How to market in a multi-brand organization

A Q&A with Bob Brown, founder of Brown Analytics Advisory Group


Operating in a multi-brand environment has major benefits—but it also has challenges.

As many travel brands consolidate under a single enterprise, the individual brand marketers are left to make sense of how to engage with their parent company and partner brands. On the flip side, the parent companies are looking for efficiencies and growth opportunities across the individual brands. 

To understand how to operate and optimize in a multi-brand environment, we connected with Bob Brown, founder of Brown Analytics Advisory Group and formerly of Vail Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, to discuss these unique marketing situations for travel brands.

Here, he shares the pros and cons of different multi-brand structures, how to connect your brands in ways that matter to your customer, and how to make cross-brand integration a priority at your company by understanding both external and internal customers.

MF: What are the inherent challenges of the different multi-brand structures—from decentralized to centralized and then distributed approaches?

Bob Brown PhotoBB: If you have a pure decentralized structure—where each brand has its own marketing team—you can create a disconnected customer experience and unnecessarily narrow your audience.

In addition, your brands tend to compete with each other. For example, with media spend, you may have two brands spending in the same market and going after the same customer, but if that person converts, they ultimately go toward the same bottom line. It’s just inefficient.

The positives for a decentralized structure are that independence drives more brand ownership and belief that each brand knows its customers best. They can get in tune with those customers and have a deeper understanding of the individual customer base which ultimately can lead to greater brand differentiation. 

With a centralized structure, the challenges and benefits are reversed. Knowing the brands individually becomes more of a struggle, and you often have someone trying to make marketing decisions from one location across multiple, but they don’t have the depth of understanding about the local market or the consumer who identifies with that brand. There is a risk of making things too generic—you can almost understand too much.

The pros are that you can drive efficiency and minimize internal competition while creating a consistent experience for your customers. You can more easily leverage the data and dollars across all brands for more efficient marketing spend and greater personalization that drives customer engagement and revenue.

You get the best of both worlds with a distributed approach. Keeping some decentralized abilities will help you understand the uniqueness of each brand and location better while sustaining ownership over the brand identity and the customer experience across locations.

MF: Knowing that not every marketer has control over the kind of model they work in, what advice would you give to any marketer living in a multi-brand environment?

BB: The key is to understand who your internal customer is—who are they and what are their motivations? If you’re in a centralized role trying to push a new initiative for more cross-brand coordination, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the brand managers—how would they respond to this? They’re motivated by driving performance for their brand, so how does this initiative appeal to them?

Don’t look for people to just get on board with what’s best for the enterprise. You have to figure out what the upside is for each person you’re partnering with on different initiatives. How will their brand grow by having access to new cross-brand capabilities and data?

"Your customers aren’t in a fixed state forever. We all have different personas over time or within a given time."

MF: Does, or should, a customer care that multiple brands are owned by the same company?

BB: You can’t expect that the customer knows or cares about a connection across brands if they engage with just one, but it’s your job to give them a reason to care. There are a few areas where multi-brand coordination can positively impact the customer: 

  • Consistency in service expectations. If you have standard service practices in place across your brands, then you can leverage that as a connection point and an expectation of service excellence across brands.
  • Profile and preference management. Connecting customer preferences and other information across brands creates the impression that you know the person, even if they haven’t done business with a specific brand in the past.
  • Loyalty benefits for consolidation of spend. When your loyalty program connects multiple brands, there is a financial incentive for a customer to spend within your footprint.
  • Serving all customer needs. Your customers aren’t in a fixed state forever. We all have different personas over time or within a given time. A customer can be both a business and leisure traveler, seek a modest or luxury experience or desire different locations at different times. With connected brands, you can leverage a broader footprint to meet a person’s varying needs at different times. 

Each company will have different strengths that they can leverage with the customer across one or more of these areas. This should be the first thing you focus on with multi-brand coordination—start by identifying your company strengths and what will matter most to your customers. 

MF: What can travel marketers gain from multi-brand coordination?

BB: You definitely get improved marketing efficiency. Technology can also be much cheaper if you’re not managing multiple platforms that provide the same service, like email service providers.

At the same time, variable costs go down based on the volume of consolidated efforts, which could affect email, direct mail and media purchasing. When you centralize efforts, you can remove overlapping responsibilities across brands or locations and ultimately reduce headcount. Lastly, communication costs go down through because you eliminate unintentional overlapping and competing messaging.

Although efficiencies can provide cost savings, the bigger upside is increased revenue due to improved customer engagement. There are three areas to improve targeted marketing across brands:

  • Broadening the database. When you consolidate data across brands, customers of one brand can be “known prospects” of another brand. Although we all hate to admit it, your customers sample competitors. A multi-brand approach allows you to offer other brand options within your umbrella to known customers. In this way, you insert a potential shift to other owned brands rather than customer attrition.
  • Deepening the database. You can use the data from your brands to form a more complete view of each customer, including their behaviors and preferences, to deliver more personalized experiences. By leveraging data across brands, you can know how likely a customer is to purchase ancillary products, which you wouldn’t get in a single-brand view.
  • Multi-brand marketing opportunities. You can identify customers that would benefit from consolidated messaging across brands to present multi-brand options within your portfolio.

MF: Without the support of senior leadership, how can you make progress in cross-brand integration?

BB: It’s similar to the individual brands—understanding what the motivation of the person is you’re trying to convince. With senior leadership, it tends to be about the benefits to the company—cost savings and revenue growth—and how can you increase both at the enterprise level?

Start with analytics and the depth of customer understanding. You can make your case by understanding the overlap between brands.

There is a common assumption that there is no overlap between brands within a brand umbrella, and then that drives a lot of decision-making. But there is always some customer overlap (often a lot), and you can find it by digging into the data more—and this can be done even before your data is centralized.

To make progress, you don’t need to tackle everything at once. Start with the areas that you can control and establish a few quick wins to help you make the case for further investment and exploration.

Once you’ve provided some cross-brand insight, you can test a simple multi-brand campaign or expand an individual brand’s audience with known prospecting opportunities. With the right testing structure in place, you can establish clear ROI from these efforts that can begin to snowball into more comprehensive coordination across brands.

Want to learn more about how we’ve worked with travel brands in the past? See our case study with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.