Emory Marketing Institute

Building a Branding Taxonomy
by Greg Thomas

The Zyman Institute of Brand Science is establishing a Taxonomy of Branding.

Toward a Taxonomy of Branding
Taxonomies are hierarchical classification systems that organize the world around us. By placing things into similar groupings we can better understand them. Most anything can be classified into a taxonomy, whether it's animate objects, inanimate objects, places, events, and the like.

One well known taxonomy is the Animal Kingdom, which includes more than one million living species grouped into more than 30 phyla. This Linnaean Taxonomy, named for its 18th century creator Carolus Linnaeus, structures living organisms into the hierarchical categories of Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus, and Species.

For example, in the Linnaean Taxonomy, the common dog is classified as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia >
Phylum: Chordata >
Class: Mammalia >
Order: Carnivora >
Family: Canidae >
Genus: Canis >
Species: Canis familiaris>

But Brands management is a complex and multifarious beast. Not as easily classified as canis familiaris.

The Taxonomy of Branding
To bring some order to the issues and to offer a method of retrieving information on specific issues we, at ZIBS, are developing a Taxonomy of Branding. In doing so, we wanted to make sure the organization of the taxonomy was diverse enough to handle the multiplicity of issues without being too overly elaborate. This requires striking a balance.

A taxonomy is a tree structured classification for a set of objects. At the top of this tree is the single parent classifier, called a root node, that covers all objects. Branches of the tree split off into separate nodes, which represent subsets of the nodes above them. Nodes which contain sub-nodes are called parent nodes. The sub-node of a parent node is called a child node. A node that is below the root node that contains a child node is called a branch node. And a node without a child is a leaf node. Trees can be complex, like the Family Tree of Greek Gods, with its interwoven linking of relationships. However, for our purposes the taxonomy for brand science should be parsimonious.

To accomplish this objective we limited the breadth and depth of the taxonomic structure. The nodes in the Taxonomy of Branding do not extend beyond two child nodes from the root node. And the number of branch nodes beneath the root node is limited to seven. Things grouped in seven work well for remembering them. Do you ever wonder why telephone numbers consist of seven digits? This is because people generally can remember seven things at a time, but have difficulty when the number exceeds seven. This phenomenon is known as the rule of seven.

1. Perspectives on Branding
Our taxonomy's first branch node is Perspectives on Branding. This category contains two child nodes; Branding History, and Benefits of Branding. Branding History holds any content relating to the history and pre-history of brand management. Studying the past helps separate stories that are still relevant to the practice from other simply colorful stories. The Benefits of Branding leaf node is for content that generally covers why we brand. This is the category where broad overviews of branding are accommodated.

2. Building Brand Assets
Under Building Brand Assets we have five child nodes. The first, Brand Strategy, covers issues like choosing where and how to develop brands. Issues involving competitive insights, segmentation, targeting, and positioning fit here. The second, Resource Allocation, covers both the financial and organizational issues in support of brands. Global organization management issues would fit here. The third, Brand Lifecycle Management, covers issues for managing persistently profitable brands from inception to launch, growth, maturing, decline, revitalization, and retirement. The fourth, Marketing Programs, involves all the go-to-market integrated marketing communications programs for the brand. This includes both programs that focus on internal (employees, management) and external audiences (consumers, channel). The fifth, Operations Management and Brands, focuses on the issues relating to how branding integrates with all the value creation components of a firm's value chain, and its value net. The value chain includes all the activities a firm performs in adding value to products and services that it produces. Whereas, the value net expands past firm's the value chain (internal activities) to cover the orchestration of its network of partners in the supply chain and demand chain.

3. Brand Strength Assessment
Brand strength is a measure of how a brand performs in the market. It refers to the set of attitudes and behaviors on the part of the brand's customers, channel members that enable the brand to enjoy a sustainable and differentiated competitive advantage. Under this classification there are two leaf nodes. The first, Customer Focused Metrics, are measures of brand strength amongst those responsible for purchasing the brand, those responsible for influencing the purchase decision, and the end user who is the ultimate consumer. The second, Channel Focused Metrics, covers measurements of brand strength as they relate to channel partners. We are using an expanded definition as this includes both upstream (supply chain) and downstream (demand chain) partners.

4. Brand Performance
There are three child nodes under Brand Performance. The first, Market Place Performance, covers issues of measuring the market results such as market share, channel share, profit share, and share of customer. The second, Ability to Manage Price Competition, covers issues on how and whether brands differentiate offers saliently. In the world of competition there are two basic forms of competing; price based competition and differentiated competition. Brands are ultimately a form of differentiation and therefore in essence should impact price competition. The third, Brand Equity Metrics, cover the various methodologies for measuring brand equity. In an ideal world there would be non-overlapping nodes, but for this one there is some overlap here with the Brand Strength Assessment category, and the following Brand Valuation category.

5. Brand Valuation
Brand valuation is the placement of a financial value on a brand. The first leaf node, Brand Valuation Methods, focuses on the various techniques that have been developed to measure the financial value of a brand. The second, Impact of Brands on Shareholder Value, covers issues specific to shareholders and how they value, or should value brands.

6. Sector Specific Issues
Some branding issues are particular to specific industry sectors. We have created five subcategories for this category. The first two are for Business to Consumer (B2C), and Business to Business (B2B) branding issues. We further breakout two areas, due to the interest at the Institute in these particular sectors. These are Technology Branding and Services Branding. Of particular interest in the Services Branding category are the sectors of financial services and health care. The last category is Other. This is the catch-all for pertinent branding issues that face public services (government), non-profit, nations, and individuals.

7. Exemplars on Branding
It is always helpful to learn from our collective experience. This keeps us from having to reinvent the wheel. The Exemplars on Branding classifier contains three child nodes. The first, Case Studies, covers published case studies as they relate to branding. Case studies used in teaching often contain a variety of useful information on issues facing a firm. The second child node is Branding Mistakes. To learn from our mistakes we must retain information about these missteps and hold them aloft. And the third child node, Branding Best Practices, covers the best of the best. At times a firm innovates to manage brands better than anyone else and this is where those issues are retained.

The Life of a Taxonomy
This Taxonomy of Branding is constructive in organizing information about branding. The taxonomy contains meaningful categories. It favors parsimony versus complexity. In general, a simpler scheme is preferable as it makes using it accessible. However, as Einstein reminds us "everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler." We do not want to over simplify and that is where value-in-use will be our acid test. In essence, a taxonomy has a life of its own. As science advances a taxonomy is designed to change with it. For example, with the advent of genomics the Linnaeus Taxonomy has adapted. In 1990, based on new discoveries showing the relationships between species it was proposed that the bipartite prokaryote-eukaryote view of life be replaced with a tripartite super kingdom scheme of bacteria, archaea, and eucarya. Similarly, it is quite possible that this Taxonomy of Branding will transform as advances are made and as demands are placed upon it.

Greg Thomas is the Director of Programs for the Zyman Institute of Brand Science. He is passionate about driving innovation in the practice of brand management. He has worked for Fortune 500 companies, consulted to a wide array of clients, and holds an MBA from the University of Texas.


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