When David Tennant first replaced Christopher Eccleston as Doctor Who, I was heartbroken. Luckily, the show’s other main character, Rose, mirrored my fears and sense of loss, and as she fell in love with Tennant’s version of the Doctor, so did I.
Then, just a few short years later, David Tennant was replaced by Matt Smith, and again my heart broke. I rebelled against this new Doctor, and gave up the show. Recently I returned, intrigued by what I’d heard about the newest iteration of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi. I rewatched the first 5 seasons, and pushed straight through all 3 of Matt Smith’s seasons, catching up to Capaldi’s entrance. And I realized something: each regeneration of the Doctor is a sub-brand, and Doctor Who is the umbrella brand.
A Brief Explanation of Doctor Who
If this made no sense to you, you’re likely unfamiliar with the TV show Doctor Who. This is a show about a man from another planet, who in lieu of dying, can “regenerate” into a new body. The show has seen the Doctor regenerate a total of 13 times, each time replacing the main actor with a new actor playing the same character.
The new actor is under no obligation to retain any of the same character traits or acting choices of previous actors. Indeed, each new Doctor “learns” what he now likes and dislikes, what clothes he’s comfortable in, what foods he enjoys, even how he feels about his friends and himself. Just before the Doctor regenerates, he often says his goodbyes, saying things like:
“I might never make sense again. I might have two heads. Or no head. Imagine me with no head! And don’t say that’s an improvement. But it’s a bit dodgy, this process. You never know what you’re going to end up with… Time Lord’s have this sort of trick. It’s our little way of cheating death. Except, it means I’m gonna change. And I’m not gonna see you again. Not like this. Not with this daft old face.” -Christopher Eccleston, the 9th Doctor
“Even if I change, it feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away. And I’m dead.” -David Tennant, the 10th Doctor
Yet somehow, even as the Doctor changes, the fans continue to love “the Doctor” as a whole.
What was that about an Umbrella Brand?
As I rewatched 8 seasons of Doctor Who in 1 month, (this time prepared for Eccleston and then Tennant to leave), I was less bothered by Matt Smith’s entrance, and I realized the Doctor I knew and loved was still somewhere inside him. What was actually happening, of course, is that the writers creating the Doctor were consistent, even when the actor changed.
There’s a practical and obvious reason for this: although the actors changed, the writers, producers, and show runners stayed the same, and their influence provided the “voice” and Doctor Who brand I had grown attached to.
Companies with multiple products and services mirror Doctor Who’s set up. The products or services are the various Doctors, but the brand behind them is a single entity. However, unlike the Doctor Who team, some brands have multiple writers, producers, etc working on each product or service. It’s our job as content strategists to find that umbrella brand, and make it consistent, so that people who love a David Tennant product will see the same brand behind the company’s Matt Smith product.
How to build the Umbrella Brand
The team at Doctor Who has it (relatively) easy. They have one team, and one product/actor at a time to work with. For those of us in the marketing and branding world, creating that umbrella strategy is a little more difficult. Here are some tips to get started.
- Identify the brand similarities across products, and play those up.
- Break down silos! Make sure product teams are communicating with one another.
- Define the big picture brand. It’s easier for products and services to differentiate themselves without contradicting the brand if they know what the big picture brand is.
- Create a voice and tone style guide for the organization, to improve consistency.
- Watch Doctor Who.