It’s complicated: Why companies suffer from grown brand structures in digital


In the first part of my new series about digital brand architecture, I touched on the fact that we have created a problem that needs to be solved:

After a decade of exploring the digital world, we now enter a phase in online communication where we’re all overwhelmed with the complexity of the things we have built ourselves. Dozens of websites, hundreds of social channels, an indigestible number of email and direct channels. Not even to mention the challenge of mobile (already an evergreen topic but still unsolved by most) – and now messaging.

This last sentence is important. The key message for digital brand architecture and the reason we’re talking about this now, is:

The impact of mobile forces us to focus.

One message at a time, one image, one brand. These are the principles we will consider moving forward in this discussion.

How did we get here? Architecture doesn’t build itself…

With every new technological platform in digital, there was a phase of exploration. Everyone wants to jump on board, there aren’t any rules yet, and the budgetary barriers are getting lower and lower in digital as we all know. Perfect ingredients for chaos.

It happened with websites: In the 90ies, no company had rules for opening websites – and certainly not cascading down from global to regional and local. Example: A large international corporation had a corporate website, their country organizations launched their own websites, and so did partners and dealerships. Add different departments or sub brands and you have a multi-layered mess.

Not a working chemical compound: BASF’s web architecture (snapshot)

It happened again with social networks: With costs even lower than with websites, there was literally no barrier for entry – and worse, a huge appeal for everyone getting on board because many people already used social media with personal profiles. Again, this happened for multiple brands, multiple departments, multiple countries and multiple languages. This accelerated the effects we saw with websites to an unprecedented level.

And it happened again in mobile: Everyone needed an app, right? Still in 2016, a company like Audi has a stunning 11 titles in the app stores.

Why is digital chaos a bad thing? Everyone is doing it, right?

Now, we won’t talk about the next digital trend everyone should jump on; but rather about the pattern we can observe here. Companies have a hard time adapting to the fast-changing digital landscape, and they seem unable to learn from one bad experience to the next one. All they do, is tidy up the mess afterwards – a process that consumes huge resources in people, time, and money. Not to mention the disappointment of the employees involved, and of people used to a digital channel that may need to be shut down.

So, the damages a chaotic digital architecture does to a brand are manyfold:

  1. Confusion of the outside world – „why are there so many similar channels? Which one is the right one for me?“
  2. Inconsistency – “how in the world should I govern this chaos? It takes me months to even change a logo on all channels”
  3. Ineffectiveness and inefficiency – “we’re trying to change this, but we need senior management attention, and it all takes so much time”
  4. Cost – “where should I take the money and people from to tackle this? There is no allocated budget for tidying up such a mess!“

How do we avoid this? There is no Tabula Rasa in digital brand architecture.

The obvious solution is of course to have a digital strategy in place that answers how to deal with new digital channels in the first place; and most importantly has rules of what not to do.

Since we can not start from scratch, there needs to be a realistic roadmap for solving chaotic brand architecture in digital.

But that’s hard, and the first step to understanding the challenge is to identify why it’s so hard to do.

We’ll come to that in the next part of my series about digital brand architecture.

Read part one and stay tuned!