If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times — I love a good plan. It is the best way to make sure you arrive at your destination. That holds true for planning your life, your year, your week. You know what else it applies to? You guessed it. Your branding.
Creating a brand blueprint is an important step in making sure your brand grows with your organization. As you review your three-, five- or 10-year strategic plan, do your brand and visual identity stand the test of time? How will it expand to represent new programs or services while maintaining consistency?
We have all seen it. Maybe you have even been part of one — a large, complex organization that has countless mismatched, unorganized and unrelated logos. Their marketing materials align occasionally, but are just as likely to show up as a new iteration. On the other hand, there are organizations that have outgrown one standard logo, but continue to use it because that is all they have. We have also seen brands that have effortlessly tied marketing materials together in a way that lets us understand they are part of a larger company.
How do they do it? Two words. Brand architecture.
What is brand architecture?
Brand architecture is a system that outlines the brand’s relationship to an organization’s programs, services, products or sub-brands. It is a deliberate set of guiding principles that identifies how closely each sub-brand is tied to the master brand. Let’s take a look at the three most popular brand architecture systems.
The Branded House
The branded house architecture establishes a clear master brand and closely aligns all sub-brands to the master. This is visible in the brand’s logos, but also shows up in marketing materials, content creation and packaging. This structure allows the sub-brands to leverage the brand recognition of the parent brand and vise-versa – increasing credibility for both. We can see a few examples of branded house architecture with FedEx and Virgin.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review outlines why the branded house architecture format is the strongest in the current business landscape, a landscape where brands are battling in oversaturated markets to stand out.
The House of Brands
The house of brands architecture system sets the master brand apart from the sub-brands completely. Plus, it sets the sub-brands apart from each other. Each sub-brand has its own visual identity, messaging and communication goals. This approach allows a master brand to have multiple brands within the same market, with each brand targeting specific and diverse audiences.
There are several successful brands use this approach. A great example is General Motors. This automaker has a brand and a vehicle for every niche – Cadillac, GMC, Chevrolet and Buick all fall under the umbrella of GM. However, each of these sub-brands has lives in its own house, with its own visual style, voice and direction. Another example is Proctor & Gamble. P&G is the parent company for a number of brands including Tide, Olay, Old Spice and Bounty. The house of brands architecture is the perfect way for P&G to handle such diverse products and sub-brands.
The Hybrid Brand
The hybrid brand blends the benefits of the master brand with the flexibility of the house of brand, creating a system of sub-brands that have varying relationships to the master brand. This allows all sub-brands to leverage the credibility of the master brand, while creating a unique, tailored style that works specifically for them.
The Walt Disney Company uses a complex hybrid brand architecture for the numerous sub-brands of the company. Some brands, like DisneyWorld, DisneyChannel, and Disney Junior are closely aligned with the parent brands visually, while others, like PIXAR, MARVEL and ESPN stand independently.
This approach can be a successful way to navigate complicated brands, but to be successful, clear intentions and boundaries must be established. Otherwise, the brand can quickly and unintentionally become a House of Brands.
These are three of the most common types of brand architecture. Each has its own merits, and establishing a solid brand architecture plan will help any organization communicate and connect more effectively. Deciding how to craft your organization’s brand architecture requires research and strategy. How is your organization handling its current branding needs?