Brand Architecture Strategy Guide

Derrick DayeJanuary 31, 20145 min

Brand architecture is defined as the logical, strategic and relational structure for your brands or put another way, it is the entity’s “family tree” of brands, sub-brands and named products. Two shorthand terms are often used to describe how an organization manages its brand architecture:

1. “Branded house” implies that most or all products and services provided by that organization primarily bear the organization’s brand name. FedEx, Google, Coca-Cola and Virgin for example.

2. “House of brands” implies that the organization’s products and services bear a wide variety of brand names as opposed to the organization’s brand name. The Kraft Heinz Company, General Motors, Pepsico and Procter & Gamble for example.

The purpose of brand architecture is to addresses each of the following:

  • What the overarching branding approach is – master brand, brand/sub-brand, endorsed brand, stand alone brands, including  or some combination of these
  • How many levels of branding should exist
  • What types of brands exist at each level
  • How brands at different levels relate to each other, if at all
  • Decision rules for creating new brands
  • Which brands’ identities are dominant and which ones are recessive
  • What types of names the organization uses – coined, associative descriptive or generic descriptors – and in which circumstances (usually controlled by decision rules)
  • Which brands are features in each and every media, vehicle, situation and circumstance (e.g. business cards, stationery, product catalogs, website, shipping boxes, vehicle signage, employee uniforms, building signage, etc.)

Organizations often find themselves at a stage in their development in which the number of brands and named products that they are managing has gotten out of control. This could be due to a series of mergers and acquisitions or the continuous growth of new products and services over time. These organizations find that their portfolios of brands and other named entities have gotten too difficult or expensive to manage. Frequently, there are no naming standards. Each new product or service is named as it is created, with no view to the overall picture. And sometimes, employees are creating variations or new versions of existing brands for entities and programs such as internal training programs, company picnics or employee reward programs. If some or all of this applies to your organization, you likely need help clarifying and simplifying your branding structure.

Here are the reasons a company might want to maintain different brands or sub-brands:

  • If there are channel conflict issues, especially if key customers who resell to the end consumer want to offer something different from competitors.
  • If the same (or very similar) products are sold at different price points – separate brands or sub-brands create more distance between the offerings.
  • If one set of products are upscale or premium, while the other are standard or value products.
  • If one brand appeals to a very different market segment with different needs from the other brand (making the messaging different).

Usually, there is no significant danger to linking brands, especially if one is endorsed by the other. The exception to this is if one brand’s associations somehow detract from the other brand. Brand endorsement indicates the linkage but also creates some distance between the two brands. Endorsed brands make the parent brand relevant or at least increases its awareness to the market served by the endorsed brand.

The advantage of using fewer brands or a singular brand is marketing efficiency in brand building and customer communication.

There are no absolute rules that apply in all brand architecture situations, however here are some simple rules of thumb:

•    The simpler the system the better
•    Ideally, there are no more than two levels of hierarchy
•    The system should be flexible enough to address all current and anticipated branding situations
•    The dominant brand should be the one you most intend to build over time
•    Sub-brands should be created sparingly, however they can be built to make the main or parent brand more relevant to new customer segments
•    When an existing brand can be used, new brands should not be created
•    Careful thought should be put into at what level taglines are used
•    Many organizations have evolved to brand/sub-brand systems with some provision for flexibility and variation
•    More and more organizations are trying to build and leverage their corporate, parent or organization brands as a way to save money when marketing products and services
•    Only brands that (a) are highly differentiated, (b) will be maintained for at least several years and (c) will be supported by significant marketing resources over time should have coined names
•    Brand architecture should be designed with external audiences in mind. It should not be designed to reflect legal entities or internal organization structure.
•    Sub-brands should be developed to meet the needs of different market segments. This requires a deep understanding of those segments.

The Blake Project‘s standard approach is to conduct a half-day to full-day workshop designed to address your brand architecture issues including those mentioned above. (Longer engagements include our workshop and a design component) We bring a recommendation into the workshop but then proceed to work through every possible brand architecture scenario with our clients to make sure the system is robust and able to address every current and future situation. For example, this week a global brand that is moving through a busy period of mergers and acquisitions contacted us to lead their brand architecture strategy effort. Based on their needs, this is the output they can expect from our brand architecture workshop:

  • What the overall brand architecture should be, including to what degree you should be a house of brands versus a branded house
  • How to treat acquired brands
  • How to relate sub-brands to the parent brand
  • How aggressively to transition other brands to the parent brand identity
  • How to treat sub-brands when they are necessary
  • Appropriate naming conventions

Our brand architecture workshop has been validated by a wide range of organizations and results in the following advantages:

  • Significantly lower marketing costs
  • Brand naming clarity
  • Ability to build brand awareness more quickly and efficiently
  • Better (and more comprehensive) customer understanding of your product and service offerings, including decreased product confusion
  • Increased flexibility for future brand extensions
  • Clarity and confidence among key stakeholders in the strategic direction of your brands

The Blake Project’s brand architecture workshop has a robust brand education component to ensure decision makers fully understand the implications of every decision.

Brand architecture design is one of the most difficult of all the brand management tasks, not only because of the egos and the politics but also because of its complexity and the need for it to anticipate a wide range of future scenarios. Never underestimate the value of taking the time to think through your brand architecture strategy. Your brands’ position in the mind depends on it.

Email us for more about how The Blake Project’s brand architecture workshop can benefit your organization.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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  • Sandra Pickering

    February 6, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Another great post. Thank you.
    We’ve found it helpful to start from a “brand meaning” logic for architecture and portfolio management.

  • Serge

    February 7, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Very informative!

    It’s really can be hard to choose a line your brand will develop upon. And whether to choose one brand or allow some sub-brands to assist. But, as you mentioned, if the right hierarchy is set, you’re half way to success.

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