As your business grows, at some point you might come to conclusion that what you do is not just one brand.
As you grow, perhaps these new entities need special attention.
So how do you organize the offering: your products or services?
You need to have a clear strategy on what type of brand architecture you should use, because otherwise it can all quickly become a big mess.
So that’s why, it’s important to understand how brands can relate to one another within one organization.
3 Types of Brand Architecture
There are 3 basic models (Branded House, Endorsed Brands and House of Brands).
They can help us decide how to arrange brands within one company, each in a very different way.
Besides, there is also the 4th—Hybrid Model, which is just a mix of either of the above.
Each type of brand architecture comes with its own strengths and weaknesses, which we gonna discuss as well later on.
First, let me give a quickoverview of these brand architecture types and then I will discuss their benefits and give you more examples.
Brand Architecture Models:
Branded House (Monolithic)—The master brand as well as sub-brands share the same visual identity, but with some slight variants e.g. FedEx uses a different color for its divisions, and Apple just uses a different name of the product)
Endorsed Brands—The master brand supports sub-brands, which have unique design (to some extent), but they are all supported by the visibility of to the master brand e.g. Nestle
House of Brands (Pluralistic)—The master brand has no linkage to sub-brands, which all have totally unique identities. e.g. Unilever or Procter&Gamble.
Hybrid Model—A mix of approaches is being used. It usually happens when a company starts with one product or service, and then it develops extensions (monolithic architecture) but eventually as the company grows, then totally new brands are being developed or acquired. For example: Coca-Cola.
Now it all might sound strange to you at first, but believe me it’s quite easy to understand once you think about brand architecture in a certain way.
Dominance of Master Brand
Later on, as we go through the different examples of brand architecture types, you’ll start to notice, that it’s all basically about answering the question:
What’s the dominance of the master brand?
After all, when choosing the right model, it all comes down to deciding whether we want the master brand should influence the identity of the sub-brands and if so, to what extent?
Meaning, whether they share the same brand identity or not.
Of course, with small changes to it, like adding a descriptor underneath and perhaps changing the color of the logo.
Or maybe your sub-brands should be just slightly endorsed by the equity of the master brand, but new distinctive brand should be created?
Or perhaps there should be no linkage whatsoever, where your sub-brands have all totally new identities and act totally independently?
To answer these questions—Let’s dive in and discuss each of those models together with some examples of famous brands.
1. Branded House (monolithic)
The branded house architecture model (also known as monolithic) is characterized by a strong, single master brand.
This is a structure where the master brand is highly dominant over all of the sub-brands.
Or in other words, all sub-brands are derivative of the master brand (with small changes of course).
They share the same visual identity, but with slight modifications, like changing the colors and adding new extensions.
And a great example here would be the Fedex brand architecture.
*The images do NOT include all sub-brands of these companies—I just selected top 3 sub-brands to keep it simple for the purpose of this article.
In this type of brand architecture the master brand takes control over the whole operation.
This type of branding is also known as an umbrella or a corporate brand.
All sub-brands basically bear the parent’s brand name (it's always visible) but with descriptors usually placed beside or underneath the logo.
Branded House is also commonly referred to as brand extensions for that same reason.
Another great example here would be Apple's brand architecture, where we have the master brand sitting at the top.
All sub-brands below benefit from the visibility of the Apple master brand, its logo and identity.
Yet another great example of Branded House approach would be the Samsung’s brand architecture.
Similarly as with Apple, Samsung uses a monolithic architecture where all sub-brands are created as a derivative of the master brand.
So as you can notice by looking at these examples, this is the most common approach that requires the least amount of effort.
However, brand house model will not work for every company—some will benefit more than others.
Benefits of Branded House architecture:
Simple to create and maintain as it’s all about building one powerful brand.
Customers make choices based on brand loyalty (great awareness).
Product features or benefits matter less to consumers than brand promise.
Downsides of Branded House architecture:
The broader the business offering is, the less meaningful the brand becomes.
Sensitive to PR disasters, if the master brand fails, all sub-brands will suffer.
New brands from mergers and acquisitions must be rebranded (they will loose their equity).
I just gave you my 3 best examples, but there's much more—check out these famous brands that also use this type of brand architecture.:
10 Examples of Branded House architecture:
FedEx—FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Fright, FedEx Office and so on...
Apple—Apple Pay, Apple iPad, Apple iPhone...
Samsung—Samsung Electronics, Samsung Life Insurance, Samsung Construction....
General Electric—GE Energy, GE Money, GE Healthcare, GE Aviations etc...
Smithsonian—Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Books....
Ok so now, since we’ve discussed the 1st model, which is all the way to the left on our spectrum of “Dominance of Master Brand”.
Now, moving to the right of our spectrum—here we have the “Endorsed Brands” model where the dominance of master brand decreases more or less.
2. Endorsed Brands
The endorsed brands architecture model is characterized by some synergy between the master brand, and the sub-brand.
This is a structure where the master brand has some dominance over all sub-brands.
Or in other words, all of the sub-brands are supported by the master brand (to some extent).
Usually totally new brands are being developed and then supported by the visibility of the master brand.
However, the support of the master brand is much less significant here than in the previously mentioned Branded House model.
Probably the best example illustrating this would be Virgin's brand architecture.
Where we can clearly recognize the linkage between the master brand and all of the sub-brands.
In this model, new brands are being created that can operate independently and compete in different industries or categories.
Endorsed model is great if you want to benefit from the visibility of master brand, but at the same time you want to have separate entities to be able to compete in different markets.
However, you need to be very careful as this approach can quickly become a mess where the organization’s portfolio look more like a Frankenstein.
That’s why I have for you the 2nd example of using the endorsed brand architecture approach, which actually better illustrates how it really should be used—Check out the Marriott's brand architecture.
Marriott created sub-brands where each one has its unique logo, but at the same time they all benefit from the visibility of the master brand (placed below).
This model is great if you want to leverage the familiarity of the master brand, but at the same time you need some distinction among the variety of products you offer.
Yet another great example of the Endorsed Brands approach would be the Kellogg’s brand architecture.
Similarly as with Marriott, Kellogg’s supports its numerous sub-brands by showing the company logo that is placed above in this case.
Generally, the difference between the House of Brands and the Endorsed Brands models is that in the latter, the master brand is not as visible (it’s kind of hidden).
The master brand is there just to give them a bit of positive equity, but totally new and distinctive brands are being created with their own unique identities.
Now, as with other types of brand architecture, there are some pros and cons of the Endorsed approach.
Benefits of Endorsed Brand Architecture:
The endorsement adds credibility, but sub-brands can have their unique look & feel.
All new sub-brands can benefit from the positive equity of the master brand.
Allows to compete in the market without alienating the existing audience.
Downsides of Endorsed Brand Architecture:
If any sub-brand goes through a crisis it can also affect the parent brand (and peer brands).
A higher cost and longer time-to-market wait for every new endorsed brand (than monolithic).
Although sub-brands are independent, they must align with the master brand to some extend.
Now, if you wanna see more examples—check out my list of 10 famous brands that use the endorsed model.
10 Examples of Endorsed Brand Architecture:
Virgin—Virgin Active, Virgin Radio or Virgin Media, Virgin Books, Virgin Casino, Virgin Records...
Nestle—Nescafe, Nesquik, Nespresso, Nestea, but also Milkybar, Aero, KitKat...
Mars Wrigley—Doublemint, Bounty, M&M's, Orbit, Snickers, Skittles, Twix, Winterfresh....
LMHV—Christian Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Hennessy, Tiffany, Sephora... and more.
This are the 3 basic types of architecture models that you can use to organize brands within an organization.
However, there are organizations that are so large and complex that eventually they need to consider a mixed approach.
4. Hybrid Brand Model
The hybrid model is basically a mix of the above in some configuration—some sub-brands may link to the master brand, while other remain separate.
The hybrid brand architecture is just a combination of different models under one organization.
Hybrid branding usually happens when a company starts out with just one brand, and then further down the road extensions are being created as the company grows.
Then the company acquires or creates new, separate brands to better compete in the marketplace.
This is what happened with Google for example.
So they primarily use a monolithic architecture for their products and services like Google Pay, Gmail, Google Drive and so on.
However, they have also created other independent brands like Android or Chrome.
Besides that, Google also acquired companies like YouTube and Waymo—as you can see things might get complicated.
All of this might lead to having a monolithic architecture on one side, but pluralistic on the other.
To get things even more complicated, a holding company was created called Alphabet.
You can read more about that on abc.xyz (yes it’s a real url) where the founder Larry Page explains the change.
Basically, Google became now a sub-brand with its sub-brands becoming sub-sub-brands, if that makes any sense.
This happened because Google innovates and expands to different, often unrelated categories—so that they needed to make a sense of all of this as a business.
Similarly with Coca-Cola, they started with one product, then created extensions or sub-brands like Diet Coke etc.
Eventually as The Coca-Cola Company started growing, they started acquiring and creating totallynew, unrelated brands.
And most people don’t even know that Sprite is owned by Coca-Cola and that’s the whole point of this approach.
And yet another examples would be The Walt Disney Company—so on one hand they use branded house approach with brands like Walt Disney World.
But on the other hand, they also own independent brands like ABC or Marvel, that have no linkage to Disney at all.
So now, let me give you a few benefits of the hybrid model.
Benefits of Hybrid Brand Architecture:
It allows to basically get the best of both worlds.
Allows for mergers / acquisitions of different types of brands.
Some sub-brands can have a new identity, while others are closely related (greater flexibility).
Downsides of Hybrid Brand Architecture:
It can be confusing as to which sub-brands should be independent and which ones endorsed etc.
It can be quite a challenge to keep the brand books updated across the board.
Examples of Hybrid Brand Architecture:
Google—Google Pay, Gmail, but also YouTube, Android, Waymo and more.
Coca-Cola—Diet Coke, Coke Zero, but also Sprite, Dasani, VitaminWater and more.
Walt Disney—Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney+, but also ESPN+, Marvel, ABC News and more.
Mariott—Mariott Courtyard or Mariott SpringHill Suites, but also The Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton, W Hotels and more.
Microsoft—Microsoft Office, Outlook or Windows, but also Skype, Xbox, Bing and more.
Amazon—Amazon Prime, Amazon Fresh or Amazon Kindle but also Whole Foods, Zappos, Twitch and more.
So as you can see—it all comes down to exploring the various ways you could link the brands together within an organization.
Ultimately, it’s about developing a solid brand strategy and envisioning the company’s future growth in order to choose the right approach.
Brand architecture is NOT only for big and established organizations.
Smaller brands with various products or large offering can successfully leverage brand architecture for their growth.
For example—My recent client (Ami Corp.) asked me to design a brand architecture for their real estate business.
They have extensive offering that caters to different audiences and therefore they needed some visual distinction between these products, but there was non need to create new brands.
That's why we decided to create extensions by using the Branded House model where the logo stays the same for sub-brands, but colors change and we have some descriptors below as well—quite similar to what FedEx did.
Anyways, I hope these examples of brand architecture can inspire you to create your own.
And if you have some other interesting examples to share—let me know in the comments below.