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Brand Architecture: One Big, Happy Family

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Some examples of brand architecture are too established, too monolithic to ignore. Apple. Samsung. Insert any car brand here...

Brand architecture is pivotal in not only defining the structure of a brand’s portfolio but also in influencing how a brand is perceived and operates in the market… in all of the markets. We call it architecture, but looking at it as a family (or even a marriage) might be more appropriate at times.

For better or for worse, through its set of sub-brands, the way a company arranges its brand family underlies every marketing decision and customer interaction. A hidden network of tunnels that can either bolster or impede a brand’s growth… but, y’know, no pressure.

We’re here to dissect the different brand architecture types, exploring the pros and cons of each and how they might work with your brand. “My business isn’t big enough to have sub-brands!” you say. “I don’t need to know about brand architecture.”

With luck (and hard work), though, your company will grow to such heights that you’ll have enough sub-brands to open an incredibly successful neighborhood deli.

… Get it? SUB-brands? Deli? Like the… sandwich? Alright, we’ll just get into it…

 

Understanding Brand Architecture

A brand’s architecture can be thought of very visually. Imagine your own company’s organizational chart, except instead of job titles and descriptions, you’re presented with the interconnecting brand elements, responsible for the visual, verbal, and behavioral essence of a brand. It charts out the relationship between the brands in a company’s portfolio, mapping out the brand’s entire footprint.

 

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A branded house leverages a strong, singular brand identity across the entire portfolio, resulting in a more impactful collective message.

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The Branded House

How ominous.

The branded house sounds intimidating and the magnitude of some of the brands who claim this architecture type (Google, Apple, FedEx) certainly doesn’t make it seem any more approachable. The branded house incorporates a single, dominant (see, very gentle language) brand with diverse but related product or service offerings.

Let’s go back to the example of Apple. It encompasses phones, tablets, payment services, and so much more, leveraging the strengths of the parent brand to enhance the subsidiary ones. Win-win!

A branded house leverages a strong, singular brand identity across the entire portfolio, resulting in a more impactful collective message. Efficient brand messaging and effortless transfer of brand equity across brand borders, what’s better than that? Simple, easy, cohesive. The efficiencies in marketing and the associated cost savings are clear.

Ah, but a double-edged sword it can be. Remember the analogy of the family, or the marriage? For better or for worse? You rise together or you fall together. The failure of a single product or service can unfortunately taint the entire brand. Of course you want everything to go smoothly (I mean, we hope), but should a subsidiary product underperform, the setback can reverberate to the parent brand, necessitating a costly and timely cleanup that bleeds over into the other brands. Ugh. Messy.

 

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We know that sometimes consumers can get confused. Having a house of brands approach helps provide clarity for them and allows individual brands to build their own reputation. Let those baby birds leave the nest on their own, fly their own path, catch their own worms.

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The House of Brands

Whoever came up with the concepts of the branded house and the house of brands (a guy named Dr. David Aaker, by the way) famously said, “I don’t think they sound similar enough. Let’s really mess with ’em.”

At least, we assume so. Don’t fuss. The distinction between the two isn’t too hard.

The products or services in the branded house are all pretty related. FedEx Freight and FedEx Ground are obviously different. But related? Sure.

In a house of brands, however, not only is there a diverse range of brands, each of those brands can also have its own unique identity and target market. A frequently cited example is Procter & Gamble. Why is it frequently cited? Because, frankly, their list of brands is all over the map.

Procter & Gamble has an eclectic array of brands, including Gillette and Pampers — two totally different entities functioning totally independently from the parent company (and each other) in the minds of consumers. The Gillette (sharp, sharp razors) team and the Pampers (soft, soft diapers) team aren’t looking to collab anytime soon, probably.

We know that sometimes consumers can get confused. Having a house of brands approach helps provide clarity for them and allows individual brands to build their own reputation. Let those baby birds leave the nest on their own, fly their own path, catch their own worms.

However, it can be more financially draining, as it means the parent company will need to put money in brand building for each individual brand. One kid wants to do ballet, the other wants to play football, and now one’s into… archery? That sounds expensive. Point is, it adds up quick. Everyone has a different strategy, since everyone’s selling something different.

 

The Hybrid Approach

What if neither of the “house” approaches work for your brand? Many companies find a middle ground, like BMW! Don’t you want to be like BMW? Multiple product brands will operate under the parent name, BMW, but the separate lines will maintain their own degrees of independence, so much so that sometimes consumers need to be reminded that they’re a part of the parent brand at strategic times.

This can be a bit of a tightrope for brands to walk. The hybrid approach offers the benefits of category and brand distinction, but has huge potential for confusing the customer base and diluting brand equity if not managed actively and coherently.

 

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Personalization is key. A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer tenable in a world where consumers crave unique, tailored experiences. This rings especially true for brand architecture, where the right mix can elevate a company’s market position and engage its customers more intimately.

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The Last Word: Architecture or No Architecture

The realm of brand marketing is growing and changing. Does your brand necessarily need to fit into any of these brand architecture types? By the time your business grows to the point where sub-brands are necessary to your expansion, will brand architecture types even be relevant to the field of brand marketing? Well, if we could see into the future, we’d be buying up MegaMillion tickets instead of writing blogs.

Here’s what we do know at Dovetail. Personalization is key. A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer tenable in a world where consumers crave unique, tailored experiences. This rings especially true for brand architecture, where the right mix can elevate a company’s market position and engage its customers more intimately.

You know your brand. Maybe you’re looking to know it a little bit better, or take it to the next level. Maybe you aren’t sure which brand architecture type it would fit into, or even if it would fit into one at all. We can help with that.

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but it’s a bit of a rough game out there lately. In a world of cluttered markets, a compelling brand story is no longer a novelty, but an absolute necessity in order to make a brand rise above the noise. Following a line of rich heritage through sub-brands, some larger companies have had great success in securing their spots as powerhouses, continuing to weave stories that resonate with their intended audiences. Is that the only path? Absolutely not.

Dovetail’s unique, one-on-one approach to each brand’s discovery process means that we get to know your brand from the ground up, no matter how long your business has been around. There’s no guessing involved — only our team working with your team to put together the story of your brand’s past and the continued story of its future. Maybe that involves branching into a brand architecture type! Maybe it doesn’t…

We can’t wait to find out.

Let’s Get Your Brand Journey Started

 

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