At its simplest, brand architecture is the way that a company presents its products/services. Selecting the best architecture for your company's offering is a strategic move. So understanding your options and the strategic reasons for choosing one over another is an important part of your overall marketing strategy—and, it’s not just for big business. We've helped several clients figure out their brand architecture. For the most part, this question has arisen when we were launching a new product/service. Here are the basics we have shared with our clients as we worked through their brand architecture.

Brand architecture and how it affects your business

Brand architecture is the strategy behind and implementation of a structure for a company’s products and services, brands and sub-brands. It creates the structure of your offerings, which can affect practical concerns like whether a service or product can be sold without changing the name, and the story, which will be a key part of how you communicate to your customers and potential customers. More on this to follow, but first, let’s look at why brand architecture is so important:

  • Builds general awareness and clarity of your offerings

  • Allows you to segment messaging

  • Anticipates and prepares for strategic growth

  • Anticipates eventual sale/acquisition of that service/product

  • Can reduce (or increase) marketing costs

  • Let’s look at the three major ways brands are structured.

Masterbrand, endorsed, or freestanding: Which works best for you?

There are three common ways companies build their brand architecture, each with their own pros and cons.

Masterbrand

Also referred to as "corporate" or "branded house", this structure can be understood as one main brand that contains many sub-brands or products. For example, Volvo's truck offering organizes each model with Brand + series number. Compare this to how it brands its consumer car lines like VW, Jetta, Tiguan and Passat.

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GE is another great example of this architecture. 

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With this masterbrand approach, each product/service is inextricably linked to the main company (in brand-speak the "parent" brand). This is a good structure for those who want to build on the cache of the parent brand, existing customer relationships and loyalty. We find this approach works well for SMBs in B2B because it is much more cost effective than needing to develop unique brands (and collateral, websites, etc.) for each product/service. Also, because budgets are small we can achieve better results with this architecture.

Endorsed

This model associates a sub-brand or product with the main brand without completely linking them. Quite literally, the product appears to be "endorsed" by the main brand, which gives it some credibility and name recognition, but it maintains its own profile. PlayStation by Sony or Speed Stick by Mennen are two consumer product examples. Leveraging the reputation of the main brand is valuable, but it can give the product a lot to live up to.

Freestanding

In this brand structure products/services don't have any discernible connection to the parent company—they stand on their own (have their own website, marketing strategy, budget and tactics, etc.). Obviously this architecture foregoes leveraging the power of the main brand, but on the plus side it is extremely flexible, allowing, for example, for a product to be sold without having to change much of the customer-facing messaging. This approach costs a lot more, but it works great when you have a few products in the same category, or if you have many products and each targets a wholly different audience. Proctor & Gamble is a perfect example. They're one of the largest corporations in the world, but their products stand on their own. You wouldn’t know they own Crest, or Always, or Mr. Clean by looking at the packaging or marketing of those products. A local SMB example is Barrie-based product design company Humanscope. They are the whole owner of Menopod, which is a freestanding brand with its own website, sales and marketing strategy. This architecture poises the products for acquisition, and also fits well because of the drastically different markets their products target, and how these products are sold.

As you can see, your brand architecture clarifies how much or little you want to leverage your parent company’s name and reputation.

What brand architecture is best for your company?

Understanding how brand architecture works is one thing, but strategizing and implementing is another. Most SMBs don't have the in-house expertise to determine this, so they bring in a marketer with experience in brand architecture. They analyze the offering through questions about your existing brand architecture, target market, price points and business objectives. By understanding what you have, they can determine where you might need to make changes. They'll show you the architecture by sketching it out like an org chart.

When your brand architecture is complete, you can begin to implement the elements of your brand—taglines, logos, colours, and so forth—across all products and services.

Building your company’s brand architecture requires thought, research, and planning, but the results will serve your company’s—and your customers’—interests now and into the future.