DEVELOPMENT OF INTEGRATED BRAND PORTFOLIO STRATEGIES: A
HORIZONTAL AND VERTICAL INTEGRATED PLANNING MODEL
Brand portfolio strategies are an essential prerequisite for securing long-term success for
multi-brand companies. Only by focusing on the entire portfolio can it be ensured that all
brands “act in concert” to achieve superordinate objectives. Thereby, an increasing vertical
competition caused by private labels calls for a new approach, by which brand manufacturers
integrate private labels into their portfolio management. This paper presents a planning model
that is embedded in the company’s strategic management and demonstrates how brand-related
objectives/strategies can be linked with superordinated objectives/strategies. By including
vertical marketing goals into portfolio strategy, brand manufacturers may gain from extending
the planning scope to private label brands.
1. BRAND PORTFOLIO STRATEGIES
A brand portfolio represents all brands managed by an organization (Aaker/Joachimsthaler,
2000). The average number of brands within a portfolio ranges from two to over one thousand
depending on the size of the company. Multi-brand companies intend to enhance their market
skimming strategy by implementing distinctive brand concepts; strengthen customer loyalty;
exploit synergies across all managed brands or implement region-specific market operations
(Freter/Wecker/Baumgarth, 2002; Riesenbeck/Perry 2005). Especially manufactures within the
consumer packaged goods sector tend to operate broader portfolios including brands and
The relevance of brands for securing companies’ success is broadly acknowledged (Bekmeier-
Feuerhahn, 1998; Sattler, 2001). However, neither does the sole property of brands lead
inevitably to success, nor do brands per se progress successfully during every stage in their life
cycle (Ruppert, 2001). To secure success in the long-run, companies must therefore operate an
appropriate set of successful brands and brands with prospects for future success. Furthermore,
as cases of brand portfolio elimination show - the overall success does not always correlate
positively with the number of managed brands (Haas, 2010, p.5). In fact, running a high
number of brands profitably requires a coordinated brand management (Barwise/Robertson,
1992; Petromilli/Morrison/Million, 2002). The consequences of a lack of coordination might
appear in a waste of resources caused by unrealized synergies in brand managing or by
overlapping brand concepts which might result in cannibalization (Aaker/Joachimsthaler,
2000).Thus, we have to take a brand-superordinated view and ask (i) what characterizes ideally
composed portfolios and (ii) which steps have to be taken to configure best working brand
portfolios to secure long-term success.
Ideally composed brand portfolios work effectively and efficiently. Hereby, effectiveness
stands for achieving established objectives and efficiency represents the portfolios’
profitability. To maximize success across all portfolio elements both criteria must be equally
considered. Well founded strategies are a primary requirement for configuring effectively and
efficiently working portfolios. In contrast to brand strategies, there has not been as much
research on portfolio strategies (Freter/Wecker/Baumgarth, 2002). A key element of portfolio
strategies is a coordinated, controlled management of all brands. Brand portfolio strategy
includes decisions on portfolio scope and composition (How many brands and what kind of
brands are needed to achieve set goals?) and portfolio structure (How are brands related to each
other? How can brand tasks be allocated best among all brands?). But this involves a
remarkable number of distinctive activities. Factual and chronological relations between these
activities make it a complex and complicated task. Considering the giving resources portfolio
scope, composition and structure have to be determined in a way that enables the company to
achieve its targets. Due to the complexity of this task it is advisable to proceed in two steps: At
first, scope and composition need to be defined on the basis of set objectives (chapter 2). Then
brand relationships have to be formalized by establishing a portfolio structure (chapter 3). The
brand relationship spectrum can be extended to private label (PL) brands when product
categories are seen as a whole and PLs take on portfolio roles within overall portfolio role play
2. DEFINING PORTFOLIO SCOPE AND COMPOSITION
When defining portfolio scope and composition companies have to decide on how many
brands and what kind of brands they need to achieve their entrepreneurial targets. An essential
prerequisite for achieving targets are strong brands, which possess a distinctive, positive and
purchase supporting image (=consumer based brand equity) and a high monetary value (=
monetary brand equity) (Caspar/Meltzler, 2002). Thus, all action steps regarding the definition
of portfolio scope and composition should to be targeted at creating/retaining strong brands,
whereby selecting and implementing brand strategies are crucial. Nevertheless, it must be
noted: strong brands cannot always be considered as “the right brands” for achieving success.
Only when brand management and brand strategies are focused on achieving entrepreneurial
targets and therefore reflected in target achievement, can brands be considered as “the right”
ones (Bachem/Esser/Riesenbeck, 2001).
Building up strong brands is very difficult. Strategic brand concepts are considered as one key
to success. Hereby, decisions on the following have to be made and formalized in written
concepts: (i) brand scope (extent to which the brand spans product categories, subcategories
and markets), (ii) number of brands within a certain market, (iii) regional areas of brand
activity and (iv) brand identity and brand positioning (Aaker, 1996; Aaker, 2004). Theorists
and practitioners have both studied brand building in-depth, producing a wide variety of
different models and concepts (Zednik/Strebinger, 2005). But although the relevance of brands
for securing companies’ success is broadly acknowledged, neither of them have been able to
demonstrate sufficiently how to build up brands taking into account brand-superordinated
objectives and strategies (Rehbock, 2005; Zednik/Strebinger, 2005). Thus, there is no
methodologically sound concept for defining portfolio scope and composition. To remedy
these deficiencies, a further developed planning process was designed at the University of
Oldenburg as a proposal for discussion.
Figure 1: Defining Brand Portfolio Scope and Composition (Haas, 2010).
As a basic approach, the planning process was integrated in strategic corporate management.
As illustrated in figure-1, the integrated planning process proceeds according to the
management process in four phases: target definition; strategy development; strategy
implementation and strategic control (Kolks, 1990). Cyclical sequences with feed-forward and
feed-backward coupling characterize the process. Thus, defining portfolio scope and
composition is neither a one-time act nor does it follow a stringent sequence. Each phase
within the strategic planning process will be briefly described below.
Definition of targets: At first, targets will be defined on the basis of strategic analyses as
targets function as guidelines for searching and selecting best portfolio strategies. Ultimately, a
portfolio has to be composed that enables the company to realize brand-superordinated targets
and strategies (Wheelen/Hunger, 1986). This can be secured by setting up a hierarchical target
system whereby all entrepreneurial targets are arranged by their relevance for the overall
business success (Steffenhagen, 2008). Corporate targets, such as philosophy, image and
identity, company’s market position or profitability are highly relevant. Those targets should
be substantiated by market targets and brand targets (Kasprik, 2002, p.4). Market targets
include primarily monetary targets (e.g. sales per market; market profit) which can be achieved
by implementing marketing strategies. The achievement of market related targets depends on
monetary brand equities of all brands managed within this market. To maximize success it is
therefore necessary to set up brand targets. This target category includes monetary brand equity
targets as well as consumer based brand equity (e.g. awareness, image, loyalty) as latter
influencing the level of monetary brand equity (Benkenstein/Uhrich, 2009).
Strategy Development: On the basis of set up targets, strategies have to be developed.
According to the hierarchical target system, all strategies build on one another and get down to
specifics to a greater extent (Steffenhagen, 2002). The planning process of defining portfolio
scope and composition therefore characterizes a top-down approach. Meaning, in the first step
corporate strategies have to be designed, then market strategies and at last brand strategies. In
that way, corporate strategies function as guidelines for market strategies and those as
guidelines for brand strategies.
Figure 2: Entrepreneurial targets and brand-superordinated strategies which support choosing multi-brand strategies
On a corporate level long-term decisions with high relevancy for securing an overall business-
success have to be made. Corporate strategies may include decisions such as: Which markets
should be operated? What strategy does the company strive for growth in each market? How
best should resources be allocated for success? On the basis of corporate targets and strategies
as well as market-related targets, market and competitive strategies have to be developed
(Meffert, 1994). Lastly, guided by all entrepreneurial targets and brand-superordinated
strategies, brand strategies have to be designed. As an example, figure-2 illustrates
entrepreneurial targets and brand-superordinated strategies that support choosing a multi-brand
strategy for securing success.
According to the portfolio approach (= brands are part of a team and not lone fighters), prior to
the conceptual design of brand identity and positioning one should ask what kind of brand is
actually needed from a competitive perspective (Aaker, 2004). It must be considered that
brands can support each other in achieving superordinate targets. So cash cow brands can
provide brands with a future prospect for success with financial resources or brands can
function as flanker or fighter brands to fight competitors (Aaker, 2004). This work-sharing
collaboration of brands leads to an increasing effectiveness and efficiency of the portfolio -
provided that the collaboration has been specifically targeted. For this purpose each brand has
to fulfill a given task or role. Brand roles “…reflect an internal, managerial perspective on the
brand portfolio” (Aaker, 2004, p. 23). Decisions on brand roles have to be made by taking
targets, companies’ strengths and weaknesses as well as the prevailing competitive situation
into account (Haas 2010).
With developing brand strategies with guidance of entrepreneurial targets and brand
superordinated targets, it is finally defined how many brands and which kind of brands need to
be a part of portfolio in order to achieve all entrepreneurial targets.
Strategy Implementation and Strategic Control: In the third phase, strategies will be
implemented. The portfolio will be built up gradually according to top-down planning. Hereby
brand strategies have a high impact on the definition of the portfolio. The number of brands
managed within the portfolio (=portfolio scope) will be outlined by the scope of brands and the
number of brands within each market. Each brand will be defined from an internal perspective
by creating its identity. Hereby, the defined regional areas of activity and strategic brand roles
should be taken into account. By positioning brands in the minds of consumer and versus
competitors, brands will be set out within its markets from an external perspective (Esch,
2001). From the perspective of the portfolio, composition is finally determined.
Last of all, strategic controls help to secure the effectiveness and efficiency of the defined
scope and composition. Hereby, all strategies will be supervised and evaluated by their target
capability. Furthermore, the implementation of strategies will be controlled and deviations
from targets will be recorded and analyzed (Nuber, 1995).
3. ESTABLISHING PORTFOLIO STRUCTURE
In the process of defining portfolio scope and composition, brands were seen as part of a
system - the portfolio. Brand-related decisions were made in consideration of other managed
brands. This is the case for decisions on the number of brands within each market, brand roles
and for decisions on brand identities and positioning. In doing so, relationships between brands
were built up. These relationships can be (a) factual-based (brands are managed within the
same markets), (b) regional-based (brands with similar regional areas of activity), (c)
hierarchical-based (there are relations of super- and sub-orientation between brands in the
communication toward consumers), (d) strategic (brand take over internal roles) or content-
based (brand identities and positioning are similar).
Brand-relationships have positive and negative effects on the overall portfolio success: Brands
with strong images can support other brands within the portfolio by transferring awareness or
single components of their image (=strategic-based relationships). In contrast, multi-brand
strategy (factual-based relationships) with significant similarities in brand identities and
positioning (=content-based relationships) might cause cannibalization and lead to wasting
resources or stagnating sales. To maximize portfolio success, brand-relationships with positive
consequences should be therefore detected and exploited, while brand-relationships with
negative effects on effectiveness and efficiency should be avoided (Esch, 2004). This,
however, requires coordination of all relationships between all managed brands. With regard to
the various levels of brand-relationships and number of brands within portfolios, coordination
might be complex and time-consuming. Coordination is realizable by (re-)arranging brands
according to a fixed scheme. This is known as portfolio structuring. Here, brand-relationships
will be detected, characterized and target oriented formed by setting up a long-term method - a
portfolio structure (Rehbock, 2005).
A clear structure can help to improve the effectiveness (e.g. increases in sales) and efficiency
(reduction of managing costs) of brand portfolio (Aaker/Joachimsthaler 2000). Specifically,
structuring enables companies to improve the clarity of the portfolio; better exploit synergy
potentials and secure a well-balanced mixture from profit and risk perspective. It is therefore
essential to target those positive effects while structuring the portfolio:
(1) At first, all brands need to be described by their market activities, regional areas of activity,
subordinated and superordinated brand relations, characteristic elements of their identity
and positioning, strategic roles as well as by their brand related risks and cash inflows
(Aaker/Joachimsthaler, 2001). Then all brand relationships will have to be examined
regarding their advantageousness. Unfavorable relationships between brands should be
broken up or loosened, while beneficial relationships will have to be built up or enhanced.
This will lead to a target oriented network of brand relations from an internal management
perspective, which is often described as portfolio logic (Joachimsthaler/Pfeiffer, 2004).
(2) To maximize benefits from brand relationships, an external perspective on the network
should be taken into account as well. All relevant stakeholders have to be considered in the
development of portfolio communication strategies. Apart from this, companies will have
to address the following basic questions: How should consumer perceive relationships
between brands? Which brands will be communicated towards the consumer and how
should consumers perceive brand combinations best? These aspects determine
characteristics of portfolio architecture. Portfolio architecture is a hierarchal arrangement of
brands which describes the brand range communicated towards consumers and therefore
secures clear and logical brand messages (Aaker, 1996; Esch/Bräutigam, 2001; Bräutigam,
2004 and Wecker, 2004).
In case the portfolio scope and composition are considered as inadequate for improving the
clarity of the portfolio, exploiting synergy potentials or securing a well-balanced mixture from
profit and risk perspective, strategic changes have to be made. Scope and composition have to
be rearranged according to the established portfolio logic as well as portfolio architecture.
4. INTEGRATION OF PRIVATE LABELS INTO PORTFOLIO PLANNING
So far, the discussion dealt with the portfolio brands of the company which describes the firm’s
internal perspective. The focal point of discussion may also be turned towards a vertical
perspective, which broadens the scope of brand portfolio strategy towards an inclusion of
Private Label (PLs) brands into a company’s portfolio planning. Referring to brand scope, PLs
should play a role in the business strategy of brand manufacturers when product categories are
viewed as a whole. This category perspective is foremost evident for brand manufacturers that
cooperate with retail partners in Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) projects. Although ECR
focuses on creating consumer value, it are foremost the economic gains within the distribution
channel that are of interest within the bilateral relationship of brand supplier and retailer.
However, both entities have different priorities. While retailing traditionally views the overall
success of the entire assortment as paramount, brand manufacturers foremost concentrate only
on their own brand success. The following discussion will argue that this system inherent
problem may be solved by streamlining the interests of the collaborators by combining ECR
strategies with brand portfolio strategy. For that purpose, the (horizontal) planning process
from above will be expanded by a “quasi” integration of PLs into a manufacturer’s brand
portfolio. Next to this conceptual strategy model that will be outlined below, several authors
report cases, where brand manufacturers have strategically included PLs in their channel and
portfolio strategy (Steiner, 2004, Kumar/Steenkamp, 2007, p. 158).
The proliferation of private labels has been evident in grocery retailing worldwide
(Kumar/Steenkamp, 2007, Olbrich et al., 2009). Several strategies for national brand
manufacturers towards PLs exist. While some of these strategies focus exclusively on the
brand manufacturers’ own brand success, other strategic options imply a head to head
confrontation with retailers and the PL of the category (Ashley, 1998, Kumar/Steenkamp,
2007, pp. 125). For instance, they have used fighter brands to react to the lower price position
of the private label (Hoch, 1996, Quelch, 1996). As a response to PLs, marketers of
manufacturer brands have also adjusted their brand portfolios by eliminating stagnant brands
and extensions and concentrated their focus on smaller number of brands and new product
introductions (Keller, 2008, p. 225). A controversial move by brand manufacturers is to
actually produce PLs. While on the one hand it may result in economies of scale and lower
fixed costs this move may on the other hand lead to a commoditization of the category
(Kapferer, 2008, p. 94). There is much anecdotal evidence, that many brand manufacturers
actually produce PLs. Famous firms such as Heinz, Birds Eye and Del Monte are known to
supply retailers with PL products (Kumar/Steenkamp, 2007, p. 132). One reason to produce
PLs mentioned in the extant literature is to shut out competitors (ibid.). The argument is that if
a company can produce PLs why should it leave it to the competition. Additionally, PLs will
contribute to overall market share, which in turn can improve the competitive situation of the
firm (Dunne/Narasimhan, 1999). At the same time, the willingness to closely cooperate among
retailers and brand manufacturers is evident. In industry led ECR partnerships, manufacturers
attempt to include retailers in their marketing planning and relieve the channel partner from
marketing tasks by taking certain tasks and responsibilities over. Proctor & Gamble for
example puts an emphasis on the ECR strategy of Category Management (CM) and assigned
category managers to all its categories (Keller et al., 2012, pp. 418). This is also meant to be
one of the reasons for the close vertical relationship between P&G and the retailer Wal-Mart in
the US (Steiner, 2001).
The above discussion shall illustrate that vertical relationships have become common practice
among many channel members. Moreover, PL production can be a beneficial strategy for brand
manufacturers. Combining these two factors with a product category mindset by brand
manufacturers can lead brand suppliers to the production and additionally the management of
PLs within a cooperative relationship with retailers. The aim for brand manufacturers
following this strategy is to offer an optimally managed multi-tiered assortment of
manufacturer brands and private labels. The extended brand portfolio will be targeted at all
relevant consumer segments within a product category including private label buyers. Such a
vertical brand portfolio recognizes the PL as one element crucial to a category management
process, which by necessity is a mutual responsibility of both the brand manufacturer and the
retailer. By appreciating ECR principles, retailers will hand over the PL management to the
brand manufacturer who in turn delivers a vertical portfolio in this collaboration.
Developing such a vertical brand portfolio falls under the top-down approach outlined in the
planning process for reaching a portfolio structure. While the goals of this strategy originate
from the overall corporate level, the operational implementation will primarily be influenced
by market and brand targets. The following discussion will first highlight the steps that derive
primarily from designing vertical brand portfolio strategies. Then, the discourse will cover
specific problem areas that may derive from the planned vertical channel relationship.
When structuring the vertical portfolio, the first planning step is to determine every company
brand’s portfolio role so that taken roles are clear and vacant roles can be assigned. For the PL,
particularly the roles of ‘flanker brand’ and ‘low-end entry level brand’ are particularly
relevant. The first step in preparing for these roles is to determine a value segment for these
options. This can be considered a likely outcome as value segments are a common PL-buyer
destination. Obviously, that segment has to be vacant in the manufacturer’s portfolio.
Secondly, the impact of brand architecture has to be assessed. If the PL is facing an
architecture that allows an association to the manufacturer brand, the PL can take on the role of
“low-end entry level” brand. Low-end entry level brands are mainly line extensions at a low
price and quality point with the aim to attract first-time customers to a brand franchise (Keller
et al., 2012, p. 579). Under the same circumstances as above but without a visual association to
the manufacturer brand, the PL also qualifies for the portfolio role of flanker brand. Like a
“regular” flanker brand, the PL should come with a price discount compared to the portfolio’s
leading manufacturer brand. If managed for that purpose, the PL could defend the main brand
versus other value brands in the category and prevent competitors from entering the market
with a value brand (Dunne/Narasimhan, 1999, Steiner, 2004). Following the planning process,
brand scope will determine how brands of the manufacturer’s portfolio can span across towards
the PL. For instance it has to be decided, whether or not the PL falls under a corporate brand
umbrella or instead should function as an independent brand without association towards any
other portfolio. Potential negative spill-over effects have to be avoided and therefore carefully
assessed before an implementation of the strategy.
On the whole it can be shown that developing vertical brand portfolios consequently would
reach to all levels of branding strategy including the management of brand portfolio roles.
Implementing some of the above mentioned roles requires imagination in the development
stage by the brand management team. Integrating PLs in the brand portfolio management
process and thus involving them in the brand role play may not seem obvious at first sight. But
PLs will always play a role in the business strategy of brand manufacturers when product
categories are viewed as a whole.
Although the proposed vertical branding strategy is supposed to solve some of the problems
related to the threat that PLs pose to brand manufacturers, the strategy poses challenges that
derive mainly from within the channel relationship. From a portfolio point-of-view this entails
more complexity in the decision making processes of the brand manufacturer. Foremost the
interests of the retailer, who maintains the ownership of the PL, have to be accounted for by the
brand supplier. These can mainly be related to category performance factors that should
improve with a vertically managed portfolio. On the other hand, the retailer marketing goals of
which the PL branding strategy is part of have to be streamlined and accounted for. Overall,
such a cooperation will impose cooperation costs on both sides that have to be outweighed by
cooperation gains. In this context, particularly improved channel relationships may be brought
forward. Such gains have been proven to be the result of other forms of cooperation, mainly in
the area of ECR and Category Management.
This paper presents a new approach for developing portfolio strategies: a planning process
which is integrated into the strategic management of a company. The basic procedure includes
two steps: (1) defining portfolio scope and composition; (2) establishing a portfolio structure.
The integrated planning process itself proceeds in four phases (target definition; strategy
development; strategy implementation and strategic control) and is guided by a hierarchical
system of targets and strategies on a corporate, market and brand level. By doing so, brand-
related targets and strategies are linked with superordinated objectives and strategies in order to
maximize portfolio success. By including vertical marketing goals into portfolio strategy,
brand manufacturers may gain from extending the planning scope to private label brands. The
described conceptual research results should be seen as suggestions to solve a complex
strategic problem and may be discussed within marketing science.
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