What Is Brand Architecture?

Or, Using Brand Architecture to Organize That Family Holiday Dinner

It’s the way a company organizes all of its current and future brands (and their intra-relationships) so that the company maintains its desired consumer perception(s). So, what is it? Brand architecture is often diagrammed to look like a tree, but sometimes it’s a little more complicated.

Think about how you’d organize your extended family (including in-laws) at a sit-down holiday meal so that everyone enjoys it. Some cousins love to debate; some won’t even speak to one another. There are the family members who always talk about work, while the quirky bohemian great aunt who flew in from Portland would rather be stuck in gridlock than listen to your uncles talk politics. Did you remember who’s vegetarian, who’s celiac, and who’s highly allergic to onions?

 

The way you plan that family dinner to make it successful – the seating chart, the room, the tables, the menu – is similar to brand architecture. You have a system of knowing who needs to sit together and who needs to be on the opposite side of the room that will keep the meal pleasurable for everyone.
Similarly, brand architecture organizes a company’s brands for a cohesive story. There are 3 primary types of brand architecture, each reflecting different needs and approaches. Each of these, in turn, may include variations based on those business needs. These are:

  1. Masterbrand / Corporate Brands (sometimes called “Branded House”)
  2. Endorsed / Endorsement
  3. Portfolio (sometimes called “House of Brands”)

The Masterbrand Architecture is a system of branding that uses a primary brand across all divisions and activities and is often used in conjunction with products. Examples include FedEx and Google.


branding-for-the-people-fedex-brand-architecture

Endorsed / Endorsement Architecture includes a parent brand that serves to endorse a series of sub-brands. This parent adds credibility, yet often remains subordinate to the brand. An example of this type of Architecture is used by Marriott, as well as Ralph Lauren. Take a look at this map, including Polo and CHAPS.

branding-for-the-people-armani-brand-architecture

Portfolio Architecture allows individual products to carry separate identities. The parent has little prominence, particularly if it provides no perceived equity or value to the product. An example of this method is Procter & Gamble.

branding-for-the-people-p-g-brand-architecture

Can you see when the Portfolio Architecture used by P&G might be critical? HINT: Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris) once owned Kraft Foods. Do consumers want their food associated with tobacco products?

Okay, so which brand architecture do I need?

It’s a good question. Remember that brand architecture organizes brands; this, in turn, helps a business create and maintain its desired brand perception. It not only organizes current brands, but also needs to include a decision-tree so that new or anticipated brands can be classified and organized consistently. Simplicity and flexibility are necessary; yet, the factors that go into picking the right structure, much like family dynamics, may be complex and nuanced.

Just as no two families are alike, there is no single brand architecture that works for a specific business type. In other words, your brand architecture will be based upon your specific circumstances. As a result, a hybrid approach may even be necessary. A few considerations will include questions like:

  • Who are the audiences for your brands? Remember that some brands may have strong critics (i.e., tobacco products).
  • Do you have brands with different price points or target markets?
  • Do you have a dominant brand, or do you plan to grow a wide range of brands and products?
  • Do any of your brands compete against your other brands?
  • Alternatively, do some of your brands cross-support others?
  • What is your marketing budget? A portfolio approach may sound ideal, but it may be the most expensive to implement – are you ready for that commitment?

The key to successful architecture is the ability to respond to the business realities created by your external, consumer audience. Don’t allow internal corporate legal structures confuse your efforts to create a logical, efficient brand (and architecture) that makes sense to/for your consumers. Legal structure may be relevant for leasing or licensing, but it does not govern market trends or consumer perceptions.

Did this feel about easy to digest as your grandmother’s meatloaf?

Developing your brand architecture doesn’t have to give you indigestion. Over time, the investment in a smart and flexible system will make branding issues quicker, easier and less troublesome. That gives you more resources to focus on the quality you deliver to clients to keep them happy. Happy clients means customer loyalty and greater profits.

Just don’t sit us next to Uncle Fred at the reunion.

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