Just like every building needs a foundation, every business needs brand architecture. It's the structure that allows you to organize your offerings, develop a brand identity, and gain brand equity.
The right brand architecture provides clarity around your products or services and influences how your brands and sub-brands relate to one another.
Without this framework, there's no connection between your brand's offerings, messaging, and identity. This inconsistency can confuse consumers and dilute the overall value of the brand. (Think of it like walking through a building where every room has vastly different interior design).
To ensure your brand architecture fits your business, this post will share the various brand architecture models, highlight real-life examples, and provide steps to choose the best structure for your company.
What is brand architecture?
Brand architecture is the organizational framework a company uses to structure its brands, sub-brands, and products or services.
The framework helps define both the breadth and the depth of a brand, which makes it easier to develop marketing campaigns, identify growth opportunities, and ensure consumers understand the offerings.
Companies use brand architecture to inform internal efforts. It acts as the foundation for the brand identity, style guide, and brand story, but it also helps increase efficiency by highlighting opportunities for cross-promotion, brand awareness, and mergers and acquisitions.
Brand architecture isn't always obvious to consumers, who use it as a way to categorize the company and understand how it meets their needs. For example, people may not know that Alphabet is the parent company of Google. But they have a specific perception of Google's brand equity and transfer it to products like Google Sheets, Google Docs, or Google Search.
Ultimately, brand architecture is meant to bring order to a brand's offerings and build brand equity. Not every architecture will work for every business, so let's look at the options to see which may be the right fit for your brand.
Brand Architecture Models
The most common brand architecture models are branded house, house of brands, endorsed brands, and hybrid brands.
A branded house architecture combines several house brands under a single umbrella brand, leveraging the well-established master brand for its equity, awareness, and customer loyalty. Oftentimes, the house brands are designed to target different audience segments to maximize reach and revenue.
For instance, Apple uses a branded house architecture to create a seamless look and feel across its sub-brands: iPad, iPhone, iMac, Watch, and TV. By leaning on Apple's loyal customer base, the sub-brands increase their equity and more easily attract buyers.
The following companies use a branded house architecture:
- FedEx: FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, FedEx Office, etc
- Virgin: Virgin Mobile, Virgin Pulse, Virgin Money, etc
- HubSpot: Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, Service Hub, CMS Hub, Operations Hub
House of Brands
A house of brands architecture downplays the master brand in order to feature the sub-brands. This structure allows the sub-brands to shine on their own because they aren't tied to the messaging, appearance, or positioning of the master brands. But it also increases the complexity because each brand has a distinct audience, brand identity, marketing strategy, and equity.
Due to that complexity, companies that use a house of brands structure are often large global brands with established equity. While the master brand may be widely recognized, like the consumer goods company Unilever, it can also be behind the scenes, like the fast-food company Yum! Brands.
The following companies use a house of brands architecture:
- Procter & Gamble: Pampers, Tide, Bounty, Bounce, Dawn, Tampax, and more
- Yum! Brands: KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and The Habit Burger Grill
- GE Appliances: Monogram, Café, GE, GE Profile, Haier and Hotpoint
- Focus Brands: Aunties Anne's, Cinnabon, Jamba Juice, Carvel, and more
- PepsiCo: Pepsi, Lays, Quaker Oats, Gatorade, Aquafina, Tropicana, and more
A hybrid brand architecture combines the house of brands and branded house models. The goal of this structure is for the sub-brands to have similar styles as the master brand while maintaining distinct brand identities.
Companies that use a hybrid architecture may mention the master brand in marketing, but most adopt this model as a way to keep the master and sub-brands separate after rounds of mergers and acquisitions. It's also a good approach for brands that want to cater to vastly different target audiences, like Marriott Bonvoy.
By taking a hybrid approach, the company maintains a diverse portfolio of brands that includes luxury hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton, alongside budget-friendly options, such as Residence Inn.
The following companies use a hybrid approach:
- Alphabet: Google, Nest, YouTube, Fitbit, Waze, and more
- Microsoft: LinkedIn, Skype, GitHub, Mojang, and more
- Amazon: AmazonBasics, Presto!, Mama Bear, AmazonFresh, Zappos, and more
- Levi's: Levi's, Dockers, Denizen, and Signature by Levi Strauss & Co
Another option for brand architecture is the endorsed brand model, which has a master brand and sub-brands that rely on an association with it. Each sub-brand benefits from the strength of the others because they all share the same endorsement.
Oftentimes, an endorsed brand incorporates the logo and colors of the master brand. Of course, this allows the sub-brand to leverage the reputation of the main brand for improved brand equity, awareness, and security.
The endorsed approach is great for companies that use a hybrid approach and want each sub-brand to have its own identity, without separating it from the master brand. Unlike the house of brands approach, the endorsed model lets everyone know the main brand behind the products or services. And unlike the branded house approach, an endorsed brand can have a different look or feel from the master brand.
The following brands use an endorsed approach:
- Nescafe by Nestle
- Playstation by Sony
- Rice Krispies by Kellog
- Polo by Ralph Lauren
How to Develop Brand Architecture
Defining brand architecture is one of the first steps a company should take when building a brand because it lays the foundation for an organized, intuitive branding strategy. Although brand architecture can become complex, with dozens of sub-brands, the right structure can ensure each brand remains true to its identity.
You can develop a brand architecture for your business in three steps: research, strategy, and application.
Strong brands don't simply choose a model and run with it. Conducting research is an essential step to developing brand architecture because it gives you the information you need to organize offerings in a way that makes sense for your company, customers, and industry.
The more data, the better. But gathering the following information will provide the insights you need to get started.
- Brand audit - Brand loyalty, brand awareness, brand perception, brand equity, brand assets, and brand portfolio
- Market research - Buyer personas, market segmentation, product/service use, pricing, customer satisfaction, and competitive analysis
Before you make any decision, it's wise to review your company's mission, vision, and values to ensure the brand architecture aligns with business goals.
With data in hand, it's time to design the brand architecture. If you're revamping an old architecture, this step may require tough decisions on whether to get rid of or sell brands that don't fit into your desired architecture. If you're starting from scratch, you have to decide how closely you want your current (or future) sub-brands to be connected to the master brand.
You can test out each architecture by seeing what the brand would look like in each approach and creating a list of pros and cons. Maybe the branded house model won't work because you have several distinct brands that can't be grouped under the parent brand.
When you find a structure that may work, outline the connections between the master brands, sub-brands, and products or services. You need to know how everything works together because defining distinct brands, designing cross-promotions, or marketing to customers.
Along the way, make sure to consider your available resources (employees, budget, time). Certain approaches take more work than others, so you want to choose a brand architecture that fits your current capacity as well as your future vision.
Choosing a brand architecture is just the start of creating a lasting brand that people love. But for the sake of this article, the last step is to share the finalized structure with your team.
Since brand architecture is part of your brand identity, you can unveil it alongside your overarching brand positioning strategy. Make sure to include a clear structure that highlights the relationships between the master brand, sub-brands, and offerings, in addition to any connections between sub-brands. Everyone on the team should know the strategic role of every brand within the architecture framework and how it relates to customers.
As your company grows, your brand architecture must change to include any new offerings or brands — whether it's the result of a new product launch or an acquisition.
By taking time to conduct brand research, develop a brand architecture strategy, and share it with your team, you're setting your entire organization up to make efficient branding decisions that have a long-term effect on brand equity.