Just like the term “branding”, brand architecture can be a confusing term for many businesses. Many are unsure when to implement it and how to go about it.
Off the top of your head, what do the most recognisable and successful companies do better than everyone else? Do they stand out from the pack? Are they endearing? Do their marketing campaigns resonate with you? Is their messaging strong, concise, and appealing?
The chances are you probably answered ‘yes’ to the above. If a company executes all these things well and has a genuine affinity with its audience, it’s safe to assume brand architecture is a crucial focus for that company.
We’re breaking it down for you, so you have a clear understanding of what brand architecture means, and how you can embrace it to help stimulate growth for continued success.
What is Brand Architecture?
In layman’s terms, brand architecture refers to a strategic framework that a business leverages to align its offerings and ascertain how to brand (or not brand) them verbally and visually. For many businesses with a varied portfolio of offerings, brand architecture refers to the relationship between those offerings and how they interact with one another.
By definition, brand architecture is the structure of specific brands within a company and how they interrelate with or differentiate from one another. It’s all about intelligent organising!
Having a solid brand architecture in place helps companies ensure messaging remains on-point. In addition, it enables you to keep your messaging clear and concise without blurring the lines between different offerings, which may end up conflicting with your company’s overall brand message.
Why Should You Consider Brand Architecture?
There are several reasons why you should be investing time and strategy into your company’s brand architecture, as it:
- Ensures you future-proof your brand.
- Helps to ensure that your brand and offerings are aligned.
- Enables you to eliminate customer confusion.
- Allows you to avoid putting conflicting messaging into the market.
We sometimes see new businesses avoiding putting a brand architecture strategy in place at the onset of operations because they feel they have little use for it before they’ve grown the initial brand with a reliable customer base.
Funnily enough, they then see the need for brand architecture because as they grow, they discover that their existing brand doesn’t align with their growth initiatives or expansion into new markets.
Suppose they had taken the time to solidify their brand architecture from the start. In that case, there’s a good chance they would have had the strategy, tools and framework in place to handle the expansion without compromising or diluting their existing brand.
In saying that, there’s never a wrong time to look at brand architecture. Whether you’re just starting or have been in business for many years, there are benefits to be had from investing the time in defining your brand architecture.
What Elements or Characteristics Make Up Brand Architecture?
There are many ways in which companies can interrelate their different brands and offerings to build a successful brand architecture. Below is a summary of the various options that companies use.
1. Master Brand
Companies that go for a master brand (usually their name) will have it present on all products and services they sell.
2. Umbrella Brand
An umbrella brand is presented across numerous types of products and services that fall under a common theme.
3. Parent Brand
A Parent brands is essentially a pivoting point for multiple sub-brands that usually sell different products across different categories.
4. Endorsing Brand
Like master and umbrella brands, an endorsing brand is usually secondary to the individual product’s brand.
A Sub-Brand is an addition to the parent brand’s name but succinctly differentiates from the parent brand.
6. Product Line
Product Lines are usually a collection of products in one category under one brand or sub-brand.
Brand Architecture Frameworks
It’s always good to showcase examples of those who do it best when discussing brand architecture. Of course, we could get a little niche here, but considering the context and topic, let’s look at the big dogs because, after all, they’re big dogs for a reason, right!?
Firstly, it’s essential to understand the different frameworks that companies use to build their brand architecture. These frameworks comprise a combination of the abovementioned elements. Consider these models a set of guidelines that help to structure the brand architecture.
Monolithic Brand Architecture
It is the tried-and-true model for small and mid-sized businesses and entrepreneurs. Companies that opt for a ‘Monolithic Brand Architecture’ use their master brand across everything. There are no sub-brands, but, in some instances, they will use specific descriptors under the banner of the master brand to discern a particular division or vertical.
One of the most well-known examples of a ‘Monolithic Brand Architecture’ is FedEx.
Endorsed Brand Architecture
Remember the above? An ‘Endorsed Brand Architecture’ comprises a master brand with several “endorsed” sub-brands that sit beneath the master banner. These sub-brands don’t have to look exactly like the master, they can have their own distinct flavour and look, but often they will retain some visual elements of the master brand. This style of brand architecture enables a company to leverage its master brands credibility while also establishing the sub-brands as its own standalone entity.
A great example of an ‘Endorsed Brand Architecture’ is Virgin.
Freestanding Brand Architecture
Freestanding brand architectures involve a master brand acting as a parent brand. Many sub-brands will sit below this parent or master brand but usually will have little to no crossover in terms of look, messaging or feel. Across the branding industry, you might hear people refer to Freestanding as a “Housing Brand” or “House of Brands”. Each sub-brand is managed in and of itself, and in many cases, consumers will have little to no idea the master brand owns the sub-brand.
An excellent example of ‘Freestanding Brand Architecture’ is Volkswagen.
Hybrid Brand Architecture
Being hybrid, you may have guessed that this framework takes the good bits from a combination of others.
In the instance of a ‘Hybrid Brand Architecture’, a company will use its master brand as a parent brand, but it won’t always dictate the look and feel of sub-brands, but (you guessed it) sometimes in a bid to add credibility, they will. Hybrid architectures use a combination of the ‘Freestanding and Endorsed Brand Architectures’, hence giving their Brand Architecture framework the “Hybrid” title.
Coca-Cola is perhaps the best example of a ‘Hybrid Brand Architecture’ type.
With the frameworks now explained, let’s dig a little deeper into the big dogs that use these brand architecture types to significant effect.
An excellent example of an ‘Endorsed Brand Architecture’, Virgin leverages its master brand to tremendous success without confusing customers in the process. With over 200 extensions or sub-brands that sit under the master Virgin brand, each iteration of the brand leverages its memorable personality whilst delivering a clear and concise message as to what the new offering is. The famous red Virgin visuals can be found across all its sub-brands, but those visuals all vary to a degree to showcase a standalone offering. Using brand identity in this way fosters familiarity and customer loyalty while still expanding into new markets.
What do you think about when we say Volkswagen? Perhaps it’s their memorable cars with the classic “VW”? Did you know that the Volkswagen Auto Group practices a ‘Freestanding Brand Architecture’? You might be interested to learn that Ducati, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Porsche and Audi are all sub-brands that sit under the Volkswagen master brand. Yet each brand retains and entirely unique look and feel.
From a consumer perspective, they’re all unique businesses with little to no signs that signal that their ownership is, in fact, Volkswagen. By using this style of brand architecture, Volkswagen can specifically target their markets without confusion, and public relations issues only affect one iteration of the company. They can have multiple brands in the same product category and acquire brands from other companies without confusion.
Everyone knows FedEx, and everyone knows what FedEx does. For this reason, it’s a great example of a ‘Monolithic Brand Architecture’. Through the one resoundingly strong master brand, FedEx has several other arms that clearly identify the service – FedEx Office, FedEx Freight, FedEx Ground, and FedEx Trade Networks. Although each service is identifiable through unique colours, each ties back to the master brand through strong links to identity and attributes.
FedEx is the brand, and all their services fall under a similar banner, so implementing a ‘Monolithic’ brand structure makes sense. The brand is synonymous with courier services and goods transportation. FedEx drives sales and customer loyalty by clearly distinguishing through colour and wording between the individual services and maintaining that strong brand identity.
We couldn’t do a brand architecture piece and not highlight Coca-Cola. Leveraging a hybrid framework, Coca-Cola has a plethora of products that seemingly compete against one another for market share. What Coca-Cola does so well is how they distinguish which brand architecture to use for which product. They have several brands that strongly lean on the Coca-Cola master brand for identity and messaging; Vanilla Coke, Coke Zero, and Diet Coke, a combination of ‘Monolithic’ and ‘Endorsed’ styles of brand architecture.
At the same time, however, they have many brands (numerous of which were acquired) that retain their own unique branding, style, and target market, which is a Freestanding style of brand architecture. What Coca-Cola do so well is adopt the proper brand architecture to suit the scenario. Newer products that lack a unique brand benefit more from the Endorsed framework, while it makes more sense to adopt a ‘Freestanding’ approach for other brands that are already established with a distinct identity and message.
How Can You Embrace Brand Architecture to Stimulate Growth?
We must note that brand architecture is not something that you set and forget. If you continue to grow, it will manifest and transform with time. In saying that, it’s an essential element of any business that plans to expand.
Brand architecture is a core set of decisions that you can establish to align specific offerings and create a strategy for marketing your products and services. So, how do you go about embracing brand architecture to stimulate growth?
First and foremost, you need to establish a set of core values that, no matter what the brand or offering is, aligns with those core values. From there, you can incorporate the following concepts to develop a defined brand architecture that stays true to your business and its goals.
- Always look to innovate.
- Embed yourself in your customer’s life as best you can.
- Don’t be afraid to showcase your personality.
- Do something that no one else is doing. Be unique.
At the end of the day, your brand architecture will be unique to your business and how you want to grow. From the examples we’ve highlighted here, it’s less complicated to develop a brand that has numerous offerings under one banner like FedEx. However, if your business works across multiple markets with distinctly different products, a ‘Freestanding’ or ‘Endorsed Brand Architecture’ is going to make a lot more sense for you moving forward.
If you take one thing away from reading this, it should be a simple notion that brand architecture is important. It helps you plan, forecast, and grow more easily as time develops. Without it, expanding into new markets or acquiring other brands is a lot trickier and more fraught with challenges.