The branded house of cards

By Brittany Williams
Brand Strategy Ninja at Frankly

Be sure to stack with caution…

For many it’s hard to understand what brand architecture is and what it’s actually used for. A Marshall Strategy article defines brand architecture as explaining the degree of a relationship that should exist between the corporate brand and its various product and service brands. While there are many different kinds of brand architecture, which is usually determined by your business strategy and many other factors, let’s talk about branded house architectures.

A branded house architecture puts the emphasis on a single, well-known brand, with all of the products and services then laddering up to that brand. Let’s bring this concept into a real-world example; GE. Almost every living human being has heard of GE in some shape or form. Whether you were flying on a plane with engines produced by GE Aviation. Or replacing a lightbulb with one that’s more energy efficient from GE Lighting. Or interacted with a GE Healthcare product at a doctor’s office or hospital.

What you probably recognize and what we’re talking about is not the master brand, GE, but it’s sub brands; GE Aviation, GE Lighting, GE Healthcare and many others that fall under the massive GE umbrella. With a branded house architecture, there is a delicate balance and harmony between the master brand and its sub brands. At both levels, there are different narratives being communicated, different benefits being brought to the metaphorical table, different audiences, and different roles being played. These roles are never in competition, but in complement of one another, and we would argue that both roles are critically important.

Frankly recently partnered with multi-billion-dollar oil major ADNOC – Abu Dhabi National Oil Company to help them answer exactly this: How do we position a new sub brand, and how can it work with our master brand and maintain balance without breaking? For us the answer was simple; they work together and play on each other’s strengths.

While the narrative at the sub brand level should be more tailored and industry-specific, the narrative at the master brand level is much more elevated and speaks to the higher purpose of the company. The master brand carries with it trust, credibility, stability and financial resources, while the sub-brand brings expertise in specific industries, professional engagement and opportunities for partnerships. Each of these roles operate almost independently in a way, with their own dedicated presence and social channels.

Of course, for those of us in the branding world, this ADNOC case is not new. We’ve seen this branded house architecture done successfully for many decades with large industrial B2B brands like GE and Maersk, but also fairly recently with large consumer brands like Virgin, Amazon and Uber.