Brand architecture is all about the relationships between a parent identity and all of its products, divisions, and services. The type of relationship helps determine the role of the parent and the role of the individual pieces in the overall organizational strategy. For example, if the organization’s goal is to be known as one single, powerful entity (Like Google, FedEx, or Virgin), it might want to create very tight relationships. If its goal is to let its products and services multiply and succeed independently of each other, it might opt for looser relationships.
Traditional brand architecture typically looks like an org chart or a family tree. A parent identity gives rise to many “offspring”, who behave like siblings, cousins or in-laws. Products and services are targeted at unique segments and managed and marketed separately. In a more modern approach to brand architecture, all products and services are considered to be part of a continuum, attracting a community of like-minded audiences, with nuanced differences between them. Imagine a big circle, rather then an org chart, that grows as services are added to it. The benefit of this modern model is that an audience may be brought into the community by one brand, and they are exposed to more and more, thereby building the strength and influence of the parent identity.
Corporate Dominant Brand Architecture Model
Google is an example of a parent identity that has created tight relationships between itself and its services. Called a “Corporate Dominant” brand architecture model, and often a “Branded House”, this model uses the parent identity to form a strong community of closely related services. Think Google Search, Google Maps, Google Docs, and Google Cloud. The more a user enjoys their experience with one service, the more likely they are to try another, and the stronger the Google corporate brand becomes. The only exception to this model is YouTube, which was sufficiently large when Google acquired it, and a community of its own.
What they are doing right: The Google corporate promise, to “organize the world’s information and make it useful” is so big, they can release tens or hundreds of services that fulfill the promise. Google is so massive that it created Alphabet to become a holding company for all divisions and services that do not fit that promise.
Key Takeaways: If your promise is large enough, you can fulfill it in many ways, and still tie back to your corporate brand. Amazon has taken a similar approach as it scaled its retail and computing services.
Product Dominant or Branded House Brand Architecture Model
Proctor and Gamble and Microsoft are examples of a different kind of brand architecture, often called a “Product Dominant” model or “Branded House”. In this case, the parent identity takes a backseat, or even a non-visible presence in favor of its individual product and service brands. In the case of Proctor and Gamble, Tide, Pampers and other well-known household products have carved out a niche in people’s minds, and need to own that niche. They deliver on distinct promises (whiter shirts, comfy babies), and even compete with each other on the shelf. Similarly, Microsoft allows XBox, Skype, Windows and now LinkedIn to thrive independently because they represent distinctly different promises. While this model enables lots of independence, it can also lead to brand proliferation and high marketing costs.
What they are doing right: Microsoft has so much cash still coming in from its OS that it can afford to support individual brands and let them appeal across broad audiences who may or not find the parent identity relatable to them. It can also span audiences from large enterprises to individual consumers.
Key Takeaways: A “House of Brands” is a much more expensive route that favors the independence of its individual products or divisions, but diminishes the importance and visibility of the parent identity.
Social Media Approach to Brand Architecture
Facebook has taken on a hybrid approach to brand architecture. Some of its acquisitions, notably Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus Rift, have taken the “House of Brands” approach to maintain their independence and grow large communities of their own. New divisions within Facebook such as Facebook for Business have taken the “Branded House” approach, to extend the relevance of Facebook to its core user community and encourage even more usage hours out of each day.
What they are doing right: Keeping Instagram and WhatsApp at arms length has enabled strong and growing communities of people who may not be as loyal to Facebook as they are to these brands.
Key Takeaways: You may not need to be completely Corporate Dominant or Product Dominant. There is plenty of gray area, and a hybrid model can work very well if you adopt it for the right reasons and support it in the right ways.
Brand architecture strategy should be systemic – consider what you are trying to accomplish overall, how many distinct promises you need to make to grow your business, and how many individual brands you can afford to support. Thinking this through at a high level will help you better understand and activate the roles of each brand in your overall strategy.Contact Us