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3 Keys To Effective Brand Architecture

Date Icon May 15, 2024
Author Icon Bill Fasig

What is Brand Architecture?

Brand architecture is the business framework that organizes and communicates the relationship between brands (i.e. between corporate brands, product brands, sub-brands, range brands, and line extensions).

The goal of brand architecture is to make it easy for your target audience to purchase your products or services. Our colleague and brand architecture expert, Natalie Ross, says, “Brand architecture is meant to move products and services closer to the customer; to help the consumer expeditiously find the product they are looking for.”

Within the brand architecture concept, there are four basic models: branded house, house of brands, endorsed brands, and hybrid brands.

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Branded House

In a branded house, sub-brands are organized under the umbrella of one master brand. Typically, the master brand is widely recognized as a corporate entity, allowing the sub-brands to benefit from already existing brand awareness. Sub-brands share the name, style, and messaging of the master brand with the addition of a qualifier to distinguish the purpose of the sub-brand. 

Apple is a great example of a branded house. They leverage the awareness and brand equity of their master brand across their range of products, eliminating confusion and fueling their customers’ brand loyalty.

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House of Brands

Adversely, a house of brands minimizes the master brand and elevates the individual sub-brands. The master brand exists in the background as the sub-brands work independently of each other, often serving different target audiences, offering unrelated products, and operating in different markets. 

For example, Focus Brands comprises sub-brands Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, Jamba Juice, and more.

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Endorsed Brands 

The endorsed brand approach combines elements of both the branded house and house of brands structures. While sub-brands exist under the umbrella of a master-brand, much like in a house of brands, these sub-brands often work independently of each other. However, they are directly associated with the master brand, often incorporating the logo of the master-brand in their branding. 

This approach invokes the brand recognition and equity of the master-brand while allowing the sub-brands to establish their unique brand. Kellogg’s uses the endorsed brand approach to allow its range of cereals to shine on their own with reference to the master-brand.

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Hybrid Brands 

Much like the name suggests, a hybrid brand architecture combines elements of two or more of the other models. This architecture is typically used when a brand has acquired existing brands in mergers or acquisitions, or when a brand is changing their brand architecture. The master brand is only invoked when necessary (such as in marketing promotions) to keep the sub-brand separate. This model allows companies to reach vastly different target audiences and operate in separate markets.  

Marriott is a prime example of a working hybrid brand. Their unique architecture allows them to offer a wide range of accommodations to several different audiences, ranging from luxury hotels like The Ritz Carlton to affordable extended-stay properties such as Residence Inn.

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Understanding the 3 Keys to Effective Brand Architecture

If you’re considering implementing a brand architecture for the first time, or preparing for a merger or acquisition, these three keys will help you build the right brand architecture for your business. 

1. Think Like Your Customer

When establishing your brand architecture, it’s important to think externally rather than internally. If you create a brand architecture based on internal departments or politics to keep things simple, you’re missing the point. 

The goal of brand architecture is to help your customers identify the connection between your product and your brand, ensuring future purchases and increased market penetration. 

This only happens when you consider how your customer views your products and choose to organize from their vantage point. Perhaps you organize it around specific customer segments or product categories; whatever makes the most sense to your customers is the best choice. 

Sidenote: This is also an opportunity to remove any internal language from your messaging. Do you use internal acronyms or technical jargon? Odds are, you’re confusing your customers. Speak to your customers the way they speak. Interview your customers and learn how they talk about your brand and products. Directly implementing their language in your messaging will help bridge the gap between you and your target audiences.

2. Consider The Future

Brand architecture should not be built with just today’s reality in mind but must also be considerate of what’s to come. 

A good brand architecture needs fluidity to be able to adapt to the dynamic nature of business and the changes that are constantly occurring. It must be responsive to market realities so that brand equities can be optimally leveraged when needed and transferred when deemed appropriate. This is especially important for any future mergers or acquisitions.

During a merger or acquisition, a defined brand architecture will have rules and guidelines for integrating future offerings. This will help prevent the need to “reinvent the wheel” with new branding. However, it will also allow and accommodate for exceptions when needed, as it may be better to retain brand equity rather than rebrand an offering. 

If there is no brand architecture established prior to a merger or acquisition, customers may experience confusion and any brand equity gained will be lost. Internally, employees will also struggle to understand their new identity. By providing clear branding guidelines based on a pre-determined brand architecture, employees can establish their new identity and present a united front, helping customers smoothly transition and maintain brand equity.

3. Giver Yourself Time

Establishing your brand architecture is not a quick task. There’s a lot to consider when developing your structure and just as much when moving into implementation. 

Set the expectation for you and your team that this will take more time than you think. The goal is to get it right, not get it done. 

Make sure your brand architecture is fully aligned with your business strategy. Our previously mentioned expert, Natalie Ross, says “Brand strategy is the external communication of the internal business strategy.” It’s possible that when you start this process, you may need to get clear on your business strategy first. This is the time to iron out any kinks before moving forward. 

Be patient with your employees and customers, too. Take their questions as opportunities to learn and consider what could be causing confusion. It’ll feel messy before it gets better, but that’s part of the process.

We're Here to Help

Need help deciding which model works best for your business? Not sure how to understand what your customers are thinking? We’re here to help. Our team has decades of experience helping complex businesses in complex industries define unique brand architectures that get results. Reach out here and let’s get started.

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