Company valuations are driven by financial performance, but businesses that command outsized valuations do so thanks to Goodwill, or brand equity.

Brian Morrissey today discussed brand strategy, referencing Kevin Smith / Mighty Roar’s brand architecture. He breaks it down into three basic alternatives:

  • The Branded House. This approach, where a master brand dominates, is typified by Bloomberg and The New York Times.
  • The House of Brands. This is a classic publishing approach favored by magazine companies. Condé Nast is a classic house of brands, as is Vox Media and Complex.
  • Endorsed. Many brands grow into this structure as they grow and acquire brands rather than try to subsume them. Think of Coca-Cola, which, in addition to Coke and offshoots like Diet Coke, has endorsed sub-brands in Sprite, Dasani and Fanta.

As the Web did to cable, the Web is now doing onto itself with further fragmentation. Unsurprisingly, that has carried over to brand strategy: 

Phase 1: Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Autos, etc. or – which didn’t even go that far.

Morrissey draws from his experience at Digiday:

“One of the key decisions at Digiday was to move toward being a house of brands (with elements of endorsed brands) with the addition of Glossy, focused on fashion and subsequently beauty. An earlier effort at a new brand in fintech failed for a variety of reasons, but the most important one was the “circles” didn’t touch. Verticalization is the way out of commoditization, lending itself to the House of Brands and Hybrid approaches.”

Phase 2: Today, we’ll skip the Web 2.0 era of the “missing-vowel” variety of brands and park that for another day.

Phase 3: Dotdash’s web 1.0 precursor – – saw its strength (a bit of everything for everyone) turn into a weakness. Dotcash now boasts: The Spruce (home), VeryWell (health), Investopedia,, SeriousEats, Brides, TripSavvy, etc.

This Hits Home

This is an area I’ve long struggled with. We launched WatchMojo and had plans for ArcadeMojo, FlickMojo, MDMojo, FoodMojo, SoundMojo (which we brought back last year) – but it was clear that brand strategy aside, that would be akin to boiling the ocean. We regrouped around the WatchMojo brand… and subsequently narrowed our focus to find platform/format fit. I count our lucky stars that we were contemporaneous with YouTube; if all we ever do is build a brand like WatchMojo that the YouTube-era (i.e. everyone with a web connection who watches video) grew up with, then I’m good.

Why? YouTube and Google command the strongest brands amongst our key demographic:

I’ve positioned WatchMojo on YouTube the way MTV and ESPN were pioneer brands on cable; not a perfect analogy, but a good parallel.

Either way, over time, as you want to serve your audience and team’s creative endeavors, you go from one end of the spectrum to the other. What’s new is old. 

The reason why I find this topic quite important is because at a high level, one can explain and rationalize the brand vision strategy. For example, from a company presentation:

But until and unless the market rewards that strategy – as it has with MsMojo, WatchMojo Espanol (and their offspring, MsMojo Espanol), WatchMojo Italia and others, any brand strategy remains a work-in-progress (and success for such collection of brands hinges on far more than brand strategy, to be clear, and include timing, clutter & competition, editorial POV, etc). As an entrepreneur, you have to keep tinkering.

While WatchMojo stands for general entertainment and its become more and more known around movies/TV show & ranking lists; we felt it made sense to launch into a deeper gaming editorial with MojoPlays, because while we cover less sports and music, we still cover quite a bit of gaming and along with movies & TV shows, I consider it a pillar of our programming.

Going Deep vs. Going Wide

There’s a Going Deep to super serve your audience vs. Going Wide to diversify and reach new audiences, or serve existing audiences as they get older and interests evolve.

But while we launched with MojoTravels, I actually considered very different brands (this, is a whole other story for another day).

Naturally, I didn’t really feel like going with a Mojo related brand made sense for Context

We’re also practical, our game shows are called The Lineup and What the List?, but since the shows would be consumer-facing, then GameShowMojo made sense for the umbrella brand, because the emphasis initially ought to be more on the atomic gameshow level – the product – before worrying about the molecular portfolio brand name.

Ultimately, all storyteller/entrepreneurs (going back to Henry Luce at Time) eventually struggle with this predicament (a world class problem, mind you). From one of my previous internal memos:

Digital media entrepreneurs, executives & companies strive to build the next Time Inc or Viacom (portfolio of brands). Until 2017, we focused on building an ESPN or MTV (a strong brand). But as YouTube continued to grow in size & replace TV as the leading consumption platform and by nature rewards vertically-focused channels, it is critical to leverage that anchor to launch new brands. As a parallel to Viacom/Time Inc., this is how we view our portfolio going forward:

We are obviously not suggesting that today JrMojo is even 1% of 1% of Nickelodeon, or the recently-launched Context is a threat to Fortune, but as brands fade in influence and media evolves, we’re simply sharing the roadmap going forward under the “Build” model. Understandably, there is also a “Partner/Invest” and “Buy” framework.”

Of course, for us, our branding strategy also includes international – and for those, given our “offensive” and “defensive” reasons for them, it made sense to stick with WatchMojo:

I’ll expand another day on those “offensive” and “defensive” reasons (largely facing the viewership stakeholder group). But for our other key stakeholders: marketers, talent and rights holders, it’s a no-brainer even if financially, it may not make a lot of sense early-on.

Competition means opening up new fronts, re-aligning your resources accordingly, but ultimately staying nimble, agile, and quick to adapt.

The main image is courtesy of Visual Capitalist, which has a great piece on the most valuable brands of 2020.