Brand – Apr, 2021

Brand architecture and sub-brands | Ice House Design

Brand architecture and sub-brands

Every organisation, to a certain extent, has some sort or brand architecture or sub-brands. Sometimes it’s well planned and ordered, at others the company has grown organically and the structure is complicated, ill-defined and wayward. A brand framework is useful to help define where resources are deployed and to which audiences it is speaking.

There are a few possible brand structures with overlaps between. These can be shaped to suit the specific organisation. Acquisitions, mergers, growth and the reshaping of brands and outlook help determine the best overall brand architecture for an organisation. There is no blanket best way to set up a framework but the merits of each should be considered before deciding upon a structure.

How long should the reins be?
The shorter the reins the closer the entity is to the parent brand. The longer, the more scope it has for seeking out niches and developing its own personality. It also means less exposure for the parent brand but easier to incorporate new brands into the stable.

The monolith.
The simplest form of an organisational structure is the monolithic framework.
This where the company is the brand and the reins are short for entities within. The company has the same name, style, outlook and personality. Every aspect of the organisation supports itself.

Within this brand architectural structure there can be sub-brands. Sub-brands are brands that sit within a larger, parent brand portfolio. For example, TT is a sub-brand the belongs to Audi, Corn Flakes of Kellogg’s and ApplePay that of Apple. The brand is controlled by the parent with massive allegiance to the monolithic brand. Every part of the business addresses both internal and external audiences based upon the same core idea. Not all structures can be simple. But, if a structure can be simple it should be easier to manage and consequently more economical to administrate.

Sub-brands are constrained by the parent brand but overwhelmingly supported and enhanced by it. Loyalty and understanding are transferred across the assets making new assets more accessible. The downside to monolithic structures is if one part of the organisations puts a foot wrong, it has a detrimental effect on the whole. Also, sub-brands can’t develop their own brand personality catering for more diverse audiences for products and services in their stable. And, there are significant naming complications too if one part of the business is to be sold off.

Best of both worlds…
How can you present as a strong brand that is supported by larger organisation and garner all the associated goodwill it brings. Clout, ideological outlook, leveraging customer cross-over and the ability to build a tailored brand personality to suit particular audiences. This is the multiple business identity or – endorsed framework. Releasing the reins somewhat. The parent brand endorses all other entities and stays relatively close but allows more freedoms for the sub-brand to explore. The parent brand can concentrate their efforts on more internal, strategic and structural endeavours such as shareholders, staff and legal whilst the endorsed brand can focus on existing and new customers and more day to day activities.

There is necessarily tension within the multiple business identity endorsed by a parent brand. Parent brands will gain exposure from their endorsement but there are risks the parent brands’ own status becomes watered down and unclear if not handled well. Considered and shrewd brand births, acquisitions and developments taking into consideration the smaller and bigger pictures help ameliorate pressures.

Stable of brands.
Some brands have such recognition, power and diversity to make them virtually impossible and detrimental to associate them with other entities. When and organisation has these kind of brands in their portfolio they put distance between them and their brands. For example, Proctor and Gamble own Ariel washing powder, Fairy washing-up liquid, Olay skincare and Gillette. These highly successful consumer goods thrive in their own right. Their remit is relatively small and have the agility and speed to successfully respond to consumer demand. They have their own acquired loyalty and heritage. This is the brand based or house of brands model.

In a time of greater transparency corporate brand names like Alphabet Inc, Gazprom, Diageo and Proctor and Gamble seem rather anachronistic. They’ve come more to the fore as part of our collective consciousness from consumer pressure for greater corporate responsibility. Larger corporations with a portfolio of branded entities seek not to gain exposure from their assets and are happy for them to exist without acknowledgement or endorsement. Their branded assets have a lifecycle very different from their own and branded products or services can be sold or acquired often without the knowledge of the consumer. The brand based framework allows its assets to not be wholly off the reins – but almost. Enough scope to extend the metaphor too far, just about keeping them in sight.

There is no right or wrong for brand architecture and sub-brands. Each has its own merits and downsides. But, there will be the best one for a particular organisation. What sort of brand architecture exists in your organisation, is it clear and fit for purpose?

To see more of our work on brand structures and sub brands here a couple of examples.


Eurocoin has several companies within the group and work in a variety of markets and focus that specific and defined areas. Primarily Eurocoin use the ‘endorsed’ model however there are also specific brands that stand alone within the organisation, such as Thomas.

Cross Border Financial Planning

Cross Border Financial Planning is the overarching brand and the organisation. deploys a monolithic structure. Under the primary brand umbrella sit nuanced sub-brands that concentrate on very specific markets such as the US and Australasia.

Posted by Jack Owen