Key questions to answer when building out your brand architecture

Article Chris Erickson 5m read

Brand architecture is typically distilled into two distinct approaches: branded house vs house of brands. As a refresher, a branded house puts forth a unified brand that sub-brands leverage. Take Crest as an example. It has toothpaste, mouthwash, and whitening treatment sub-brands, and they are all tucked under the Crest banner. Procter & Gamble is often cited as an excellent example of a house of brands. P&G owns Bounce, Pampers, and Tide—all distinct brands. Sure, you can find P&G’s logo on the lower back corner of Tide’s packaging, but Tide’s brand is separate from Pampers’.

While these models can be helpful educational tools at a branding 101 level, they are oversimplified. After all, Crest is also owned by P&G, so it’s a branded house within a house of brands. So much for distinct approaches. In reality, brand architecture is far more nuanced than a clean and clear this-or-that dichotomy.

Even a more robust understanding of brand architecture models (which you can chase down this white paper rabbit hole) doesn’t consider your company's specific complexities. Bottom line: brand hierarchy is unique to each business. 

Defining a brand architecture that works for you.

Such simple models are helpful to wrap your head around the basics. But in practice, you likely need a hybrid approach to your brand architecture that considers myriad considerations. Here are thirteen questions that will help you get on down the road.

  1. What do you want to achieve?

    1. First things first. What is your mission? If you aim to be an international mega corp, that should impact how you structure your brand. If, on the other hand, you want to build a chain of twenty restaurants in Texas, managing twenty distinct brands might kill you. You need to establish your brand foundation and define your brand portfolio. Why you exist and what you want to accomplish should shape your hierarchy.

  2. Who’s your audience?

    1. Again—more basics. But you’d be surprised how fuzzy this can be. Do you appeal broadly to a wide range of buyers? Are you selling deeply to the same type of consumer? Determining your ideal customer or customers is key. Ensure you don’t stop with demographics—that’s the low-hanging fruit. Articulate your audiences’ values, desires, fears, obstacles to purchase, and emotional drivers. Understanding your audience(s) is often a primary driver of brand architecture. Knowing that you do or don’t have distinct audiences for your products, business units, and sub-brands is revealing.

  3. Do your products cannibalize each other?

    1. The last thing you want is for your product offerings to be in direct competition, devouring one another’s market share. That requires distinct brand positioning and product differentiation. Customers need to know which of your products is right for them. 

    2. For example, if your downmarket offering is hogging the spotlight and siphoning buyers from your premium brand, you have a problem. We often see this in markets like commercial real estate, beer, and industries with heavy commoditization. We recommend telling different archetypal stories for each of the potentially competing brands/products—stories that resonate with distinct audiences. Again, this informs architecture.

  4. Is your product commoditized?

    1. How can you make it stand out in a crowd? If dozens of other products like yours are on the market, you must find a way to rise above them. 

    2. Customers decide based on brand and price when choices are seemingly endless. Your brand architecture must be structured so that the val props and brand vibes are distinct.

  5. Are you targeting/positioned against specific competitors?

    1. Analyzing how your products or sub-brands compete head-to-head against other products or brands will provide clues about how to structure your hierarchy. The more precisely your distinct offerings compete 1-to-1 against another company’s offering, the more you’ll want to consider well-defined sub-brands (think Diet Coke Caffeine Free vs Diet Pepsi Caffeine Free). 

    2. BTW, there’s a “stay focused on our thing and ignore the competition” trend. We understand the sentiment, and from a vision perspective, we agree. But it isn’t binary—you can do both. It’s possible to focus on your path while being completely aware of the competitive landscape.

  6. How niche is your niche?

    1. Define precisely how micro, narrow, and specialized you need your brand to be. Not every product is for everybody. If your products or sub-brands are particular, your architecture and brand identities should reflect that.

  7. How deep is your offering?

    1. The breadth and variety of your offering will impact your brand architecture. If you have just two products or services, it’ll be much more straightforward than sixteen. This is obvious, of course, but an important consideration.

  8. Do you cross verticals or industries?

    1. If you have a variety of disparate offerings (think General Electric: everything from lightbulbs to locomotives, aerospace, and healthcare). When you have business units that span industries, you need brand architecture and identities that provide a high level of flexibility.

  9. Do you offer products and services?

    1. Building a brand for a product is different than branding a service. Products typically have a broader appeal and more precise definition; services can be more complicated and challenging to explain. Building a singular brand meant to serve both products and services has an inherent set of difficulties. In these cases, brand architecture can be beneficial since it directly addresses product/service nuances.

  10. How deep does it need to be?

    1. The depth of your brand bench directly impacts brand architecture. Brands with multiple layers face the challenge of creating distinction at many levels. Is it two levels deep? Three? Consider Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Cherry Coke, etc. This depth is like a symphony, each level needing to work in concert.

  11. What level of flexibility do you need?

    1. Consider how your brand may need to change or shift in the future. Building in some flexibility can help your offering stay relevant, especially when you see change on the horizon. Are you introducing a new flavor, size, speed, or technology? Your brand needs to be positioned to accommodate evolution.

  12. What are your naming considerations?

    1. The pressure on brand names is high, and naming nomenclature is undoubtedly a brand architecture consideration. How does a family of brand names fit together? Are they similar or distinct? Do they relate to one another? What should you consider naming future products?

  13. Do you have existing brand equity?

    1. Where does your brand rank in the marketplace and among your customers? Is there brand equity you can build upon? Are there negative brand impressions that should be avoided? Take stock of how your brand is perceived and adjust your brand architecture accordingly. 

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Answers these questions to get the most from your brand.

There is no fundamentally right or wrong approach to creating and building a better brand. It would help if you dug deep to understand what works best for you. And that goes beyond determining if you’re a branded house or a house of brands. If you’d like to learn more about how we can put your brand in order, let’s talk .