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The Strength of Brand Architecture

By: Sheri L. Koetting
Posted: October 31, 2013, from the November 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Did you read the title of this article and wonder, “What is brand architecture?” You are not alone. The term has a variety of meanings and uses. However, the core purpose is universal. Brand architecture is the relationship between brands, product lines and the products themselves in a company’s portfolio.

If you are aware that Ralph Lauren has several brands, such as Ralph Lauren Collection, Ralph, Polo by Ralph Lauren, and so on, you have seen brand architecture in action. This form of brand and product organization is often referred to as a “branded house.” It also goes by many other names and has a few subsets, including monolithic, endorsed brand, family brand or umbrella brand.

Regardless of what you call it, the name or equity of the company is leveraged again and again across every product or line extension it creates.

In contrast, Procter & Gamble takes a different approach to its brand architecture. It use a “house of brands” approach, allowing each of its brands to have its own unique identity and to stand on its own. This is also called a freestanding or pluralistic approach to brand architecture.

For a smaller company, this approach is a much more difficult and costly road to pursue, as there is less opportunity for shared marketing efforts. Without a consistent brand name headlining each product, you are fragmenting your chance to build a strong overall brand recognition.

What About the Small Guys?

Most small brands think that brand and product hierarchy is for the big guys, like those owned by parent companies with multiple sub-brands. However, the truth is brand architecture is for everyone.

Whether you are a big brand or a small brand, you need a clear plan for how your products are related and organized. Without exception, brands lose when they simply start producing products and putting messaging out there to see what sticks. Smart brands know exactly what opportunities exist in the market and launch strategically.

Often we find that small brands—and especially those passionate about developing product and product innovation—fail to consider how all of the products they are developing relate to each other. As a result, retailers and consumers alike lose perspective on how to shop the line and what products to choose. Luckily, it is never too early or too late to start.

Building Architecture

Brands are always evolving, so there is no shame in bringing clarity back into an existing line. The principles of brand architecture help you consider how your products relate to each other, and in turn, how to promote and differentiate one product from the next, regardless of your company size.

In MSLK’s work with clients, it has found these types of organization are most common:

By flavor or key ingredient. This is a common form of organization for brands where a single product is offered in a variety of scents or flavors. Choosing this architecture encourages customers to shop by their affinity for a scent or ingredient.

From here, your line may grow by adding more ingredients or by creating other complementary products with those same ingredients. Brands that choose this architecture often feature images and colors related to the key ingredient on their packaging and in promotions.

By key benefit. This organization is common for brands that provide solutions to consumer problems. Sample categorization within this architecture may include a breakdown by hair or skin types with specific attributes such as dryness, oily and so on. Line extensions would include complementary products to treat the same conditions.

Brands that choose this architecture often feature images, text and wording in their promotions that help customers identify their areas of concern.