The Strength of Brand Architecture

  • Brand architecture is a structure developed to help convey the relationship between your brand and its products.
  • Brand architecture can be set up in a variety of ways, including by key ingredient, benefit, use, efficacy level or size.
  • Having a solid brand architecture strategy can help in the design of packaging and marketing and promotion materials, as well in the development of new products.

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.

By use. This organization is common for brands offering products across several beauty regimens—such as products for the face, body, hair, hands, feet, etc. Brands that use this architecture typically layer this level of organization on top of other systems, such as benefit or key ingredient.

By efficacy. Extra Strength, Professional Grade, Plus, Pro-Level and other such terms are a common methods of showcasing a product with a more potent formulation or efficacy. This adds an additional level of complexity to your brand architecture.

For example, should customers search first by the strength of product they want or by a method such as key ingredient or benefit?

By size. Unique sizes and product dispensing features are also a great way to breathe life into hero products.

However, use caution. If these spin-offs aren’t positioned as simply enlarged or reduced versions of the product you’ve come to know and trust, you are adding (possibly unnecessary) complexity.

Translating Strategies Into Practice

Although these types of organization can help to bring clarity to your line, each of these attributes also ultimately becomes another story on your packaging and promotions that customers must understand.

When done correctly, strong brand architecture sets the foundation for your core brand value and clarifies the strength of your product offering. Putting these stories, and stories-within-stories, in the correct order for your brand helps your design team make decisions as to what copy, features and benefits are most helpful to consumers.

A strong architecture also helps determine what content can be communicated with graphics such as symbols, color and imagery instead of by words alone. For this reason, MSLK recommends taking a fresh look at your brand architecture before getting involved in any packaging or website redesign projects.

The goals and objectives set during this stage ultimately influence how consumers will navigate your line to choose the product that is right for them. In addition, the decisions made will help you navigate other brand-related decisions, such as future product launches and line extensions, with ease. For this reason, every brand should have an established brand architecture and should review it and update it regularly.

Sheri L. Koetting is the co-founder and chief strategist of MSLK, a marketing and design agency based in New York. MSLK specializes in helping beauty brands find their voice in today’s crowded marketplace through 360° brand positioning—from overall brand strategy to brand identity, packaging, retail experience, websites and social media campaigns. [email protected]

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