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Branding 101 : Brand Architecture and Why it Matters

“Brand architecture needs to be rooted in consumer behaviour but is too often constructed around internal organizational constraints and objectives.”

-Professor Kevin Lane Keller

Brand architecture might not sound like the most exciting part of your corporate identity, but it is crucial to running a successful company.

Just like the blueprint for a house, your brand architecture is the map that organizes your services and products into a lucrative strategy for success. A comprehensive brand architecture definition can help your organization to grow, evolve and transform over time, into something that attracts a broad range of potential customers.

With the right brand architecture, you can define the ways that different products and services link back to your overarching identity. Different approaches to architecture can influence the way you connect with your audience and even prompt the creation of multiple “sub-brands” that turn your company into a family of interweaving ideas and opportunities.

What is Brand Architecture?

Brand architecture is the logical, strategic and relational structure for your brands or put another way, it is the entity’s “family tree” of brands, sub-brands and named products.

Brand architecture is basically a strategic growth plan for your business. The structure in which you choose for your business will guide its growth (or hinder it). By putting a brand architecture structure in place early on, you’ll be able to avoid a narrow branding focus, misbranding, or having overlap (in products or service).

The types of brand architecture: Building your blueprint

Truth is, there’s a lot of different ways to architect a brand (and just as many names for these ways, it seems). Classically, however, brand architecture falls under one of three categories: monolithic, endorsed, and pluralistic.

Monolithic brand architecture (the type we implemented for our brand Dephlex Creatives) features one master brand with subordinate iterations, while endorsed and pluralistic architectures feature parent brands with differing relationships to the divisions they oversee. Let’s take a closer look:

Brand Architecture Types

Truth is, there’s a lot of different ways to architect a brand (and just as many names for these ways, it seems). Classically, however, brand architecture falls under one of three categories: monolithic, endorsed, and pluralistic.

Monolithic brand architecture (the type we implemented for our brand Dephlex Creatives) features one master brand with subordinate iterations, while endorsed and pluralistic architectures feature parent brands with differing relationships to the divisions they oversee. Let’s take a closer look:

Monolithic Brand Architecture

Here we have a strong master brand that leverages its strength with divisions that feature the master brand name modified by a product or service description. Think FedEx and FedEx Ground or Google and Google Maps. A monolithic brand architecture capitalizes on deep, established customer loyalty—its target audience cares less about product features or benefits than they do about the brand promise they know and love.

Endorsed Brand Architecture

In the endorsed structure, both the parent brand and its divisions have strong, unique market presences, and the divisions benefit from their association with or endorsement from the parent. The synergy between them is often mutually beneficial, as well. (Each benefits from the strength of the other.) Examples are Apple and iPhone or Nabisco and Oreo.

Pluralistic Brand Architecture

Pluralistic brand architecture is characterized by a range of distinct, familiar brands under a parent brand that customers usually aren’t aware of. The importance of the parent brand is primarily to the investment community. Here, the divisions essentially endorse each other, and the parent brand realizes the dividends. We see this in brands like Unilever and Dove or Kimberly Clark and Kleenex.

Brand Architecture Benefits

At this point, you might be thinking, “My brand is too small to benefit from brand architecture.” But brand architecture isn’t just for behemoth multinational corporations. Even small brands can see measurable improvements in performance by better organizing their offerings. Regardless of your company’s size, effective brand architecture can enable you to…

    • Target the needs of specific customer segments

Brand architecture enables you to segment your messaging and services so that each of your target audiences hears what they want to hear and gets precisely what they’re looking for.

    • Significantly reduce marketing costs

When brands and sub-brands are architected in a logical, intuitive way, your marketing efforts are exponentially more efficient. With opportunities for cross-promotion between sub-brands, marketing is more effective as well.

    • Clarify brand positioning, naming, and messaging

Nothing increases the efficacy of your brand positioning like clarity. Clearly articulating the names of your sub-brands and the messaging they have for your customers is like giving your brand a high-performance tune-up.

    • Increase flexibility for future product and service expansion

By establishing an intuitive brand architecture, you set the stage to easily add products or services as your brand grows. Your brand becomes a modular entity primed for the addition of new sub-brands.

    • Bolster confidence among stakeholders in the strategic direction of your brand

A brand with well-defined brand architecture is a brand that’s thinking about future growth. And future-minded brands are a reassuring sign for investors and employees alike.

    • Ensure clarity and synergy between companies, divisions, products, and services

Even the smallest brand is a complex entity. Not until the various components that make up that entity are clearly defined and understood, can they work together, efficiently and effectively, toward a common goal.

    • Enhance customer awareness of your offerings while facilitating cross-selling

When divisions or sub-brands are clearly delineated, customers can understand their unique value propositions. Plus, a customer of one sub-brand is more easily converted to a customer of another sub-brand than a cold customer with no history.

    • Maximize visibility diversification in the marketplace

When a brand’s various divisions are not clearly delineated, they must rely on the parent brand to capture the attention of the marketplace. Brand architecture gives a parent brand the power of diversification by highlighting the unique strengths of its distinct sub-brands.

    • Build and protecting brand equity

The upshot of all of the benefits above is the most valuable asset for any company: brand equity. Growing your brand equity gives you compound returns as an industry authority and marketplace valuation grow with it.

Establishing your brand architecture strategy

So, which of the brand architecture models mentioned above is right for you? That’s the million-dollar question.

Your brand architecture can be the key to your entire brand strategy. Without one, you’d have no idea where your company is headed, how different elements of your organisation work together, or what you need to do to grow. When used properly, the types of brand architecture that appeal to you can align your personality traits, help to give consistency to your brand messaging or let you know when you need to create completely different stories for sub-sections of your organisation.

Just as no two families are the same, there’s no one-size-fits-all brand architecture that works for every business type. The structure you build for your organisation will depend on your specific circumstances. In fact – some companies even embrace a “hybrid” solution to make sure that their architecture suits their individual needs. To help answer the question “What is brand architecture for my company?” Ask yourself:

    • Who are the audiences for each of your products and services – how do they interconnect?
    • Do you have sub-divisions with different price points and target markets?
    • Do you have a dominant niche, or do you plan to develop a range of products and brands?

As complex as a brand architecture strategy can be to navigate, the more you work on understanding your company, your purpose, and where you want to go with your organisation, the easier it will be to create a plan that’s suitable for your venture. Whether you choose a monolithic brand architecture, an endorsed family, or house of brands, make sure your architecture is:

    • Easy to navigate: If you can’t explain how your over-arching brand and the sub-sections within it are organised, then it will be difficult for your customers to understand how you serve their needs.
    • Globally relevant: As the world gets smaller thanks to advancements in technology, brands that show themselves to be consistently relevant around the world will have the best impact and the strongest chances of success.
    • Reflective of consumer needs: Your brand architecture should develop and grow according to the pain points and needs you recognise in industries related to your interests.
    • Aligned with primary goals and strategies: It’s easier to keep brand architecture on track when all your sub-brands focus on similar ambitions and end-goals. For example, Virgin wants to make customer experiences better around the world – whether it’s through train travel or entertainment.

Top tips for better brand architecture models: How to begin building

The easiest way to develop a brand architecture that’s sure to work for your organisation, is to hand the hard parts over to an expert. A brand architecture consultant will be able to assess your existing structure and build a plan that adheres to the goals and targets of your organisation.

Remember, you’ll need to architect a brand reality in a way that benefits both your customers and your organisation. That means that you need to keep things clear and simple, without forgetting to spend plenty of time on innovation. Try to keep in mind that the goal behind all brand architecture models is to make your strategy clearer for everyone involved – not more cluttered or convoluted. To get started, make sure you take the following steps:

Step 1: Audit your existing architecture

Even if you haven’t actively worked on your brand architecture definition until now, that doesn’t mean that you have the starting structures in place. A brand is an organic thing, which means that it often begins to grow before you put your foundation in place. Unfortunately, if your brand is left to develop without any supporting guidelines, you may find that it’s harder to preserve and maintain.

An audit is the starting point for developing your brand architecture strategy, as it helps to establish where you currently are in your business plan, and where you hope to go. As you audit your architecture, you’ll begin to recognise specific aims and objectives that will help you to determine what types of brand architecture are most relevant to you.

Step 2: Establish your relationship hierarchy

After you’ve finished auditing your existing architecture, you’ll need to start thinking about how you want to associate each division within your company to the parent brand. This question becomes very important if you’ve recently undergone a merger or acquisition that gives you new products or services to sell.

Decide whether you’re going to want to give each of the elements in your brand family their own distinct identity, or whether you want them all to link together cohesively. Do you already have a valuable and loyal customer following that you want to leverage as you make your way into new marketplaces and industries? If so, a monolithic brand architecture might be the way to go. On the other hand, if you’re taking a risk with a new product or service, and you don’t want it to have an impact on your master brand, then it might be best to stick to a product brand architecture.

Step 3: Ensure clarity in your connections

Finally, once you know how closely related each of your brand elements will be, you can start to implement things that will clarify those connections. For instance, if you are building a monolithic brand like Virgin, it makes sense to ensure that you maintain the same consistent brand identity throughout all your sub-brands.

This means designing a manifesto that all sub-sections can use to retain the same tone of voice, brand colours, and visuals that let customers know that they’re interacting with segments of the same master brand. On the other hand, if you want to connect your sub-brands to your master company, but you want them to have their own identity too, then you might have to consider how subtle you’re going to go with your endorsed branding strategy. Will you use different logos, but refer to the parent brand in your “About us” page, for instance?


Building a solid brand architecture isn’t easy, which is why agencies like ours exist. We help clients better organize their brand experience to better align with their target audiences. Ultimately, it’s about parsing the nuances of your brand and, with the help of meticulous research, deciding how to leverage each of its divisions to best benefit the whole. Remember, though, the idea isn’t just to come up with clever names for your various products and services. It’s to create clarity from chaos, and sharpen the edge of your ongoing branding efforts.

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