Sort of like a family tree, brand architecture is the organization of sub-brands within/beneath a parent or core brand. This kind of thing often come into play when the parent brand has distinct, segmented offerings or regions, or a number of different products to be marketed to specific audiences. The approach taken by each individual organization will be based on its structure, goals, and strategy, among other things.
Different approaches to Brand Architecture
The different approaches to brand architecture go by various names, but most groups who help manage and create sub-brands call out these four: a House of Brands, a Branded House, Endorsed Brands, and the catch-all for most everything else, Hybrid.
House of brands
Proctor & Gamble describes its house of brands well: “P&G is made of many individual brands, each serving customers in different ways.” In this approach, the parent brand is completely distinct from the individual sub-brands. Each sub-brand is responsible for its own brand equity, messaging, marketing, and so on.
As an example, note Proctor & Gamble's Pampers, Tide, and Gillette. Nobody really cares that these are P&G sub-brands (except P&G), so no indication of the relationship is presented for the customer.
In a branded house, the visibility and value of the parent brand is paramount, and it remains present and obvious across all sub-brands, no matter how different the products or services.
A common example of this structure is FedEx, with its FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Office, and others. The strength and value lie with the ubiquitous FedEx logo, and that remains the most visible component across the family. It should be noted that has continued to pare down the differences between these sub-brands over many years. Not long ago they were each a different color, FedEx Home Delivery employed a dog illustration, and FedEx office displayed an asterisk element with the logotype.
With endorsed brands, the parent brand plays a supporting role to its sub-brands. The sub-brand will have its own reputation and name/brand recognition, its own marketing and messaging strategy, but it is still visually tied to the core brand.
Some endorsed brands are so successful that customers are oblivious to the parent. When you think of KitKat, do you really think about Nestle? When you think of Bisquick, does Betty Crocker really come to mind? Both are endorsed brands, with the parent logo on display. But both are parts of larger hybrid approaches.
In our research, it was difficult to find a pure example of the endorsed brands architecture. Brands like Nestle, General Mills, and Marriott use the endorsed brands approach as just one in a mix of approaches.
Hybrid refers to the frequent combination of two or more different sub-brand architecture approaches. The larger the company, the longer its history, and the more robust its portfolio, the more likely its architecture spills into the hybrid category.
General Mills employs a mix of brand architecture approaches. Its homegrown cereal brands follow the endorsed brands pattern perfectly, with the General Mills logo appearing on all packaging. But brands like Annie’s and Cascadian Farm (both acquisitions) drop the General Mills endorsement. Their Betty Crocker sub-brand has simply been around for so long that a General Mills endorsement would likely add no value. And if you dig into Betty Crocker, you'll find Bisquick, cake mixes, and fruit roll-ups, all of which are treated differently.
Coca-Cola is similarly messy. Some of their products follow the branded house pattern, pairing the trademark Coca-Cola script with a “vanilla” or “starlight(?!).” A few products like Diet Coke use parts of that parent brand but depart a bit—endorsed brands, sort of(?). And then they have a giant house of brands cooler full of things like Fanta, Minute Maid, and so on, many of which have their own hybrid sub-brand structures.
Another example is Marriott. As an amazing example, please have a look at Marriott’s own published brand architecture. You’ll see their luxury and distinctive properties following the house of brands approach, and their select properties mostly following an endorsed brands approach (e.g. Residence Inn by Marriott).
Why should you care?
All of these examples are very large organizations. So why should you care?
Well, outside of your amazing, new consumer retail savvy, this does come into play for some smaller organizations. Suppose you’re operating a series of regional locations that will perform better with some localized sub-brands. How about Chalkbox Creative Tokyo? Or maybe you’re an accounting firm that wants to spin off its payroll business as a completely separate entity to offer services to other accountants.
It could happen.
When should you care?
Sooner is always better. We would start with questions like these, and take it from there.
- What are your business goals?
- How strongly recognized is your core brand?
- Are you trying to reach different audiences?
- Are you planning to segment your offerings?
- How do you want customers to understand the relationship between these entities?
- How will these be used and seen in the world? Always separate? Sometimes together?
- What is your competition doing? Why?
We can help!
If you’d like to talk through these questions together, just ask. We can talk about your unique brand architecture scenario, and can design solutions for your future success. Please reach out anytime.