Using a big brand can hurt

Start-ups operating inside a bigger enterprise are often tempted to use the parent brand, but is it a shield, an umbrella or a safety net?
1 April 2019 by
Using a big brand can hurt
Doubly Good, Leigh Garland
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Too often, start-ups within large enterprises try to leverage existing brand-loyalty in order to get customers over the hump to purchase an early-stage product. Unless you provide some kind of real value, your customers will smell something fishy about it.

An established brand is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. If it’s big enough, it will always crack the nut, and will almost always drive some kind of response from customers. The danger is that your product is not well formed, and it will damage your prospects and the parent brand.

Perhaps the established brand might be attracting the wrong customers, and they might not like your product. Therefore, you may think your product is bad, because you can’t sell punk to a jazz crowd.

Using the established brand comes with it’s own inertia. Brands can be pretty protective about what your product looks like, or how it presents itself. Fighting the parent brand team may suck all the energy out of your team.


Branding is hard, and I don’t want to trivialise the impact it can have on the success of a project. However, it’s more than just a snappy name and a logo. These days it’s how the business lives in public. Which is why so many established brands are so protective of it.

Do without a ‘brand’ for as long as practical. You can start with an obvious project name, and fly under the radar for as long as you can manage. If “Project Red Baboon 46” finds product market fit, then you can develop a brand that feels more comfortable and appropriate.

Learn your own way for as long as possible. There’s something to be learned about having to run your own marketing for your own product, without the brand safety-net. Perhaps your best customers live on a channel under-served by your parent enterprise.

Above all, work with the parent brand team. Explain what you’re doing. Find out what they’re comfortable with, and where their ‘red lines’ are. Encourage the parent enterprise to have a public-facing platform for early-stage products and services. This way, you can use some of the brand channels, with less risk to the main brand.

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