Ozan Karakoc Design Studio, Inc. / Los Angeles


Brand Architecture 101




In simplest terms, brand architecture is the structure that defines the relationships your brands have with one another. You should care about that, since brand architecture is your strategic roadmap for present and future success. While no two brand architecture systems are alike, Interbrand, a respectable brand strategy consultancy, states that there are three main types of brand architecture system:


1. Monolithic Architecture

Imagine there exists only one brand name, which is used on all products and services offered by the company;

2. Endorsed Architecture

Imagine there exists one corporate brand and multiple product or service brands. In this case, all sub-brands are linked to the corporate brand through either a verbal or visual endorsement;

3. Freestanding Architecture

Imagine the same scenario as before. But this time the corporate brand operates merely as a rather invisible holding company, and each product or service is individually branded for its target market.


There are many good examples of the monolithic structure. One of those is Four Seasons. From hotels to spas, from residences to private properties, everything is branded as Four Seasons. You deal with one brand. No confusion. Easy to manage. Yet, quite limiting. A similar claim can be made for General Electrics, most of whose offerings are promoted under the GE name.

Arguably, the endorsed structure is more attractive than the others. A good example is Nestle, which is both the name of the corporation and the master brand. You can buy a Nestle chocolate bar. It also offers Nestle KitKat. Finally, you get products such as Nesquik, Nesfit. What does not change, is the endorsement of Nestle, which lends credibility to its sub-brands.

Finally, the freestanding structure, which can be best explained by Viacom. The company owns popular brands such as MTVVH1Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon. Yet, in the minds of the man on the street, none of those brands is associated with Viacom.

So, how do you decide which structure to use for your brand? While there is no universally-accepted formula, at least there exists a cheat sheet. It requires three proverbial hats:

First, wear the consumer hat.

Attention is a precious commodity. Every day, we are bombarded with all kinds of messages. That’s why, when you are crafting your brand architecture, keep it simple. As Ian Wood of Landor says: “You should have as few brands as possible and as many as you need.” Ask yourself if the consumer needs to build a relationship with a new brand. If your answer is “no” then it is better to leverage an existing brand.

Second, wear the business strategist hat.

Here are three fundamental questions:

1. What business are you in?
2. What is your brand’s differentiator?
3. Do you think the new brand is aligned with your business strategy?

If let’s say, you sell olive oil to masses. If your business strategy changes and you decide to enter premium olive oil market, then you would need a new brand. That simple principle lies behind the success of Toyota and Lexus.

Finally, wear the financial analyst hat.

Is it economically viable to create a new brand? Do you have resources (money, staff, and time) to invest in a new brand? The renowned brand strategist Jack Trout uses the airplane analogy: “It takes 110 percent of rated power for a jet to get its wheels off the ground. Yet when it reaches 30,000 feet, the pilot can throttle back to 70 percent of power and still cruise at 600 miles per hour.” Launching a new brand is like an airplane taking off. Do you have what it takes to support a new brand?

Designing brand architecture is a complex task. It requires scenario analysis and multiple iterations. Often, egos and the politics get in the way. While, wearing three hats is not easy, in the end, it pays to broaden your vision.

Ozan Karakoc