Not long ago, a client came to us with a problem we see all the time. MOSAIC’s growth was hamstrung by a perception that they were “just a yoga studio.” They had worked hard to expand their services to include leadership development, nutrition counseling, Reiki, and more. But most of their customers still didn’t know the breadth of their offerings.

MOSAIC’s most immediate problem was that they lacked good brand architecture: a clearly defined configuration of services or products. What they needed was a new way of structuring their brand to bring their full range of services into focus. By adopting a distinct and logical brand architecture, MOSAIC was better able to cross-promote their services, and, more importantly, regain control over the way their customers perceived the brand.

As we illustrate below, brand architecture an integrated system of names, symbols, colors, and visual vocabulary that caters directly to your customer’s thought process. How do you know what your customer is thinking? Two words: brand research.

The best brand architecture is built on a solid foundation of research into customer awareness, preference, and experience. Only research enables you to know how your brand performs across different demographics and geographic areas. Only with research can you be aware of how and why your customer is making decisions. And only through research can you understand the difference between what your brand says and what your customer believes.

Brand Architecture Benefits

At this point, you might be thinking, “My brand is too small to benefit from brand architecture.” But brand architecture isn’t just for behemoth multinational corporations. Even small brands can see measurable improvements in performance by better organizing their offerings. Regardless of your company’s size, effective brand architecture can enable you to…

  • Target the needs of specific customer segments
  • Brand architecture enables you to segment your messaging and services so that each of your target audiences hears what they want to hear and gets precisely what they’re looking for.
  • Significantly reduce marketing costs
  • When brands and sub-brands are architected in a logical, intuitive way, your marketing efforts are exponentially more efficient. With opportunities for cross-promotion between sub-brands, marketing is more effective as well.
  • Clarify brand positioning, naming, and messaging
  • Nothing increases the efficacy of your brand positioning like clarity. Clearly articulating the names of your sub-brands and the messaging they have for your customers is like giving your brand a high-performance tune-up.
  • Increase flexibility for future product and service expansion
  • By establishing an intuitive brand architecture, you set the stage to easily add products or services as your brand grows. Your brand becomes a modular entity primed for the addition of new sub-brands.
  • Bolster confidence among stakeholders in the strategic direction of your brand
  • A brand with well-defined brand architecture is a brand that’s thinking about future growth. And future-minded brands are a reassuring sign for investors and employees alike.
  • Ensure clarity and synergy between companies, divisions, products, and services
  • Even the smallest brand is a complex entity. Not until the various components that make up that entity are clearly defined and understood, can they work together, efficiently and effectively, toward a common goal.
  • Enhance customer awareness of your offerings while facilitating cross-selling
  • When divisions or sub-brands are clearly delineated, customers can understand their unique value propositions. Plus, a customer of one sub-brand is more easily converted to a customer of another sub-brand than a cold customer with no history.
  • Maximize visibility diversification in the marketplace
  • When a brand’s various divisions are not clearly delineated, they must rely on the parent brand to capture the attention of the marketplace. Brand architecture gives a parent brand the power of diversification by highlighting the unique strengths of its distinct sub-brands.
  • Build and protecting brand equity
  • The upshot of all of the benefits above is the most valuable asset for any company: brand equity. Growing your brand equity gives you compound returns as industry authority and marketplace valuation grow with it.

Brand Architecture Types

types of brand architecture ignyte branding agency

Truth is, there’s a lot of different ways to architect a brand (and just as many names for these ways, it seems). Classically, however, brand architecture falls under one of three categories: monolithic, endorsed, and pluralistic.

Monolithic brand architecture (the type we implemented for MOSAIC) features one master brand with subordinate iterations, while endorsed and pluralistic architectures feature parent brands with differing relationships to the divisions they oversee. Let’s take a closer look:

Monolithic Brand Architecture

types of brand architecture ignyte branding agency

Here we have a strong master brand that leverages its strength with divisions that feature the master brand name modified by a product or service description. Think FedEx and FedEx Ground or Google and Google Maps. A monolithic brand architecture capitalizes on deep, established customer loyalty—its target audience cares less about product features or benefits than they do about the brand promise they know and love.

Endorsed Brand Architecture

types of brand architecture ignyte branding agency

In the endorsed structure, both the parent brand and its divisions have strong, unique market presences, and the divisions benefit from their association with or endorsement from the parent. The synergy between them is often mutually beneficial, as well. (Each benefits from the strength of the other.) Examples are Apple and iPhone or Nabisco and Oreo.

Pluralistic Brand Architecture

types of brand architecture ignyte branding agency

Pluralistic brand architecture is characterized by a range of distinct, familiar brands under a parent brand that customers usually aren’t aware of. The importance of the parent brand is primarily to the investment community. Here, the divisions essentially endorse each other, and the parent brand realizes the dividends. We see this in brands like Unilever and Dove or Kimberly Clark and Kleenex.

Brand Architecture in Action

So, how do you architect your brand reality in a way that benefits both you and your customers? First off, don’t over-complicate things. The idea of brand architecture is to make your strategy clearer, not more convoluted.

Decide how closely you want to associate your divisions to your parent brand. Each architecture type offers a different way to leverage (or not leverage) the parent name. This question becomes particularly relevant if your brand architecture efforts are the result of a merger or acquisition (and even more relevant if that acquisition was of a former competitor).

Make sure every product or service that needs a brand gets a brand—but be careful of getting trigger happy. It’s all about deliberate, intuitive allocation.

Next, prioritize clarity in the connections across your brands, divisions, products, or services. Endorsement and cross-promotion don’t work if customers are confused by brand correlations. The more common elements there are among your brands, the stronger the synergy is between them.

Finally, pay close attention to the details of your visual identity system across brands. Naming structure, common colors, and symbol placement should all align with your overarching brand strategy.

Building a solid brand architecture isn’t easy, which is why agencies like ours exist. We help clients better organize their brand experience to better align with their target audiences. Ultimately, it’s about parsing the nuances of your brand and, with the help of meticulous research, deciding how to leverage each of its divisions to best benefit the whole. Remember, though, the idea isn’t just to come up with clever names for your various products and services. It’s to create clarity from chaos, and sharpen the edge of your ongoing branding efforts.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has more than a decade of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Huffington Post, and Brand Quarterly.