Brand Architecture 101 (and Why You Should Care)

A brief introduction to building a brand when more than one product is (or will be) involved.

Brand architecture structures can be grouped into two basic models: a single-brand model and a multi-brand model. The single-brand model is most often referred to as a “master-brand” model. The multi-brand model has lots of names, e.g. sub-brand, over-brand, umbrella-brand, range-brand, endorse-brand. There are some differences within these multi-brand models. But, they all boil down to the varying roles of the corporate brand and product or offering brands.

With a master-brand architecture, the corporate brand is the only brand. All product-level offerings are assigned category-generic or alpha-numeric names. Think Tesla + S and X and BMW + 1, 3, 5, 6, 7… The master-brand model works when the corporate brand communicates all the necessary core values, and the offering differentiation and segmentation can be achieved using generic descriptors.

A multi-brand strategy is used when the product or service is consistent with the core values of the corporate brand, but there is a reason to create a distinction from the corporate brand. Despite the abundance of multi-brand models (or at least names for multi-brand models), they really fall into two types: sub-brand architecture and endorsed-brand architecture. And, even these are pretty similar – differing primarily by the degree to which they create a distinction from the corporate brand.

Sticking with the car examples, consider Ford. Unlike Tesla and BMW, Ford’s brand must cover a wide range of segments – from students to moms, contractors to cabbies. This is where a multi-brand model works well. Ford tells a general story. The sub-brand, e.g. Mustang, Explorer, Focus, gets specific – positioned to meet the needs of the individual segments.

There are lots of reasons marketers will build the portfolio around a multi-brand model. But the most common reason is to support a segmentation strategy where there is enough difference between the needs of the customer sets that it is beneficial to have a separate brand to target these audiences specifically. With a sub-brand model such the one Ford employs, the product-level offering takes a prominent, but secondary position relative to the corporate brand. The endorsed strategy flips that – letting the product be the hero, with the corporate brand taking a backseat. Microsoft’s Xbox is a great example here. Microsoft plays a very small role in this relationship. The positioning of Xbox is far from the core of Microsoft’s brand, and Xbox is doing incredibly well. It simply doesn’t “need” the Microsoft brand. In each of these cases, the brands have distinct and strategic roles.

The bottom line: many factors must be considered when establishing a brand architecture, and it’s not something that should be done on the fly - or by someone who lacks experience. If you’re going to be building a portfolio of products, take the time to do it right. Your brand will thank you.

Topics: strategy