By Eric Raarup, Vice President, Digital Experience and Commerce, RBA | A Digital and Technology Consultancy

Many of today's retailers fall into the category of a house of brands: a collection of multiple brands that need to live as individual companies with unique offerings, while also operating as part of a portfolio within a larger organization.

In our current market, all retailers face real challenges:

  • Thin margins
  • Intense competition
  • Ever increasing customer expectations

But retailers that are part of a house of brands at multi-brand organizations often face an additional layer of complexity centered around aligning their technology, processes, and governance to corporate standards.

Ultimately, multi-brand organizations are faced with the challenge of delivering a unique online commerce experience for each of their retail brands, while at the same time operating efficiently at the portfolio level.

“In a competitive retail landscape, companies that can build unique selling propositions with significant differentiation are better positioned to succeed. To ensure success, these firms also need the right tools, technology, support teams, and executive backing." – Forrester, “5 Key Success Factors for Every Digital Business”

Below we consider some of the areas where highlighting a brand’s individualism is key, as well as some of the areas where aligning at an organizational level can offer efficiency and insights across brands.

What’s a distinctive commerce experience?

Online retailers don't always have the luxury of exclusive or unique product offerings. This results in tough competition for the attention of online consumers.

A consumer can, for example, buy a pair of Nikes from at least 15 different online retailers. Who is the consumer going to choose for that transaction?

It starts with the brand promise

To stand out from the pack and create a distinctive commerce experience, a company must differentiate through its brand promise.

In a multi-brand organization, each brand needs to be able to express its uniqueness and promise through brand-specific visual design, content, imagery, and storytelling. When this branded experience is aligned with a powerful commerce platform, the brand can attract the right consumers and pull them into the buying journey sooner. They can also personalize each customer’s experience, creating a path for long-term loyalty.

In multi-brand organizations with executives potentially overseeing multiple brands, this flexibility is critical. Without this flexibility, an individual brand can feel trapped under a corporate umbrella.

Aligning to a unified marketing technology (martech) stack

Often, a multi-brand organization will grow its portfolio of brands through acquisition. This can lead to different platforms for Commerce, Content Management, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Product Inventory Management (PIM), etc.

Having different platforms for the same functionality across brands can lead to operational challenges such as:

  • Reduced operational efficiency and speed-to-market
  • Complexity of support
  • Delays in updates and features
  • Overly complex integrations
  • A siloed approach where brands compete instead of cooperating

Most crucially, all of these can lead to a negative customer experience.

For a multi-brand organization, a unified martech stack that allows brands to express their uniqueness — while decreasing operational challenges across brands — is key to operating at scale.

Key elements to success

So how does a house of brands bring unique storytelling together with core functionality across brands? There are a few key elements to consider when embarking on this challenge.

The user profile — a path to personalization

A key element to consider is the setup and design of the user profile. When a customer shops online, they will need to create an account. Multi-brand organizations must decide if this account and profile will be used across their various brand sites.

For multi-brand organizations selling similar products and services, having a shared profile across unique brand sites might make sense. For others, however, creating a distinct boundary around profile creation to match user expectations on a per-site basis will be essential.

Having the flexibility to align to either approach is a core foundation for personalization in a commerce experience.

A rich component library — flexibility with consistency

A strong component library or framework is critical to establishing uniqueness at the individual brand level.

Nearly all commerce sites today have a core set of features including shopping cart, product details, product listing, etc. A platform that includes the core components needed to lay out and design the desired commerce experience that reflects the individual brands — while still allowing for shared functionality — meets both IT and marketing goals.

In other words, you need a platform that allows you to build components once and deploy them to multiple sites.

bExample: Caleres

Driving cross-brand insights through analytics

A key consideration in many multi-brand organizations is the ability to support analytics at both a site and portfolio level. A customer may visit multiple brand sites within a portfolio as part of their journey. Having insight into this cross-brand path can open up potential personalization opportunities and inform product or service development.

Closing thoughts

In summary, multi-brand retailers are facing an additional layer of complexity that sits above the core challenges that traditional retailers face.

With an overly diverse (and often redundant) martech stack, these organizations require a strong digital commerce platform with core capabilities spanning across each of the brands’ sites. Doing so will bring out the best at the portfolio level while allowing each brand to deliver on the unique and distinctive experiences their customers have come to expect.

Want more insight on the right commerce platform for your unique needs? Check out our post, “The commerce platform buyer’s guide,” to discover tips for selecting the right commerce platform.

Eric Raarup is the Vice President of Digital Experience and Commerce at RBA: A Digital and Technology Consultancy. Follow him on LinkedIn