What Is Brand Architecture and Why Is It Important When Optimizing Your Website?
April 19, 2023
By Patti Myers
A strong brand is not only a “nice to have”; in an increasingly digital world, it’s vital to revenue success. In fact, in 2022 it was found that presenting a brand consistently across platforms can increase revenue by as much as 23 percent. More than that, a strong website is non-negotiable in 2023. A recent U.S. consumer experience survey found that 64 percent of respondents had switched to a competitor after a poor experience on a brand’s digital channels.
When you consider these statistics, the clear conclusion is that investment in branding and website optimizations is not an either/or situation because these are two sides of the same coin. Having both a clear brand strategy and website strategy positions your brand to maximize revenue.
What Is Brand Architecture?
A brand architecture is an organizational structure that clearly maps out how a brand relates to its service lines, sub-brands, products, and more. It shows the relationships between your organization’s owned assets and outlines how they are communicated and represented.
You might have heard these structures referred to with terms like “parent brand,” “family of brands,” or “umbrella brand.” We’ll dive into the differences between those terms, but no matter how it is referred to, a brand’s architecture is the family tree and structure that defines an organization’s branded components.
Why Do You Need a Brand Architecture?
You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint. Or perhaps more relatably, you wouldn’t start doing marketing activities without a solid strategic plan connecting all of your efforts and vision.
Developing a clear brand architecture is no different. If you don’t have a clear vision for where a product, service, or sub-brand fits within your master brand, you leave the door open for:
- Brand confusion
- Positioning inconsistencies
- Lack of corporate hierarchy
- Lack of consistent or meaningful brand differentiation
- Inability to properly scale brand products or service line offerings
- Missed opportunities for cross-selling
- Dilution or underutilization of brand equity
Common Brand Architecture Terminology
The language around brand architecture is nuanced, and different industries and organizations may use slightly different definitions. That said, here is some basic terminology to help define brand architecture.
Master Brands, Parent Brands, and Umbrella Brands
A master brand is an overarching, often recognizable brand name that a company relates to. It is sometimes referred to as a parent brand. Typically, master brands sell products or services within a specific service or product category.
Parent and umbrella brands as terms are sometimes used interchangeably with the term master brand. In some cases, however, these terms can specifically refer to a structure wherein sub-brands sell products that do not fall into the same category and sell to different, or multiple, audiences.
Sub-brands are the brands that sit underneath the master brand. For example, consider Amazon. Amazon is a master brand, and Amazon Web Services is a sub-brand. You recognize easily that Amazon Web Services is owned by Amazon, but the title also offers distinction from the different services that are being offered.
Brand Architecture Models and Strategies
A branded house is perhaps one of the most easily recognizable uses of brand architecture. In this model, one master brand sits at the top with a highly recognizable brand, and its sub-brands sit beneath it. In this model, the sub-brands share an indication of relation with the master brand. Similar branding, colors, and visual identity are employed across all brands.
An example of this is Apple, which has the sub-brands Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple iPhones, Apple iPads, and so on. When you use those products or services, you know you are using an Apple product.
The advantage of this model is that it shares brand equity easily. There is a level of inherent trust with a brand such as Apple with a strong reputation. The downside is the same—if Apple were to take a major perception hit for its master brand, its subsidiary brands would also be impacted.
A House of Brands
Yes, branding experts love housing metaphors—but it does fit. Though it is similar in name, a house of brands is distinct from the branded house model. In this strategy, a parent brand owns a portfolio of brands. However, unlike the Apple example, it may not be obvious who the parent owner is. In this model, the brands “live” together in one house but maintain separate branded identities.
An example of this model is Procter and Gamble, which sells products in categories from skin care to household goods to healthcare. You might recognize some of their owned brands—such as Pepto-Bismol, Dawn dishwashing liquid, Ivory soap, and Crest toothpaste—but Procter and Gamble, despite being the parent brand, does not use its brand equity in the same way that Amazon and Apple do by including the master brand in the title of the brand.
An endorsed brand strategy is related most closely to the branded house strategy. In this model, the master brand is clearly linked to its sub-brands, but unlike the branded house, the sub-brands typically maintain their own distinct identity.
A good example of this is Kellogg’s. Eggo waffles, Rice Krispies, and Frosted Flakes maintain their own product identities, but the Kellogg’s logo is attached to the products. This spreads brand equity like a branded house does, but the master brand’s products might also compete with each other, as in the case of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Frosted Flakes.
A hybrid brand architecture employs a mixture of the above techniques. An example of this is Google and Alphabet. Google is such a household name that it is synonymous with making an internet search. However, Google is owned by Alphabet—its master or parent brand—and Alphabet has other brands in its portfolio that aren’t branded to Google in the same way that the sub-brands within the branded house of Google are (e.g., Google Pay, Google Ads, Google Drive, and Gmail).
What Does Brand Architecture Have to Do with Web Strategy?
While the act of organizing your brand architecture is important for audience and consumer perception, it’s also important for your website strategy—in fact, it informs many related decisions.
For example, if you are using the house of brand strategy, you know that you aren’t using the master organization’s brand equity. It wouldn’t make sense, for example, for the Crest website to live as a product drop-down on the Procter and Gamble website. The audiences are different, the brands’ intentions are different, and consumers would be confused. Because of this brand strategy, we can determine that Crest needs its own distinct website.
However, in the example of Apple using the branded house strategy, you would be surprised to search for an Apple iPad and find it on its own website. But what about Apple Music and Apple TV+? Those service line offerings do maintain brand equity, but they are arguably in different categories than the core Apple products.
Apple accomplishes this with two different navigation on its website. On the primary apple.com website, you can see a drop-down for “entertainment” alongside its core product offerings.
Clicking this “Entertainment” mega menu brings you to a new sub-nav for users who are interested in services rather than products. Note also the domain change: Services are offered under the subfolder apple.com/services/. This helps Google understand the content Apple is displaying.
What about the other products? Something similar happens when you click on the other categories in the main navigation. For example, when you click “iPhone,” the website will show you navigation related to the “iPhone” sub-brand. As with entertainment, these pages live under the subfolder apple.com/iphone/.
But what if Apple didn’t have an established and clear brand architecture before developing this website? It’s easy to see how a website with presumably hundreds of pages and multiple products and services could get messy and confusing quickly.
Because Apple has a clear brand hierarchy, its website is not only delivering a superior user experience, but it is also spreading its brand equity consistently and comprehensively.
How to Use a Brand Architecture to Drive Your Web Strategy
Not every brand, of course, will have to deal with the complications of dozens of brands within a brand hierarchy like Apple or Google—but even companies with only a single brand and more than one product or service sitting beneath it should consider how its brand architecture plays into its website strategy. Below are a few common considerations for making the most of your website with branding architecture in mind.
This is perhaps the most obvious example, illustrated well by how Apple positions its products and services. In fact, 94 percent of consumers agree that easy navigation is a must in a website.
If your brand is unclear about how brands, products, and services relate to each other or are distinct from one another, this confusion will make website navigation more challenging and negatively impact your website’s ability to convert customers or prospects.
A user experience audit should be part of any website design process. Navigation is a large portion of this, sure, but when considering how your brands, products, or services relate to one another, you should also consider what that means for the structure of your website as a whole.
You might, for example, offer services that benefit very distinct audiences. Where would people be most likely to find those services? The process of building a sitemap can sometimes poke holes in your brand architecture, giving you an opportunity to develop a stronger organization.
I typically tend to agree that it’s always best to optimize for the best experience for people so that your website content is easy to understand and helpful—which is Google’s goal, too. It’s just a nice bonus that having a strong brand architecture and translating it into your website is also good for Google.
A strong sitemap and site architecture can help Google understand your content, your website, and—perhaps most importantly—the value you offer to your audience. This is a positive for all users visiting your site, both returning and new.
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About the author
Patti Myers Patti is a Marketing Strategist based in Florida. She's passionate about solving problems and reducing friction. Holding a degree in psychology, she also enjoys paying homage to the human aspects of marketing to create effective campaigns. Outside of work, Patti enjoys spending time outdoors, reading, and dancing classical ballet. Read more articles by Patti Myers.