Brand Architecture: Types & Best Examples

Arek Dvornechcuck
Branding Expert

I'm a strategist and designer based in New York who help brands grow by crafting distinctive brand identities, backed by strategy. Need help with your project?—Get in touch

Brand architecture refers to the hierarchy of brands within one organization and the goal of developing one is to simply bring order into chaos.

If you're looking to organize brands within an organization—you're in the right place!

In this article, I will show you the different types of brand architecture together with some examples of famous brands.

So that you can get inspired when working on your brand strategy or designing your brand identity.

Brand Architecture Examples: Branded House (FedEx), Endorsed Brands (Virgin), House of Brands (Procter & Gamble)

You see, as business grows, branding might get quite complicated.

If you sell a number of different products or offer different services, then they all need to be structured in some kind of a way, right?

So what is a brand architecture?

Brand architecture is basically a technique that strategists use to provide structure to an organization.

It’s a way of organizing the variety of sub-brands, business departments or product lines within one organization.

Brand Architecture Types

  1. Branded House (Monolithic)
  2. Endorsed Brands
  3. House of Brands (Pluralistic)
  4. Hybrid Model

As your business grows, at some point you might come to conclusion that what you do is not just one company.

As you grow, perhaps these new entities need special attention.

So how do you organize the offering: your products or services?

Brand Architecture: How To Organize Brands

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.

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.

Brand Architecture Types Breakdown

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 quick overview of these brand architecture types and then I will discuss their benefits and give you more examples.

Brand Architecture Models:

  1. 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)
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

Brand Architecture: Dominance of Master Brand.

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.

Branded House (monolithic) brand architecture breakdown.

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.

Branded House example—Fedex brand architecture.
Simplified FedEx brand architecture*

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.

Branded House example—Apple brand architecture.

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.

Branded House example—Samsung brand architecture.

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).

Endorsed Brands () brand architecture breakdown.

Usually totally new brands are developed and then supported by the visibility of the master brand.

However, the support of the master brand is less much less significant here than in the previously mentioned Branded house model.

Probably the best example illustrating this type of architecture would be Virgin's brand architecture.

Here we can clearly recognize the linkage between the master brand and all of the sub-brands.

Endorsed Brands example—Virgin brand architecture.

New brands can be created that can operate independently and compete in different industries or categories.

This 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.

Endorsed Brands example—Marriott brand architecture.

As you can see Marriott created sub-brands that have their unique logo, but at the same time benefit from the visibility of the master brand (placed below).

This model is great is you want to leverage familiarity of the master brand, but at the same time you need distinction among the variety of products you offer.

Yet another great example of the Endorsed Brands approach would be the Kellogg’s brand architecture.

Endorsed Brands example—Kellogg's brand architecture.

Similarly as with Marriott, Kellogg’s supports its numerous sub-brands by showing the company logo that is placed above the new one.

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 its 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...
  • Kellogg’s—Rice Krispies, Crunchy Nut, Corn Flakes, Honey Smack, Krave, Pringles...
  • Ralph Lauren—Polo Ralph Lauren, Ralph Lauren Home, The Polo Bar, Ralph’s...
  • Sony—Sony Electronics, Sony Pictures, Sony Music, Sony Music Publishing and more.

Ok so now, again let’s look at out graphic “Dominance of Master Brand” and moving on all the way to the right, we have the House of Brands model.

3. House of brands

The house of brands architecture model (also known as pluralistic) is characterized by a series of totally unrelated sub-brands.

This is a structure where the master brands has no linkage to any of the sub-brands whatsoever.

Or in other words, the name of the parent company is absolutely invisible and new brands are developed that get their own unique image.

House of Brands (pluralistic) brand architecture breakdown.

This program simply doesn’t rely on the master brand at all—sub-brands are completely independent.

They’re basically positioned as new brands with their own, distinctive look and feel, messaging etc.

And a great example of the house of brands approach would be Procter & Gamble's brand architecture.

House of Brands example—Procter & Gamble brand architecture.

Most consumers don’t even know the master brands behind these products.

We’re just familiar with the many sub-brands we buy like Gillette razors, Tide detergent or Old Spice deodorant.

Yet another and perhaps similar example would be Unilever's brand architecture.

House of Brands example—Unilever brand architecture.

And again, there’s a master brand which many people don’t even know about unless you carefully check out the back of the packaging and spot their logo.

Similarly as with Procter & Gamble, we have a whole bunch of consumer brands here like: Lipton, Axe or Dove just to name a few.

These are the brands we love and buy, they target specific audiences with their distinctive look & feel, messaging and positioning in general.

And I know you love seeing examples so much, so I have yet another one for you—the General Motors brand architecture.

House of Brands example—General Motors brand architecture.

This time this is a car company that developed a variety of car makes like: Cadillac, GMC or Chevrolet for example.

Each of them have different features, and cater to different audiences and therefore need a unique brand identity.

So as you look at these example you may wonder what are some of the benefits of using the house of brands model—So here you go:

Benefits of House of Brands architecture

  • It allows separate sub-brands to target specific niche markets or new categories.
  • It provides greater diversification of business and investments opportunities.
  • It’s easy to acquire brands from other companies, sell existing brands, or allow for mergers.

Downsides of House of Brands architecture

  • It’s expensive to create new sub-brands (legal, creative, marketing etc.)
  • It’s a challenge to establish new brands without any endorsement.
  • It requires time and money investment in order to build awareness for new brands.

And if you’re looking to see even more examples, check out the list below.

10 Examples of House of Brands architecture:

  • Procter & Gamble—Gillette, Tide, Old Spice, Braun, Head&Shoulders, Oral-B...
  • Unilever—Lipton, Axe, Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, Knorr, Rexona, Magnum, Hellmann's...
  • General Motors—Cadillac, GMC, Chevrolet, Opel, Buick, Pontiac, Hummer...
  • The Kraft Heinz Company—Philadelphia, Kool-aid, Maxwell House...
  • Volkswagen—Audi, Porsche, Skoda, Bugatti, Bentley...
  • Coca-Cola—Sprite, Dasani, Schweppes, Minute Maid, VitaminWater...
  • Nestle—Cheerios, Nesquik, KitKat, Milkybar, Nespresso, Gerber...
  • PepsiCo—Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Tropicana, Aquafina....
  • 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 others remain separate.

The hybrid brand architecture is just a combination of different models under one organization.

Hybrid Model brand architecture breakdown.

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 something that 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.

Hybrid Model example—Google brand architecture.

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 being 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.

Hybrid Model example—Coca-Cola brand architecture.

Eventually as The Coca-Cola Company started growing, they started acquiring and creating totally new, 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.

Hybrid Model example—Walt Disney brand architecture.

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 what sub-brands should be independent and what 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 all comes down to developing a solid brand strategy and envisioning the company future growth in order to choose the right approach.

Conclusions

Brand architecture is NOT only for big and established organizations.

Smaller brands with various products of 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.

Monolithic brand architecture example—Ami Corp.

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 way I design an identity using the Branded House model where the logo stays the same for sub-brands, but colors change and we have descriptors as well—quite similar to FedEx.

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.

And if you’re looking for a branding expert to help you with your project—Start your project here.

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