The 101 of Brand Architecture

With this piece, we understand what Brand Architecture is, we look at the types of Brand Architectures and then essentially head on to the meat of this story, viz, identifying if a Brand structure is right for you as a Business. The author of this piece is Saurabh Bajaj, with his experience we’re sure the best direction on choosing the right one, let’s jump right into it!


I am sure if there is one question that has puzzled most entrepreneurs & marketers it is:

How many brands does their business need & what is the architecture that will pull them together?

The reason why this question is so critical is because branding offers an identity to your offerings and hence elevates them from mere commodities.

Trousers made of blue denim fabric were available before Levi’s came along and bought the intellectual rights as the original riveted jeans and that offered them a unique value to the consumer that are relevant even today!

So the identity that you create for your offerings may be the most important decision that you take and have the highest link to your long term success. However, having the right branding architecture is critical as Brands allow you to charge a premium but brands also need investment to remain healthy and too few brands may not give you the desired flexibility that you need to expand. But, you may not have the money to maintain too many brands.

That being said, in essence, the interlinkages between your Brands is called Branding architecture. The way this is crafted can help you hold together all the offerings that you may wish to offer to your consumers.

Types of Brand Architectures

There are essentially four main types of Branding architectures.

Master Brand: This is the most intuitive architecture where the key focus of investment of an organization is on a single mega-brand that defines the category that your business is in. Popular examples are FedEx & Google. Google demonstrates its competence in high technology products and offers it through various extensions like Google search, Google Maps, Google Play, Google+ & G Pay.

Sub-Brand: As business mature and you start adding a portfolio of offerings, there is a need to offer a differentiated identity within your bouquet of offerings. That’s when the sub-brand architecture becomes relevant. The various offerings from Cadbury Dairy Milk like Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk, Cadbury Dairy Milk Shots, and Cadbury Dairy Milk Crispello are all examples of Sub Brands within Cadbury Dairy Milk.

Related: Read the story of Mondelez India

Endorsed Brands: However there are times, where there is a need to pull apart new offerings from the mother brand and that’s where Endorsed Brands take root. A few examples are Cadbury Bournville where the promise, packaging livery & product is very distinct from the mother brand Cadbury Dairy Milk.

House of Brands: This is the ultimate stage of evolution for a business where the scale & width of offerings that you offer to the consumer can be in so many varied businesses that they have little in common with each other and the consumer may not even identify them with the master brand, say in the case of P&G.

What’s the right architecture for you?

So as an entrepreneur, how should you go about choosing your Branding solution? I guess the answer lies in a few crucial questions:

Scale: What is the scale that you are planning for your business in the next few years and hence what is your ability to invest? In case your ambitions are modest it’s best to try and work with a frugal Master Branding architecture.

Range: What are the categories that you plan to enter? If you are planning to restrict your play to a limited set of categories that building a master brand strategy would be simple & easy to execute. However, if you are planning to enter a range of categories the task becomes a lot more complex.

Proposition: Finally, the most complex question in your branding task is to identify your unique point of difference. Once you are able to identify this, you will realise that you can build preference across a range of offers by rooting your Brand in singular emotional truth.

What are you solving for?

Now, the best way to uncover the ideal brand architecture for you is to reach out to a Brand Consultant. However in order to help you appreciate the process let me take you through a few broad steps. The first part of your question is to arrive at the ideal portfolio that you are building the Brand architecture for. This would be achieved as follows:

Category Selection: The first step is to study all the possible categories that you may be interested in entering. Next would be to understand how attractive these categories are by building an estimate on their future growth rates and profitability. This is done by seeing the growth rates in the past few years and the pricing of the offerings.

Market Share Ambition: Once you have identified the most profitable & the fastest-growing categories, you need to build your Market Share ambition in these sectors basis on your right/ability to win, in terms of product knowledge, sourcing efficiencies, the uniqueness of your offer etc.

Business Projection: The combination of Category Selection & Market Share Ambition would help you arrive at your Business Projections and then will emerge what you are solving for.

Once you have your steady-state range of products & the categories that you need to enter. It’s now time to actually uncover the Brands you need to create and the Brand stretch that you can afford.

How should you solve for it?

This is the section where the skill of a marketer actually comes to the forefront. Here one leverages competition & consumer understanding to build a structure of the market. The next few phases are then as follows:

Competition Analysis: Here one needs to list out all the Competition Brands that we are benchmarking ourselves against. This also helps us understand how many Brands competition has used to target consumers.

Need States: This above is usually followed up with a workshop where competition brands are grouped into similar needs states. For example, Oreo, Treat, Dark Fantasy can all be clubbed under ahead of ‘Indulgence’, Mc Vities, Nutrichoice, Nutricrunch are all ‘Health’ focussed. While 50 50, Krackjack, Monaco are Crackers and so on.

Sizing of the Need States: Next these Needs States are clubbed basis the Size of your Ambition in these segments. If you have a large ambition for both Health & Crackers, you might need 2 Brands. However, if you have modest ambitions for Health, both Health & Crackers can be clubbed and delivered by a Single Brand.

Associations: Once you have arrived at the Number of Brands that you require. You need to now take the Creative Leap and arrive at the associations that you wish to link to your Brand. The more emotional the associations, the larger your ability to stretch your brand and the more money that you will need to spend to communicate your associations.

This process is a short overview of the work that the Marketing Team or a competent Brand Consultant would take you through. Let me now demonstrate the magic that could emerge with a few compelling examples.


As I will demonstrate through the next few examples, the winning Branding solution usually create a good link between your portfolio’s points of differentiation & then takes the creative leap for an emotional benefit. It’s the emotional story that next determines how compelling the consumer finds your brand and the stretch that the consumers allows you to take.

Paper Boat: I guess most of us would consider Paper Boat as one of our favourite brands. Hector beverages first created a fabulous product, ‘Paper Boat Aaamras’ which was a mango juice in a unique packaging & with fruit content that was significantly higher than the competition. But they didn’t stop there, they then took a step back and built their brand around a nostalgic story of ‘drinks and memories. These associations allowed the Brand to stretch beyond just juices to milk-based beverages like thandai, a launch of a chikki and aam papad bar and also traditional snacks like bhakarwadi.

The time where they needed to introduce a Sub-brand – “Paper Boat Swing’, is when they wished to unlock scale with a cheaper juice drink with low fruit content which would have caused a conflict with their master brand proposition.

ITC Wonders: One example of a Brand that has perhaps so far not delivered to expectations is a range of Milk drinks by ITC. Now frankly I love the product. A set of shakes with very interesting fruit promises with real mango pulp and badam pieces.

However, in my opinion, the challenge that the Brand faces is the lack of the right associations. Wonders has not been tied to a compelling product promise. That said, I am quite excited to see how the new re-Branding planned will impact the business. They have leveraged the power of Sunfeast & Dark Fantasy their existing Biscuit Brands to drive indulgence cues.

The 101 of Brand Architecture

Not only is this more efficient as you can drive more business with fewer brands. The emotional relevance of the Sunfeast brand may be more relevant than what they may be able to create with Wonderz.

Tropicana Slice: Then there are Brand combinations that I completely disagree with and Tropicana Slice is one of them. For the longest time, there have been two categories in the market Juices (with > 20% fruit) & Juice Drinks (with less than 20% Juice). Hence Juices or Real, Tropicana & B Natural have invested in Health associations and Juice Drinks like Maaza, Fruity & Slice have focussed on Taste or Indulgence codes. Combining Tropicana & Slice appears to be a perfect recipe for consumer confusion and could dilute both brands. An example of the chaos that would emerge is the creative below.

The 101 of Brand Architecture

To conclude

Building the right Branding architecture would perhaps be the most important decision that you would ever take. Hence it’s not a decision to be taken in haste. It’s critical for you to first land your business ambitions and then to lean on the right marketing support to craft the most optimal architecture tied back to the right emotional associations to enable you to meet your ambitions.

The Author

The author of this piece is Saurabh Bajaj, we hope you enjoyed the piece, if you did please head on to LinkedIn, and drop a thank you to the Author. You can also share the piece with your best friend on WhatsApp.

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