Imagine you’re in charge of Acme, a manufacturer of car parts. Your brand is successful, but you don’t make alloy wheels, and you reckon there’s a real opportunity in alloy wheels. Instead of starting from scratch, though, you cast your eye acquisitively towards Rimz, a fabulously successful maker of alloys, and you buy them instead. It’s a useful purchase that allows you to expand your product range into a new category very quickly.

At this point it’s easy to think that you have two options:

  1. keep Rimz as a separate brand, continuing to sell Rimz’s physical products under the Rimz brand;

  2. or fold it into Acme, continuing to sell Rimz’s physical products but selling them with the Acme brand on them.

If Rimz has a good reputation, and is famous among car enthusiasts, you might decide to maintain it as a separate brand. This would preserve Rimz’s fame, but at the cost of spreading your marketing budget across two brands and making life a bit more complicated for you.

Alternatively, you might decide to get rid of the Rimz brand, bringing Rimz’s products under the Acme umbrella and making everything consistent under one brand, but at the expense of losing the fame and goodwill that Rimz has built up over the years.

But these aren’t the only two options. It seems that way because of the framing of the problem: that you have two distinct, entirely separate brands, and they can either be wholly separate or wholly absorbed. But that’s not the case; it’s not as black-and-white as that.

In buying Rimz, you acquired all of Rimz’s assets (and liabilities, of course). These assets included tangible things like property, but they also included the intangible assets of the business – all of the positivity, negativity and apathy felt by people towards Rimz’s brand, and all of Rimz’s distinctive assets.

The useful lens through which to look at it this problem is by thinking about those distinctive assets. The main point is that there’s nothing particularly unique or special about a brand name; it’s a distinctive asset like any other. (Although it’s a very important one!) Consumers don’t have a special category in their memory for brand names, separate from other distinctive assets. They’re all the same: things that they remember, and associate with particular brands.

If the name is unique and famous, it’s useful and worth preserving, but it doesn’t have to always remain a brand name. What if you thought about Rimz, including its name, as a collection of assets, some of which could be discarded and some of which could be retained, and all of which could exist at different levels of a hierarchy?

If you think that way, you might consider the option that might preserve the most overall equity: to continue to use the Rimz name, but not treat it as a separate brand. By making “Rimz” a product or range within Acme, you can preserve its name and its fame while keeping everything under one overall brand umbrella. So Acme’s range of alloy wheels, after the purchase, might easily be called Acme Rimz – a neat compromise that maintains much of Rimz’s fame without needing Acme to maintain a whole separate brand. You could then decide what else to retain – Rimz’s logo, any distinctive colours, and so on.

Whether this is possible depends on how aligned the two brands’ audiences and perceptions are. If everyone who loves Rimz will think a little less of them for their association with Acme, or if Acme targets affluent older customers and Rimz targets young car modders, or if the two brands’ broader design languages and tones of voice are utterly contradictory, then keeping them separate might make more sense. Whatever the final decision, though, there are more options than simple preservation or destruction.