Remember in first grade when you had to create a family tree? You start at the top of the tree with your great, great grandparents, work downward to great Aunt Rudy and Uncle Alphie, and eventually to the bottom – you! Everyone on that tree is related by blood, yes, but everyone is still unique.

Think of a company’s brand architecture as their family tree — they are all connected, but likely look a little different from one another.

Now that you’re reminiscing about the woes of your last family reunion, lets dig deeper into the importance of a consistent brand architecture and all of the possible brand family layouts.

What Is Brand Architecture?

Simply put, brand architecture is the relationship between brands within an organization and how they interact with one another.

As organizations grow and appeal to different audiences through different product lines or company acquisitions, brand architecture is the key organizational system that makes sure each type of product or company is intuitively linked with the right audience.

Why Is Brand Architecture Important?

No matter how many products or services you offer, think about how your target audience will recognize each of them. Brand architecture helps you define what that relationship is, and helps your brand stay organized internally.

It’s a road map for brand identity, development and design, and increases flexibility for product or service expansion in the future. From a messaging and communications standpoint, an organized brand architecture helps you reach your target market for each product or service that you offer.

And no, your brand is not too small to benefit from brand architecture. The ability to uniquely pair your products with the right target audiences through branding is a key element in positioning your organization for healthy marketing and healthy growth.

What Are the Different Types of Brand Architecture?

There are four main types of brand architecture:

  • House of Brands
  • Endorsed Brands
  • Sub Brand
  • Branded House

The main difference between each type of brand architecture is the dominance and emphasis of the parent or umbrella brand:

Spectrum showing dominance of parent brand in brand architecture

House of brands offers the most flexible architecture by detaching the parent brand from other ‘standalone’ child brands, while, on the other end of the spectrum, a branded house closely incorporates the parent brand into every child brand.

How Do You Choose Between Brand Architecture Types?

The goal of brand architecture is clarity in storytelling: aligning your own aspirations and authenticity as an organization with the desires of your audience.

If you’re able to add a third dimension – becoming distinct in your space – you’re positioning yourself to own the right perceptions. That’s all we define branding as: what perceptions do you own?

A Helpful Psychological Principle

In Rory Sutherland’s Ted Talk Perspective Is Everything, he explains that in the days of DVDs, you would go to the store, see a combination DVD player & TV, and, without knowing anything about the quality, assume it’s generally a bad DVD player and a bad TV.

Instead of buying the combo DVD & TV, you’d walk out of the store with one of each.

“Google is a great, great technological success, but it’s also based on a very good psychological insight. People believe something that only does one thing is better at that thing than something that does that thing and something else.”

This is principle called “Goal Dilution” and it’s a helpful consideration when you’re looking at your audience, analyzing your competitive space(s), and considering the right brand architecture.

Why Separating Your Brands – A La “Goal Dilution” – Isn’t Always the Way to Go

While a standalone brand that does one thing well can be a good strategy, it doesn’t always effectively answer the question of how to break into an industry and gain name recognition.

If your parent brand has a strong audience following, it can be helpful to attach it to a child brand as a signal of brand equity: we’re a brand you trust, and we’re bringing you another product line or type of service you can trust in.

Deciding on the role of the parent brand is the key to choosing the right brand architecture. To help navigate that sometimes tricky decision, here’s a breakdown of each brand architecture type:

House of Brands

A house of brands separates the master brand from brand extensions, and detaches each extension. So, the master brand can have competing brands underneath them.

An example of a house of brands is Proctor and Gamble. P&G has dozens of products underneath the parent brand. Each brand extension is separate from one another – you don’t associate Vicks with P&G or with Pantene. (Or maybe you do?) Each brand, including P&G, is responsible for their own brand equity. That way, if Bounce had a brand crisis, no other brands would be impacted.

P&G Brand Architecture Chart

On the back of your Crest Toothpaste or Pampers Diapers, in the fine print, however, P&G is listed. But, how often do people read the fine print?

Endorsed Brand (and an example of a ‘Hybrid’)

The endorsed brand model packages brands under a master brand. Each brand extension has its own identity, but is still associated with the master brand. The master brand equity can be used, or each brand extension can develop its own independent strategy.

An example of an endorsed brand is Marriott:

Marriott

Marriott also is an example of ‘Hybrid’ brand: one employing more than one model of brand architecture. While the majority of its brands are explicitly endorsed by Marriott, brands like Sheraton live under the parent in a ‘House of Brands’ category.

Chart of Marriott brand logos

Sub Brand

Sub brands are related to a parent brand, and both support and benefit from that parent. Sub brands tie back to the parent brand’s qualities, values, and message, while also having their own unique qualities.

Apple, for example, has multiple technological products. While these products may not have Apple in their name, they are branded as Apple and promote the parent brand. Apple is not a product itself, but each sub brand takes advantage of Apple’s brand equity, and releases different products to cater to many consumer segments.

  Apple sub brand logos

Branded House

The branded house offers a very logical path to brand extensions, as the master brand is always present.

Take FedEx, for example. Each brand offers a different (but complimentary) service to the master FedEx brand. The credibility of the master brand is shared, and each brand helps build equity for FedEx.

Fedex brand architecture and logos

Large vs. Small Companies

There is a myth that brand architecture can only benefit large companies. When you have a vision for where your company is going, no matter your size, part of that vision should be brand architecture.

Do you want your two or three product lines to be related to each other? If you were to acquire a competitor or expand into a new marketing, would these new brands detract from the perceptions you own now? Can each brand stand on its own, or would an endorsement from your ‘parent’ help by carrying the weight of your loyal following?

Can we use multiple brand architectures?

The more architectures you layer on, the more complex your story gets. The real compass of brand architecture decision-making is threefold:

  • What is authentic and aspirational to each company or product line?
  • What is true and meaningful to your audience?
  • What is distinct in each competitive space?

While implementing two types of brand architecture is common – i.e. Marriott – it’s rare to see an effective company that reaches for more than that. If you’re struggling to limit yourself to two types of brand architecture, it’s worth evaluating your system collectively. Dropping one may unlock the same effect that adding a third would, and it will help simplify your structure and storytelling.

Here are a few key things to keep in mind:

  1. Brand architecture is always external facing, not legal or organizational. What would make the most sense to your customers? #Research can help you answer this objectively.
  2. The bottom line is clarity and messaging. If you don’t have clarity in your architecture, people will have a harder time understanding what your unique value proposition is.
  3. Keep it simple. Stick with one brand architecture, but use two structures MAX per company. Conduct an extensive amount of research to fully understand company offerings and strategy when choosing an architecture.
  4. The dominant brand is the one you most intend to build over time. Building a core brand should be your highest priority.
  5. When an existing brand can be used, new brands should not be created.

 
Marketing is the act of expansion – reaching as many people as possible through as many channels as possible, and removing the friction between a buyer and a purchase.

Branding is an act of contraction – ensuring that each company’s brands make sense in relation to one another. While it may seem that marketing and branding compete with each other in their goals, they actually help each other:

Brand is the foundation, and marketing is the rocket fuel. Wondering which brand architecture makes the most sense for your business? We can help!

Name That Architecture

Have you mastered brand architecture? Let’s play #NameThatArchitecture! Choose the most dominant brand architecture type for each of these:

GE Brand logos

 

 

Amazon-Brand-Architecture

 

 

Kelloggs Brand Architecture and Logos

 

Answers: Branded House, Sub Brand, Endorsed Brand. How did you do?

Bonus Points: Amazon also employs a House of Brand models for brands like Kindle and Whole Foods, just like Kellogg’s does for Morning Star and Austin.

* All trademarks are property of their respective owners.
** This post was originally published on Jan 8, 2019, and has been updated to reflect the landscape of brand architecture in 2021.
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