A Branded House – Or a House of Brands?

A Branded House – Or a House of Brands?

I joined the Korn Ferry organization almost three years ago, taking global marketing responsibility for the firm’s standalone Futurestep brand. Before taking the role, I wanted to understand the strategy for the brand (thinking selfishly – I wanted autonomy, and role with a reasonable life span!) but in every conversation with key players like CMO Mike Distefano, and Futurestep CEO Byrne Mulrooney, the strategy was clear and compelling. Futurestep would stay a separate brand, and for good reasons.

Korn Ferry was strongly established as a leading executive search brand, while Futurestep was carving out its own offering in a quite distinct field: talent acquisition for the enterprise, largely at the professional level.

So different audiences, different issues, a different proposition. Marketing the services under different brands made perfect sense.

And of course, there are many leading companies that follow this ‘house of brands’ approach. Think Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and WPP. They target their products and services to different buying audiences through many separate brands (some of them even competing with each other for market share).

For many companies though, the chosen route is to be a ‘branded house’ rather than a ‘house of brands’. Consumer businesses like Apple, Virgin and Amazon operate within one overarching masterbrand, as do leading B2B organizations like Accenture, IBM and KPMG. Any new divisions or operations must find their identity with the support (or constraints!) of the main brand.

Naturally, there are pros and cons to both approaches.

A ‘house of brands’ creates great flexibility and dynamism, allowing the separate brands to succeed (or fail) without the pressure of protecting the masterbrand. On the other hand, a ‘branded house’ generates awareness and builds reputation in a much more cohesive and powerful way.

For Korn Ferry, the brand strategy challenge has been exacerbated by our acquisitive business strategy. Ever since the 70s, we’ve acquired a number of well-known and highly respected brands to drive our growth and deepen our own expertise: Hazzard & Asociados, Carre/Orban, Amrop, Whitehead Mann, the Newman Group, Lominger, Lore, Sensa, Global Novations and, most recently, PDI Ninth House.

Choosing when (and if) to sunset each of these distinct brands has been a complex and often emotive process. After all, many of those brands (like Lominger and PDI Ninth House) represent IP that’s a core part of Korn Ferry’s proposition. As with the Futurestep brand, a convincing case could be made for continuing their lifespan indefinitely within the ‘house of brands’ framework.

And yet, like many people in the organization, I feel the time has come for a change. In fact, having spent the last few years passionately building the Futurestep brand, I’m probably now one of the loudest voices arguing that we should speed our transition to a single Korn Ferry brand.


Well, the market has changed. We know our clients want broader, deeper solutions to their talent challenges. And so has the organization itself. Accelerated by acquisitions, the firm’s capabilities have been transformed, giving us a unique position in the global talent management industry. A single unified brand is the only way to fully capitalize on this.

A ‘branded house’ approach chimes perfectly with our business strategy. Korn Ferry will be synonymous with talent. The premier leadership and talent management organization in the world. A single source of best-in-class recruitment, leadership and talent consulting services – all the way from the CEO and the boardroom team to the ‘vital many’ employees throughout the business.

In many ways, Korn Ferry’s success as an executive search firm has made it tougher for us to extend our brand into this new territory, and reflect the full scope of our offerings. But there’s a readiness at the highest levels of the firm to be bold, and to create a Korn Ferry brand that fits the business we want to be in the future.

On a personal note, I’ll certainly find it hard when we finally decide the time is right to retire the Futurestep brand that I helped to create and develop. But I believe strongly it’s the right thing to do in the long term – and I’m excited about the power we will unlock when we align every part of the organization under one Korn Ferry.

One comment

  1. Aimee McManus November 12, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Being a part of the Futurestep rebrand project just a few years ago was a great experience and one of the most exciting projects of my career. It was an invigorating, all out sprint to get the new “face” of Futurestep to market. A pace that I now realize is the norm for everything Futurestep does. That being said, I agree that the time is right to move to a branded house approach. Josh Bersin pointedly asked us in March at our analyst event why Futurestep continues to be a separate brand within KF. As analyst with a global industry view, he sees the shift in the market toward integrated solutions and understands the power of an aligned KF brand.

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