A high-level overview of the various brand architecture strategies with illustrative examples for each

Brand architecture refers to the hierarchy of brands within a single company.

Brand architecture is the interrelationship of the parent company, subsidiary companies, products and services, and should mirror or compliment the marketing strategy. It is important to bring consistency, visual and verbal order, thought and intention to disparate elements to help a company grow and market more effectively.

The most common brand architecture strategies are:

  • Branded house (or Monolithic)
  • Sub-brands
  • Endorsed brands
  • House of brands

Additionally, a Hybrid Brand architecture is often seen amongst organisations that have inherited, merged or acquired other brands.

On a spectrum of ‘connected to the parent brand’

  • Monolithic brands are inextricably linked to the parent brand
  • Sub-brands less so, but will often share some of the parent brand attributes to
  • Endorsed brands are able to exist more independently with less physical / visual linkages to the parent brand
  • House of brands have minimal or no linkage to the parent brand

Branded House

A Branded House is a brand architecture strategy where more than one company’s products are sold under one name/branding umbrella. This approach is optimal if the master brand/company wants more control over the end product’s production, distribution, and cost.

Branded House brand architecture examples

Advantages of a Branded House brand architecture

  • The branded house strategy works well to provide a common platform for individual product brands while each marketing and positioning element simultaneously builds both the subsidiary or child brand and the master brand.
  • A branded house takes advantage of the same outcomes and audience.
  • Planning, resources and budget are all centralised rather than split between teams and brands in a branded house model. Building and controlling a single brand is also easier for brand and marketing teams.
  • It is easier for consumers to recognize the products and to understand them because of the descriptor.

Disadvantages of a Branded House brand architecture

  • A branded house strategy makes it difficult to add new audiences (who aren’t users of your core brand) or to add new brands through mergers and acquisitions.
  • If a product/service goes through a crisis, the whole brand may suffer – any negativity associated with a service/product is attributed to the brand and all its other products/services – everything that occurs is attributed to the brand.

Sub-brands

Sub-brands are subsidiary brands, product lines, products or services that share brand attributes of the parent brand, but are individual and flexible enough to accommodate new customer groups that exist outside of the parent brand’s target markets.

Sub-brand brand architecture examples

Advantages of a sub-brand architecture

  • Sub-brands are meaningful parts of the same umbrella organisation, they’re not limited by sales strategies of the parent company. With sub-brands, businesses have the freedom to explore beyond their initial portfolio and USP.
  • You can target many different customers because the sub-brands have different names, logos, different promises, positions and personality traits – you can address conflicting audiences.

Disadvantages of a sub-brand architecture

  • Sub-brands are associated with a corporate brand or a master brand, which can increase or modify the associations of that brand.
  • They have the disadvantage of being an additional difficulty for brand management, especially when there is a large number of sub-brands, which can operate in different countries, cultures or segments.
  • Any issues with a single product will affect the parent brand’s reputation, as well as the sub brand.
  • Legal and creative / marketing costs of creating new sub-brands

Endorsed brand

Endorsed brand is a brand architecture structure, consisting of distinctly different product or service brands that are positioned individually from its parent brand (also known as an endorser brand). Although these sub-brands are obviously distinctly different, they each retain an association with the endorser parent brand through visual reference (i.e. the parent brand mark).

Endorsed Brand brand architecture examples

Advantages of an endorsed brand architecture

  • Leverage the brand equity and reputation of the parent brand.
  • Don’t need to establish brand awareness from ground zero.
  • Increased reputation and growth of sister brands has knock on effects
  • Added safety and security from established parent brand
  • Enhanced marketing effectiveness and reduced cost in conjunction with parent brand
  • ​​An endorser brand can work as assurance of quality for the product brand, it can increase consumer’s perception and confidence
  • Marketing activities advertise both the product brand and the endorser
  • The connection between product brands can facilitate cross-selling

Disadvantages of an endorsed brand architecture

  • Although the endorsed brand enjoys independence, it must fall in line with the parent brand values and beliefs.
  • Complicated chain of command can lead to delayed market responses
  • If a brand goes through a crisis it is hard to control the damage because the crisis can extend to the parent brand and also to the other brands
  • There will be creative, legal, and time-to-market costs for every endorsed brand

House of brands

A house of brands has diverse audiences, outcomes, brand purposes and visual identities, sitting underneath a corporate brand. The brands, promoted as separate entities, often without reference to the corporate brand, let alone each other. A house of brands grows stronger by demonstrating singleness of purpose for each product brand.

The most critical element to underpin a house of brands is the audience, and the brand’s promise to this audience.

House of brands brand architecture examples

Advantages of a house of brands architecture

  • A house of brands works best with the individual brands clearly defined by distinct target markets and marketing strategies – most commonly consumer brands. It works where a particular target market doesn’t respond to the other brand.
  • If a free-standing brand goes through a crisis, it is not “contagious” to the other brands
  • Full liberty in creating the identity: freedom to create different brand strategy, name, logo, design, and creative campaigns
  • Presence in different market niches, targeting different audiences

Disadvantages of a house of brands architecture

  • Requires more effort to plan and build different brands that make up a house of brands.
  • Hierarchies can often be quite complex in a house of brands and the corporate brand underpinning all of them can become lost.
  • The fact that every brand needs its own strategy, identity and marketing activities is a financial disadvantage.
  • The time and resources involved in planning and implementing the brand activities will be greater
  • Success will not be directly attributed to the parent brand

Summary

The choice of brand architecture for the majority of multi-brand organisations will be determined by the following factors:

  • Inherited brand architecture (especially after mergers and acquisitions)
  • Requirement to be able to target different audiences
  • Resources available to create and manage the brand portfolio

Recommended further reading

Five books on brand architecture:

Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team
by Alina Wheeler
This book provides a comprehensive overview of the process of designing a brand identity. It covers the key principles of brand identity design and how to apply them in a variety of business contexts.

The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design
by Marty Neumeier
This book offers a practical guide to creating and managing brand architecture, with a focus on how to align a company’s brand strategy with its design and messaging.

Branding: In Five and a Half Steps
by Michael Johnson
This book provides a concise and straightforward overview of the key principles of branding, including how to create and manage a brand architecture that supports business growth.

The New Strategic Brand Management: Creating and Sustaining Brand Equity Long-Term
by Jean-Noel Kapferer
This book offers a comprehensive overview of strategic brand management, including how to create and manage a brand architecture that supports long-term brand equity.

Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind the Stuff We Buy
by Martin Lindstrom
This book explores the role of sensory branding in creating and managing a successful brand architecture and offers practical tips for using sensory branding to differentiate a brand from its competitors.