Brand architecture is all about how to structure or organise an organisation’s individual brands in a way that makes sense and is easy for the consumer to understand. There are many different approaches to brand architecture, but I’ve tried to create a quick guide to cover the basics.
At one end of the scale we find what is often referred to as a branded house, where one strong brand pretty much rules the roost, regardless of product or service – and at the other end we find a house of brands, where each individual sub brand sits in a cluster under a less prominent, sometimes even “invisible” main brand. In between these two extremes, we find a variety of different endorsed brand architectures, and even hybrid variants. No wonder it’s confusing at times!
However, most companies don’t need a complex brand architecture with more layers than your average onion – so let’s not over complicate things! You might still find it useful to have a basic understanding of which approach would work best for your organisation.
Here’s a quick guide:
In a monolithic brand architecture, one strong brand is used across all products and services; differentiated only by a description of the product. One advantage to this approach, are the synergies that occur between all of the organisation’s divisions. It’s also much more cost effective to build one brand as opposed to many – operating with one strong brand for the entire organisation makes it easier to establish a market presence, especially if you’re just starting out. No wonder this is a popular approach for startups! However, it’s important to bear in mind that with a monolithic structure, all associations will be tied to the one brand. If one falls, they all fall.
DOMINANT MAIN BRAND
There are several levels of endorsed brand architecture. In this instance the main brand is perceived as stronger than, or equal to, the sub brands, and they all enjoy mutual benefits from the associations tied to each brand. This way of organising brands is also often referred to as an “umbrella brand strategy”, and the main brand will benefit from a lot of exposure while the sub brands in return reap the benefits of a strong main brand. It’s worth bearing in mind though, that any negative associations related to one brand could possibly end up affecting the other brands too. As you would need to build and maintain multiple brands, this model is slightly more challenging to implement.
DOMINANT SUB BRANDS
In this example the sub brands are perceived as stronger than the main brand – the latter playing more of a supporting role. Choosing this type of brand architecture allows for a lot of freedom to build strong individual identities for each sub brand, whilst still benefiting from any positive associations to the main brand. Like in the previous example, this approach will also likely require substantial efforts to build truly strong and unique sub brands.
With a free-standing approach, you have strong sub brands without any immediate and obvious connection to the main brand. This allows each brand to focus on their specific niche, which can in turn help them achieve a greater market presence and increased competitiveness. If one of the brands receive negative reviews, this won’t necessarily affect the sister brands, even if they are part of the same organisation. This is a solid long-term strategy, but is is costly and require a lot of resources to implement, as the individual brands receive little or no “pulling power” from the main brand.
For some organisations and/or in certain situations, a combination of the different structures may work. This is often referred to as a blended house. The main advantage of this approach is the high level of flexibility it gives you, and the ability to adapt to complex markets. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this approach can be confusing to the consumer. It’s also often demanding to implement and maintain – so pros and cons should be carefully considered before you decide to go for this approach.
I’ve also made a handy poster, and guess what: you can download it for free!
[Sources: Norsk designråd / Jean-Noël Kapferer : The New Strategic Brand Management / Idris Mootee: 60 Minute Brand Strategist]