What Is Brand Architecture?

Emily Duncan
July 12, 2022 branding learn perspectives

Brand architecture is an essential piece of the branding puzzle. But what does that mean?

Branding has become one of the most widely used buzzwords out there, but it’s way more than just a catchy name or a cool logo.

Branding is an art and a science. Great branding is all about creating unique and bespoke identities. Identities that create a connection between what a business or person has to offer and their target audience. 

Taking a look at the big picture

For today’s consumers, it isn’t enough to simply connect with a business because they offer something the consumer wants, like a product or service. Instead, consumers want to connect with all aspects of a business, from their mission to their social media. Consumers like to get to know the businesses that they shop with or purchase from, and for good reason. That’s where your branding comes in.

Your brand architecture is one of the 9 key components of a great, well-built brand.

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to keep your branding organized and cohesive – especially if you offer a variety of products or services or have different sections of your business – taking a closer look at your brand architecture can help you establish your brand identity in a much more efficient and comprehensive way. 

A brand identity workbook.

What Is Brand Architecture? 

Brand architecture is, simply, the way the different pieces of your offering work together and are organized in terms of branding. You’re essentially creating a chart to determine and show how your brands or the pieces of your brand connect.

If your business offers a wide range of services, support, products, and more, then defining a clear brand architecture can help to align all of your offerings under the same flag – all without taking away their own bespoke identities. This comprehensive process is a must-have for larger businesses with multiple divisions, subsidiaries, and the like because it allows you to cross-promote them, and offer a consistent, but differentiated identity to your target customers. 

There are several different ways that modern businesses go about creating their own brand architecture, and we will go through them briefly in this post. From there, we will take a look at the benefits of having a strong brand architecture.

Brand Architecture At A Glance

Business owners, marketers, and branding specialists typically employ one of several types of brand architectures to ensure that a company’s customers are perceiving things the way they are intended. 

The most common types of brand architecture are:

– Branded House
– House of Brands
– Endorsed
– Hybrid

What does that all mean? Hang tight and we’ll explain. 

Psst! Done reading and ready to start building?

We have tons of great intel here for you on the different types of brand architecture, but if you’d rather just get to it, we support that too! At Urban Influence, we build award-winning brands. We can help you figure out the right structure for your new or changing brand – and take your brand to new heights while we’re at it.

Now, let’s take a deeper dive into each of these brand architectures and learn more about what each one entails.

The iconic Apple logo on the front of an Apple store.

Branded House

A branded house is something that most people are familiar with in one way or another – even if they aren’t fully aware that they’re looking at a branded house! For instance, a large company like FedEx Corporation features a strong and internationally-known master brand with multiple divisions that handle different aspects of what the master brand offers – all under the same master brand name with a simple description to describe each secondary division. With FedEx, there is FedEx Express, FedEx Office, FedEx Ground, FedEx Trade Networks, FedEx Freight, and so on. 

This is the most common type of brand architecture, where a wide variety of products live under one unifying brand, with an easily identifiable connection between them.

Branded house architecture isn’t as simple as just naming all of the secondary divisions with your master name – the branding, graphics, logo, colors, and everything else that comes along with the master brand should filter down to all of those divisions. With FedEx, you’ll see that the FedEx logo remains the same, but the colors of “Ex” are different for each division. This small and simple design decision keeps things simple enough for a consumer to recognize that they are still working with FedEx, while also making clever distinctions between each different brand.

So, what are the main benefits that come along with a branded house? 

Well, customer loyalty, for one, as you can imagine. With a branded house structure, you can market your business or brand more efficiently, because your advertising spend will likely permeate throughout each of your divisions. That is, simply, if a customer uses one division, they will be more likely to recognize another one – even if it offers a service that they haven’t tried yet or do not require.

There are, however, downsides to this structure as well. When you have a branded house, it becomes critically important to maintain a positive brand impression with consumers, because negativity toward any one division could easily spill over and negatively affect the brand reputation of the other divisions in your branded house. 

Other corporations that have a branded house brand architecture include:

– John Deere
– Apple
– Virgin

A variety of vehicles demonstrate General Motors' house of brands structure.

House of Brands

Next, let’s talk about house of brands – not to be confused with branded house. The names may sound similar, but they are actually each other’s opposite!

A house of brands could be described as a collection of different brands that might even appear to be separate businesses. Each brand should have its own distinct visual story and voice. However, all of these brands fall under the umbrella of a single, larger parent company. 

One of the best examples of a house of brands would be Proctor & Gamble. P&G is the cosmetics and beauty products giant that owns some of the most familiar brands in the market – Dawn, Tide, Crest, Mr. Clean, Vick’s, Febreze, Gillette, and so many more.

The purpose of a house of brands style of brand architecture is to create some separation between the parent company and the umbrella brands.

This allows each umbrella brand to employ different strategies and tactics so they can market their products to a highly specific subsection of a target audience. For instance, Crest will be marketing their products to a different target audience than Tide, and so forth. 

A house of brands is beneficial for a few reasons. First, again, it allows brands to focus on appealing to their demographic and target audience without having to worry about conflicting in style or voice with another brand in the house. It also offers separation between the brands should something go wrong – there’s less of a concern that one brand’s bad press could become a problem for the other brands under the umbrella.

The downside, of course, is that lacking a connection between brands means that you don’t benefit from shared visual or name recognition so marketing each branch of your business becomes a lot more work.

With a house of brands, the parent company acts as a holding company, which also allows each brand to function as an independent company from a legal standpoint. While this is often a benefit, it can bring with it some complex legal requirements that might scare away potential investors. It’s a good choice for large, complex companies, but will rarely be the right choice for a new business that’s just getting started.

Corporations that have a house of brands brand architecture include:

– Newell
– Viacom
– General Motors

A KitKat sign demonstrates Nestle's endorsed brand architecture.

Endorsed Brand Architecture

Endorsements, of course, are quite common – especially when it comes to branding. It’s same to say you probably know a little bit about what an endorsement is. But what in the world is an endorsed brand architecture?

Well, it’s similar to a house of brands, with a touch of the endorsements we know and love, just applied at the brand level.

A wide variety of familiar, global brands use an endorsed brand structure. Think Marriott, the hotel giant, or Nabisco, the snacks company. 

In this type of brand architecture, a parent brand essentially endorses, sponsors, backs, and/or supports an associated brand. For Marriott, some of their associated brands include Courtyard, Fairfield, Residence Inn, and Spring Hill Suites. These are different companies all endorsed by Marriott, with a mutually beneficial relationship formed between them. 

Here’s how an endorsed brand architecture differs from a house of brands.

In a house of brands, the parent company isn’t typically featured in the branding of their various branch brands. You might not even know that they’re related. 

Here, the parent company typically chooses to put their name, logo, or graphics on or alongside the logo, graphics, or packaging of their associated brands, ensuring that their name remains at the forefront of any marketing or advertising. This helps customers recognize the parent brand and lends immediate trust to the subsidiary because of that name recognition. 

There is a bit of risk that comes along with endorsed branding, particularly to the reputation of the parent brand. However, for the most part, it offers a nice balance between a house of brands and a branded house structure. You have the protection of clearly defined subsidiaries if something goes wrong on the one hand.  On the other, you can benefit in the marketing and sales from name recognition and shared, solid branding.

But, of course, the right brand structure will always depend on the company and their offerings.

Here are a few other corporations that have an endorsed brand architecture:

– Nestle
– Kellogg
– Ralph Lauren

A Coca-Cola bottle over separated red and white backgrounds, a visual manifestation of their hybrid brand architecture.

Hybrid Brand Architecture

Lastly, we turn to what is, perhaps, the most flexible and customizable type of brand architecture – the hybrid model. This model takes bits and pieces from the other architectures and pulls them together. 

To describe how this brand architecture works, let’s look at a big organization that uses it well – Alphabet. Even if you aren’t aware of Alphabet as a company, you are certainly aware of some of its many brands. Google, Nest, and Calico come to mind. With this hybrid model, Alphabet is able to allow each of these subsidiaries to act virtually independently from the parent company in their own verticals that are highly targeted and specialized. 

Then, within those verticals (especially for Google), they rely heavily on a more branded house structure. Google’s name recognition makes releasing new products easier by bringing with it a built-in audience and level of trust. 

Worth noting: The hybrid model typically comes about as the result of multiple mergers and acquisitions.

In other words, many companies don’t begin with a hybrid brand architecture. It typically comes from a change in structure to a company after an acquisition. 

What other corporations have a hybrid brand architecture? Think:

– Coca-Cola
– Microsoft
– Amazon

A blueprint.

What Are The Benefits of Choosing A Brand Architecture?

So, those are the four different types of brand architecture. Now, let’s talk about the benefits of a clearly defined architecture. 

Branding is something every business needs. It ensures their intended customers can recognize them in the marketplace and distinguish their products from the competition. Branding is a high priority for companies, especially when just starting out. After all, it can make a huge difference in the success or failure of any sales push or launch.

The architecture you choose matters. It affects so much, from how many brands you need to build, to how they’ll work together, to how you’ll ultimately market them.

Once you’ve decided on the brand architecture for your enterprise, you can reap the benefits of more focused marketing efforts, like:

Enhanced customer targeting – i.e., specific market segments, demographics, niche markets,  etc.
Reduced marketing costs – marketing spillover and advertising spillover.
Clearer messaging – consistent and clear messaging that creates a predictable brand experience.
Stakeholder confidence – investors and major stakeholders will feel comfortable with their decisions.

The right brand architecture can make a big difference

The fact of the matter is that choosing the right brand architecture for your business can be make-or-break. So take what you’ve learned from this article and put it into practice! Think about how your products or brands are now – and how you want them to interact (or not) in 5 or 10 years. Then, set to work unifying or distinguishing them to tell the brand story you want to tell.

Don’t build your brand alone

Still have questions? Need a little guidance? The Urban Influence team is here to help you build a better, more effective brand.

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