What marketers need to know about brand architecture
Every marketer wants a memorable brand whose products, services, sub-brands, and divisions are easily recognized and remembered. But with so much competition, standing out has become a grueling challenge. Only a handful of brands actually stick out in customers’ minds - just think about Apple’s range of iconic products, from the iPhone and MacBook to Apple Watch and Apple TV. Customers can easily pick out these products and will always recognize them as Apple products.
What this goes to show is that like Apple, the most successful brands have a clearly defined relationship between their business, divisions, products, and services. In other words, a well-established, thought-through brand architecture.
You may think that a brand architecture is only a requisite for multinationals or larger brands with multiple divisions and sub-brands. But the truth is that building a brand architecture should be the first step of brand-building - no matter how big or small you start off.
The A to Z of brand architecture
Brand architecture is the structure of your business. It shapes the relationship between brands within your organization and how they interact with each other. It’s essentially a roadmap for brand development; it guides brand decisions as your brand grows and evolves.
I always compare brand architecture to the foundation of a building. Without a solid foundation, any building is unstable and prone to collapsing. The same goes for your brand. Even if you start small, the right architecture is key to ensuring you stay strong and adaptable in the future.
With a brand architecture in place, it’s easier to maintain a consistent brand identity, leave a memorable impression on your target audience, and stay agile as your products and services expand over time. Here’s how:
- Clear brand positioning and identity
A well-established brand architecture provides a clear picture of who you are as a brand and ensures consistency in your brand positioning and messaging. This helps customers identify and recognize your brand as it evolves and changes over time.
- Builds brand equity
A brand architecture defines the relationship between your sub-brands and master brand. This makes it easier to leverage your sub-brands to build awareness, promote, and ultimately drive growth of the master brand.
- Provides clarity and direction for brand management
A brand architecture gives structure to your brand by ensuring that your sub-brands and divisions are explicitly mapped out. This makes it easier to manage your brand in the most efficient way while ensuring each sub-brand stays true to itself.
- Enables future growth and expansion
A brand architecture basically future-proofs your brand. It ensures that future changes - from rebrands and redesigns to mergers and acquisitions - don’t shake the foundations of your brand.
Breaking it down: the three types of brand architecture
There are various types of brand architecture to consider, depending on how you want to position your master brand and its relationship with your sub-brands. Let’s take a look at the three key brand architecture models:
- Branded house
A branded house is characterized by a single master brand under which several sub-brands exist as independent entities. These sub-brands use the master brand’s identity with descriptors as differentiators. What this means is that the master brand encompasses all sub-brands under a single, unified voice while clearly establishing each sub-brand as a standalone brand.
A well-known example of a branded house is FedEx. The brand has various sub-brands: FedEx Freight, FedEx Ground, FedEx Office, FedEx Logistics, FedEx Express, FedEx Services, and FedEx Dataworks. Each of these is a standalone brand whose identity has a clear link to the FedEx master brand.
- House of brands
In a house of brands, sub-brands aren’t bound to the master brand’s identity or positioning and have a bigger distinction between them. Each brand has its own unique look and feel and often caters to a specific target market.
Unilever is a great example of a house of brands. Each of its sub-brands - Dove, Lux, Ben & Jerry’s, and Lipton to name a few - has a distinct brand identity with no clear relationship with the master brand or the other sub-brands.
- Hybrid model
A hybrid model combines the branded house and house of brands models. Under this structure, sub-brands have their own identity but may still be visibly associated with the master brand.
Marriott, the largest hotel chain in the world, follows a hybrid brand architecture. Some of its sub-brands feature the master brand name, like Courtyard by Marriott and JW Marriott. Others don’t, like Sheraton and The Ritz Carlton.
There are pros and cons to each model, and determining the best option for your brand is no cakewalk. Every brand is different, and it takes a strong understanding of your brand to set up a brand architecture that works best for you.
The power of choosing the right brand architecture
Choosing the wrong brand architecture can lead to a fragmented brand identity that confuses customers and leaves a negative impression of your brand. There’s a lot to lose from getting it wrong - but there’s also a lot to gain from getting it right. A testament to that is our recent work with energy and renewables trading company COUNT.
COUNT wanted to position themselves as an industry leader and needed help uniting their three sub-brands under the right brand architecture. The brand wanted to build awareness about who they are and their top-rate solutions, but each of their sub-brands had their own brand identities and websites. There was no clear relationship between the sub-brands, which made it difficult for COUNT to build brand recognition.
After conducting a brand assessment, we determined the best brand architecture model for COUNT: a branded house. Under this model, COUNT’s sub-brands would coexist independently and have a clear link to each other and the master brand under which they would operate. We set out to build the master brand, The COUNT Group - a bold brand that serves as the face of the three sub-brands while giving each sub-brand its own space to shine.
The existing brand materials from COUNT’s sub-brands were consolidated into a consistent identity that encompasses the core of each sub-brand. We positioned the sub-brands as affiliated yet differentiated brands that come together under The COUNT Group. We then built The COUNT Group’s new digital home, a sleek and informative website that tells the brand’s story and highlights each sub-brand’s unique offerings.
Choosing the right brand architecture isn’t a straightforward task. There are many points to take into consideration. You need to be clear about who you are as a business and how you want your customers to perceive your brand. Getting it wrong can end up hurting your brand. Getting it right on the other hand can be transformative.