a hybrid approach, with a digital presence as the parent brand as well as individual brands for B2C customers. However, for B2B users, they have a consolidated multi-brand presence. The best approach to answering the question at hand is for multi-brand businesses to try to benefit from a consolidated multi-brand B2C experience that leverages SEO, cross-sell and upsell opportunities to increase selection and traffic, in addition to having a digital presence for each brand, where applicable.
Having said that, because the factors discussed in this article are unique to each firm and business strategy, the final answer would be unique. In fact, in our experience, it is usually a dynamic roadmap, because several of the systems and processes stated above are being improved even while new in-flight initiatives like as loyalty, AI/ML, and BOPIS/BORIS are being implemented. As a result, the digital roadmap and integrations plan must account for all of these shifting aspects. Please let us know if you require assistance with such a roadmap exercise.
We hope this sets the tone by providing some examples of how to proceed. Please let us know what you think. If you believe we have missed any models, please let us know and we will add them.