Brand Architecture: Your Brand’s Ecosystem

What is NOT considered Brand Architecture?
Your brand’s architecture is NOT your brand strategy, or your marketing plan, nor your brand’s assets.

What IS Brand Architecture?

Defined as the structure of individual brands within an organizational entity, it is the way in which the brands within a company’s portfolio are related to, and differentiated from, one another.

In other words, it’s your brands’ ecosystem.


If you are a large corporation with different product lines, you need to decide how the world will view those individual products. Even for small companies, if you have more than one product or service offering, it is important to decide how it fits into your overall brand.

Are you a consulting firm who is now offering eBooks? How will you brand the eBooks? Did you start out as an IT support company, but now offer hosting? How will your hosting services brand relate to your IT services?

Planning for your future growth early on is key. Otherwise, you may face an expensive rebrand down the road.

What brand architecture strategy should you use?

Do all your brands go under one mother brand umbrella, like Apple? Or, will each brand stand alone, the way individual book titles stand apart from the actual publishing company, like Random House?

The family relationship in brand architecture


These examples are from large companies with multiple product lines. But, these concepts work on a smaller scale too. Even if you have 2 products or services, you need to define their relationship.

Early on, some decided to promote the mother brand, and name their child products with the same family name. Others are a collection of individual brands, with the mother brand positioned in the background but still there. Others have a completely different identity for each brand, with no reference to the family name.

Overbrand: One corporate family trademark is used, followed by descriptive names for each product and service. Apple is a great example. Each of their products is a brand in itself, but all fall under the Apple family tree.

Masterbrand: One corporate family trademark is used, but each product line has its own brand identity. Ikea is the Masterbrand, but each product line is segmented with its own identity, usually a cool Swedish name that changes frequently with the products.

Freestanding Brand: A variety of brands that speak to multiple markets, designed to stand apart. The company is so large they compete against their own brands to push innovation and stifle stagnation. It is a mathematical certainty that you have used Procter & Gamble products. From Gillette razors to Tide detergent and Crest toothpaste, P&G virtually invented the concept of internal competition.

Endorser Brand: Multiple products or services are linked together by an endorsing brand. Nabisco’s Logo is on every product along with the individual brand’s logo, which is unrelated to the Nabisco name, unlike Apple, a Masterbrand.

Whichever Brand Architecture system you use, it will help you to define your company’s Identity, plan your marketing strategies, allocate resources, determine budgets and create your design assets.

Here are some talking points to help you choose the right path

  • Define your business strategy. What will your company look like 10 years from now? What will we be selling?
  • Take Inventory. List all your current products/ services and ones you are planning for in the future. List the features and benefits of each product/service. Features are more functional. For example, with an IT service company, they might have 24/7 services, handle installations and monitor security. Benefits are more emotional, what people care about. Providing 24/7 services would give someone peace of mind, handling installations frees up their in–house technicians time, and monitoring computers keeps them operating at top performance.
  • What will give customers the best experience of your brand? Will having all your brands under one umbrella make your customers recognize and trust your other products, as Coca Cola does, or will having separate brands encourage healthy competition like P&G does?
  • Is my architecture flexible? How will my choice of structure affect future growth?
  • What will be the costs associated with each option? If you are using one mother brand, maybe your logos will simply change color, as Fedex did with their brand architecture. Creating individual logos like Proctor and Gamble does is more costly. What about websites and marketing programs? Can it be done on one website, or will I need one for each product?

The 4 strategies of brand architecture each has its own unique benefits and drawbacks. Each has its own set of risks. The strategy you decide upon depends largely on how you see the future business structure of your company, even if you are a small business now.

Planning your vision for the future of your company will determine which type of Brand Architecture is right for you.