We’ve talked before on these pages about the merits and limitations of sub-brands. While they may help to raise awareness of new capabilities, they may also underline that the sub-brand isn’t core to what the firm does. Nowhere is that debate more pressing than in a discussion about digital sub-brands. What’s next for those firms with separate digital sub-brands, if digital is becoming fundamental to everything clients do? - writes Alison Huntington of Source Global Research...

It’s tempting to say that digital sub-brands are reaching the end of their shelf life, and should be integrated back into the parent brands of the firms that spawned them. But recent conversations with clients have given me pause for thought.

Referring to two firms with digital sub-brands, one client says: “They’re still a bunch of number crunchers and geeks.” The digital sub-brands haven’t changed his opinions about the parent brands. Another client used the word “stuffy” to describe the culture of another firm—the opposite of the more innovative and digital image the firm’s sub-brand seeks to convey. “They realised that they can’t attract the people they need for digital,” says the CIO of an energy company in Germany, “so they had to open a new ‘digital’ office up the road that felt different.” It’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the parent brand’s ability to succeed in the digital world on its own.

So if your parent brand’s image is incongruous with the digital direction of the market (which, for most of the large, traditional consulting firms is the case), but your digital sub-brand is starting to feel like an irrelevant distinction, what do you do? Broadly speaking, we see three possibilities: