So why do brands fragment? Often they do so through knee-jerk responses to commercial pressures. For example, companies might be looking to squeeze value from their core brands in order to drive short-term sales. This is a challenge that seems to be facing Nestle, which is reportedly considering the introduction of a range of unusual flavours as a way of boosting sales of Kit Kat. I wonder whether this strategy recognises the impact a Masala Kit Kat might have on the original label, or even the fall in sales that might result from the obesity issue, which is high on the public and political agenda.
Just as the relationship between a product and its variants is important, so is the relationship between these products and the master brand. Companies such as BMW are widely commended for their consistent brand, but this consistency is not as apparent at other car manufacturers. Take Renault, for example - whether it is the Clio, Scenic, Megane or Laguna, the car model itself seems to be more prominent than the parent brand.
I am not advocating a monolithic architecture over more defined product ranges - a product-centric approach can broaden market reach through harder marketing to discrete audiences or protect other products in the range if one happens to fail. However, this strategy runs the risk of reduced affiliation with the master brand.
The biggest single commercial factor determining brand consistency is organisational structure. Where are the power bases in an organisation - is the focus on worldwide or local markets; product managers or brand teams? Tension between these groups can be fuelled by incoming managers who feel compelled to make a mark, often with limited assessment of the marketplace.
The trick here is to dictate the fixed and flexible elements of the brand up-front, allowing freedom to evolve and engage with audiences while maintaining a recognisable identity. The more prudent companies assign brand guardians across the business to spot when their colleagues respond to extreme commercial pressure by challenging the wrong things. This ensures that brands develop through a rational process rather than a series of scattergun activities.
We live in an ever-accelerating marketing environment, where customers are bombarded with a seemingly random assortment of marketing messages and clients are wooed by a plethora of new brand theories as they bounce between jobs. Maybe there is a competitive advantage in stopping for breath and looking harder at our brands before changing things for the sake of it.