In an episode of “Seinfeld”, George Constanza pretended to be an architect–with predictable results. He wanted the status of success without working to achieve it. He didn’t want to sweat the details–the yada, yada, yada–if you will.

Plenty of people know what brand architecture is. But how it affects brand marketing and the steps required to be successful–maybe not as many.

So what is brand architecture?

Brand architecture is the hierarchy and relationship between multiple brands within a single business portfolio. It follows the business strategies then evaluates and plans how the brands relate to and support each other.

In corporations, the existence of such brand portfolios is most often the result of growth by mergers and acquisition. Architecture is about optimizing the hierarchy and relationship of brands within the portfolio to support the business strategy.

Each brand, product, service, and line extension needs a moniker. How these names relate is the difference between brand confusion and brand coherence. It’s essential for brand marketers to clarify the differences between brands so that each stands out in the buyer’s mind, maintaining customer loyalty, and potentially increasing sales.

Who are you?

All companies fall into one of three brand categories:  Branded House, House of Brand, or a Hybrid Model.

A Branded House has a corporate master brand (like Google or FedEx) which is the major endorsing asset applied to everything from products to business units.  In this case you’ll have a master brand strategy. If you’re a private company and are planning to go public, a master brand strategy with concentrated customer loyalty can lead to higher valuation.

A House of Brands is the opposite and calls for a product brand strategy, in which each brand operates independently of each other and the master brand. Think of P&G and the plethora of individually branded products on the grocery shelf.  You buy Kleenex tissues but did you know Kimberly-Clark is the master brand?  However, in the evolving world of technology, new products are constantly being added, thus it’s better to stay away from a product brand strategy, otherwise you’ll expend too many resources and dollars on differentiating each brand.

In between each of these lies the Hybrid Model where the master brand and sub-brands are closely integrated.  In some instances the master brand becomes the endorser, as with Courtyard by Marriott.  However, the complexity of brand portfolios leads most companies to use some form of the Hybrid Model by incorporating the remaining components of the brand architecture working to clarify the brand hierarchy.


Identify then map features & benefits

The brand architecture sets the foundation for the brand marketing strategy, so you need to include a thorough overview of your brand(s). Here’s where we differentiate the personality of each brand by identifying its unique selling features & benefits.

Begin by listing the features and benefits of each brand. The features are the distinct attributes or aspect of the brand. It’s what something does or what it is. For example, a car’s feature is dual air bags or a stereo system. Features that have a higher perceived value create a higher rank in the user’s mind.

Now list the benefits, or the positive result the brand delivers. These can be either a functional benefit or emotional benefit. A functional benefit directly relates to the functionality of the feature. It’s not just a car stereo, it’s a high-quality sound system. An emotional benefit is one that evokes a feeling or emotion. Emotional benefits make the stereo user feel like a pop-star.

Next, map your features and benefits for clarity. Begin by ranking which features and benefits are expected. These are the attributes your brand must have or your customer won’t buy your product. Next are the unexpected features and benefits that add value to your brand to distinguish you from the competition. While these set you apart, they might not be enough since most end users want added value and more to be compelled to purchase a particular brand.

What takes you over the top are the features and benefits that have that cache´ of exceptional value – these are what drives your end user to buy your brand.  These are the unique, positive attributes that are your golden ticket for your brand.  As stated before, features that have a higher perceived value create a higher rank in the users’ mind.  However, emotional benefits will rank exponentially higher and are ultimately the reason your user will purchase your product over the competition. They are also the basis for your brand position and brand promise.


Align your brand architecture with your business strategy

Your brand architecture’s strategy should amplify your short-term and long-term business goals. It should explain why brands within your portfolio relate to one another. Now that you understand who you are and what you deliver, you need to determine how to work in unison with your strategic business plan. Answering the questions below will clarify whether you brand and business strategies are aligned.

  • Do the brands address multiple or different customer segments?
  • Is the brand represented the same way in different geographies?
  • Do they target different geographies or do they reinforce a global mindset?
  • Are there synergies that can be aligned between different brands or business units?
  • Are there just a few synergies or multiple synergies?
  • How closely aligned are internal and external perceptions of brands and their roles?
  • Are alternative developments influencing the configuration of the brand portfolio?
  • Are changes in the market influencing the business strategy? How is this affecting the brand portfolio?
  • Are you adding or eliminating products and services?
  • Are you evaluating the alternatives to best fit the short and long-term business objectives?

Companies have varying business requirements, which may require questions not listed here.


What Does it all Mean?

The purpose of brand architecture is to maximize individual brands while creating brand equity for the whole.  There are no set rules that apply in all brand architecture situations, however documenting and guiding the brand architecture strategy is important as it unites the stakeholders and through consistency of brand message, successfully expands market share.  The marketing and business team must align the strategies between the brand and the business models.

After compiling your brand architecture, you can begin the remaining steps: value proposition brand position, brand promise & messaging and brand strategy; all of which will be derived from a thorough but simple brand architecture.

These are essentials steps requiring time, effort and attention to details to be successful. Yada, yada, yada won’t cut it.

Brand Amplitude, Carol Phillips,
Slideshare, Brand Architecture Toolkit
Brand Strategy Insider
Ervin & Smith
Marketing Mo,
Branding Business

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