A Guide to Brand Architecture
When a company starts to grow and expand its portfolio into a multitude of products and services, it can become, well, complicated. What your company offers can become harder to relay simply to your audiences, and in turn, your potential clients become confused and look to other businesses that seem better suited to their needs. This is where brand strategy comes into play, clarifying your business so that your target audience understands, identifies with, and remembers your company and its offerings – and your brand architecture is one essential tool that helps you do that.
What Is Brand Architecture?
Essentially, your brand architecture is an organizational tool that maps out your company’s offerings and brands, allowing your target audience and internal employees to make sense of your multifaceted structure. If your company were a book, your underlying brand architecture would be your book’s table of contents page, and your chapter names would be your products/services or sub-brand names. It is your company’s outline of how you will tell the story of your company and its brands and how they all relate to each other if they do at all.
Furthermore, your brand architecture can be expanded to map out each of your brand’ s/product’s key functions, messages, visual language, and target audiences. This serves as an effective one-page reference for your team to optimize marketing strategies, budgets, and efficiency.
There are several levels to brand architecture, and here is the official terminology we use when drawing out the tool:
- Master Brand – this is your dominant brand or service, usually the parent company of a corporation. The branding of this parent company may or may not influence companies/services under the master brand
- Sub-brand(s) – your sub-brand is usually a company or product/service that is affiliated with your master brand but holds a different name and entity.
- Brand Map – a brand map is an evolved version of your brand architecture. While the underlying brand architecture may only include the names of your master brands and sub-brands, we often opt to create an extended brand map within the brand architecture for our clients. This would usually determine whether there is a need to segment the target audiences for your differing brands/products and map out their basic demographics, needs, messages, and visual languages for an easy reference and further exploration.
Why is Brand Architecture Important?
Simply put, your company's Brand Architecture is crucial because it is the foundation on which you build your company's strategy. It is an organisational tool to steward existing brands and plan for future brands, but let's take a more detailed look into the specific ways a clear Brand Architecture can benefit your company.
Benefits of Brand Architecture
Regardless of your company's industry, size, or stage of your business growth, there is a multitude of benefits to having an effective Brand Architecture. They allow you to:
- Clarify your company’s structure for your audience, so they can easily understand what your business is and how you offer what you offer.
- Organise your company internally, serving as a company structure guide for your employees and relevant stakeholders.
- Clarify your company’s message, making your value-offering easier to understand and more likely to resonate with your target audience.
- By segmenting your target audience according to their varying needs and desires, you can better reach your customers, making your marketing more efficient.
- Differentiate yourself from your competitors because the more your customers understand about your business and its structure, the more memorable you will be when the need for your products/services arises in a customer’s mind.
- Facilitate stakeholder confidence to better understand how you intend to run your company, how you will reach your audiences, and how new products/services will fit in your portfolio.
- Maximize brand equity by determining how effective your master branding is for your sub-brands, or if there is a need for multiple, distinctly different branding strategies within your company.
- Create synergy between your brands and services, allowing you to create a balanced, efficient, and cohesive portfolio.
- Reduce marketing costs by increasing marketing efficiency through a well structured, strategic outline of how you will connect with your target consumers.
- Grow your company with a well-defined foundation, helping your company evolve on solid ground and making way for the acquisition of new products and brands without further confusion.
When is it Essential to Have a Brand Architecture?
Although all businesses may benefit from this, there are instances where the brand architecture tool may be more essential to some industries than others. If your company falls into one of the below categories, this article may be more beneficial for you:
1. When you have a portfolio of different or complex offerings, and it’s hard to communicate what you do in a few simple sentences.
Clarity is one of the most fundamental aspects of acquiring customers at the beginning of the marketing funnel. How can you draw in customers when they do not even understand what you do?
When two to three-second of attention is given to a social media post by scrolling customers or competing in a saturated marketplace, grabbing the attention of targeted customers through with a product’s message must be as clear and straightforward as possible.
2. When you have a limited marketing budget and need to understand where to better allocate your costs amongst your services or products.
Your brand architecture will be able to inform which of your brands/products may share specific marketing characteristics, audiences, or messages. With this clearly outlined, you may then consider opportunities to create cross-promotions or bundled advertising.
3. When your brands or products/services have unequal performance.
When you have a portfolio of brands or services, some are bound to perform better than others. Brand architecture may inform which of your brands holds more substantial brand equity and whether it is viable to transfer that to your other brands. On the other hand, you may also see where you may need to differentiate the branding between different products/companies, which may improve its performance.
4. When you have a variety of products but are targeting the same group of audience.
You may not realize it, but sometimes applying the same marketing strategy to your host of similar products may not be the most efficient method. As consumers may vary in pain points, challenges, and needs, using brand architecture is a great way to see any opportunities for differentiation.
5. When you are creating or acquiring a new brand, product, or service and strategizing how to integrate it into your portfolio.
As your company expands and grows its offerings, brand architecture can inform you exactly where and how the new acquisition fits your company and how to strategize your marketing efforts most efficiently thereon.
If any of the above applies to your business, creating your brand architecture will be a great way to strategize and visualize the next steps best suited to your company and your brand strategy.
Brand Architecture Models
Depending on the structure of your company and its products and services mix, there are a few types of brand architecture along the brand relationship spectrum commonly seen in the market:
The Branded House
Also called the ‘monolithic brand architecture’ or ‘corporate branding,’ this type of brand architecture will have a dominant master brand, which is often – but not always - the parent company. The brand identity of the parent company – including its logo, tone, message, and visual language will be applied throughout all of its sub-brands, creating the perception of a powerhouse organization with multiple capabilities.
- Leverage the substantial brand equity of the parent company for all of its smaller sub-brands
- Leverage existing customers and customer loyalties toward any new additional sub-brands
- Save costs on branding and marketing efforts as the same foundations – such as the messages and visuals – can be applied across all brands
- It may be hard to distinguish individual sub-brands as they are so closely tied to the reputation and identity of the master brand
Branded House Examples:
- Google is an excellent example of a ‘master brand’ which hosts a variety of sub-brands such as Google Adwords, Google Docs, Google Analytics, Google Maps, or the Google search engine.
- Virgin is another example, with Virgin Airlines, Virgin Trains, and Virgin media.
- FedEx hosts FedEx Office, FedEx Ground, FedEx Trade Networks, and FedEx Freights, etc.
- Uber has its ride-hailing service, but also Uber Eats and Uber Freight.
The House of Brands
Not to be confused with the former, The House of Brands is also a type of brand architecture where a master brand houses a variety of sub-brands. However, with a house of brands, the sub-brands each hold their own unique branding identity with differing names, logos, messages, and visual languages.
- Better address the different needs and challenges of varying audience segmentation with more targeted marketing strategies.
- Damage to the individual brand reputation or equity of any of the brands will not affect the other brands.
- More room for marketing experimentation and risk-taking
- A more expensive brand architecture as you will need to create different brand identities and implement various marketing strategies for each of your brands.
House of Brands Examples:
- LVMH is one of the most renowned houses of brands, owning 70 distinguished brands such as Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, Sephora, Givenchy, and Celine, to name a few.
- Proctor & Gamble is another powerhouse that owns Pantene, Pringles, Duracell, Pampers, and a slew of other individual products and services.
- The last example is General Motors, which also owns Cadillac, Chevrolet, Jeep, and the Buick, amongst other car brands.
Also called ‘The Endorsed Brand Architecture,’ this brand architecture strategy is a mix of the above. While some sub-brands may be associated with its master brand, others may not be.
- Gets the best of both worlds: being able to leverage the brand equity of parent brands while creating targeted and differentiated marketing segments
- This will call for a more organized structure to manage differing marketing strategies
Endorsed Brand Architecture Examples:
- The Marriot Group has some associated brands, such as the JW Marriot, Marriot Hotels & Resorts, and Residence Inn Marriot, while also owning individual brands such as Sheraton and Westin Hotels & Resorts.
- Microsoft would be another example of the associated Microsoft Office or Microsoft Windows, as well as separate branding identities for products such as Skype or Xbox.
- Amazon promotes its products like the Amazon Echo, Amazon Prime, and Amazon Kindle but also has sub-brands like Prime Video under Amazon Prime, Audible, and Twitch.
Each type of brand architecture comes with its advantages and disadvantages. It is possible to change brand architectures as your business grows. As you determine which strategy suits your business, the best requires careful consideration in alignment with your business goals.
As we have seen from our years of experience, creating a clear, simple, and compelling brand architecture proves challenging for many of our clients. If internal stakeholders are very involved in the business’ evolution process, it may be hard to see their business from an objective, external perspective. Without a proactive approach to branding, many companies leave their brand to be defined by the market, which results in generic branding identities that get lost in the sea of competing companies and advertising messages.
Furthermore, brand architecture is only one step in an effective and comprehensive brand strategy. Only through careful consideration of each company’s unique budgets, marketing goals, products, audiences, company culture, structure, and risk tolerance, can you create the right brand strategy that will increase customer loyalty, improve your company’s image, and drive growth for you in the long term.
If you found this interesting, have any questions, or would like to learn more, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have other articles on brand strategy; See how we have helped our clients grow their brand effectively!