Brand Architecture is a strategic framework that organizes all of your offerings and determines how to brand (or not brand) them from both a verbal and visual perspective.
Brand Architecture, like branding itself, is a term that can be confusing for many small to midsize businesses. And just like branding, most aren’t sure when they should worry about it or if they should worry at all.
Truthfully, most businesses create their Brand Architecture after they’ve demonstrated some initial success and steady revenue. In some cases, however, early-stage companies define it on the outset because it allowed them to stay focused on the end game.
Brand Architecture – Definition
What is brand architecture exactly? A company may have more than one brand. Brand architecture simply refers to the relationship between the brands of an organization and how they interact with each other. In the broadest sense brand architecture may be defined as the structure of brands within a company or how they interrelate with one another. It can also be referred to as how the brands within a company differentiate from each other.
Study of the brand architecture helps marketers see the big picture – how the sub-sections of a larger brand are organized. It helps them ensure that no sub-brand is sending a message that conflicts with the overall or larger brand message. In addition it also helps them analyze how the sub-brands can boost the value of the whole.
Why Would You Need It?
Often, self-started small businesses don’t consider the need for a Brand Architecture until their business has grown beyond its initial brand and is ready to expand into new markets.
This often serves as the catalyst because their current brand doesn’t work correctly or support the expansion. If they had considered their Brand Architecture initially, they might have the framework and tools to expand the brand without diluting it or making it fragmented or disjointed.
Brand Architecture helps brands plan for the future in the same way an architect helps design a clear foundation for a home. They ensure that the way your house is designed makes sense so that everything appears in an organized manner.
An architect helps define the construction specifications such as dimensions, materials, layouts, and installation methods. They consider both their client’s current wishes and desires and build contingencies for when a homeowner might want to make additions or changes to their existing home.
For example, suppose you are building a home, and you know that at some point in the future, you may want to add on a bathroom in a specific location but don’t have the means to do it at the moment. By telling the architect of this desire, they can design your house to account for this request, making sure that the plumbing is organized in a particular way so that it will be relatively easy to make the addition later on.
But what happens if you fail to mention this to the architect from the outset?
One of two things — either you won’t be able to install the bathroom in the desired location, or you may end up spending more money to install plumbing and any other considerations properly.
Brand Architecture also helps ensure that all of your company’s brands are organized in a meaningful way that prevents confusion and doesn’t lead to a mixing of marketing messages.
You can also think of it as a seating chart, where everyone’s placement is based in a logical way that accounts for each guest’s personality and helps avoid any unwanted drama.
Now that we’ve discussed what it is and why you need it, it’s time to discuss four broad brand architecture guidelines or frameworks you can use as models when determining yours.
Brand Architecture Models or Frameworks:
- Monolithic Brand Architecture
- Endorsed Brand Architecture
- Freestanding Brand Architecture
- Hybrid Brand Architecture
This is the most common brand application for entrepreneurs and small to midsize businesses.
It is a branding system that uses a primary or “Masterbrand” across all divisions and activities and is often used in conjunction with products. Monolithic brands have no sub-brands but may use descriptors under the Masterbrand to indicate a division or business vertical.
Consider FedEx – one of the best brand architecture examples. It uses a Monolithic Brand Architecture. Everything is branded as FedEx, but there are descriptors under the Masterbrand to signal the FedEx brand’s different solutions.
In the Endorsed type of Brand Architecture, there’s a Masterbrand and several subbrands that are “endorsed” by the Masterbrand name. In this instance, each brand may have its own unique look and feel while including some visual elements of the Masterbrand itself. This use allows the endorsed brand to leverage credibility while also establishing itself as its own entity.
Virgin is an excellent example of an Endorsed Brand structure that leverages the Virgin brand name while also allowing the endorsed brand to stand independently.
In the Freestanding Brand Architecture, a Masterbrand acts as a “holding company” or the “parent brand” but does not dictate the subbrands’ branding or look and feel. This is sometimes referred to as a “House of Brands.” This approach is typically used in a business-to-consumer (B2C) or a product-driven go-to-market approach. Each brand is managed separately, usually with its own unique look and feel.
Proctor & Gamble is an excellent example of the Freestanding Brand Architecture strategy. Consumers aren’t explicitly buying Proctor & Gamble products, but instead separately branded products, each with their own brand identity. Arguably, most people may not even know that the parent brand owns some brands.
In the Hybrid Brand Architecture, a Masterbrand acts as a “parent brand” but does not dictate the sub-brands branding or look and feel. In this way, it is similar to the Freestanding Brand Architecture design or model.
However, in some cases, the branding and look and feel of the Masterbrand are utilized to add credibility, making it more similar to the Endorsed Brand Architecture model.
It is a company’s use of both Brand Architecture styles that leads us to use the term “Hybrid.”
One of the finest examples of brand architecture that illustrates the Hybrid model is the Coca-Cola Company. They maintain several brands that leverage the branding from the Coca-Cola brand, while some brands, particularly those acquired by the Coca-Cola Company, retained their own branding. It would make sense that an already successful brand in its own right would need the “endorsement” of the Coca-Cola brand, while newer products would benefit from the halo effect of the parent company.
Determining or building a Brand Architecture can feel like an overwhelming endeavor, which is why a Brand Strategist can help you strategically look at your current brand structure, and your future goals and help you create a Brand Architecture and sub brands (if appropriate) that will support you for years to come.