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The 3 Tiers of Branding Architecture

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Brand architecture is both art and science. Learn more about how and why large companies structure their brands.
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Russ Lange


A fervent believer in the promise of human powered growth, Russ leads CMG in partnering with companies to help them become aligned, agile, customer-driven enterprises that unleash the potential of their organizations with sustainable improvements in focus, teams, culture, and process our clients.

About The Author

Mark Chinn


Mark leads CMG in partnering with Telecom companies to help them increase customers and accelerate revenue. His 25+ years of experience in growth, strategy and execution includes B2C and B2B multi-channel acquisition programs, customer experiences that surprise and delight, pricing that optimizes customer value, and innovative product development.

Branding architecture is one of those terms that marketing execs throw around, but what exactly is it? It sounds complicated, but it’s a basic structure. Brand architecture is the diagram of how major companies structure their brands. And at CMG, we are the architects of your next big idea.

Some companies are massive — so giant that they have brands and sub-brands that seem completely independent. Think you’re supporting two hippies in Vermont when you buy Ben & Jerry’s? It’s actually owned by Unilever, the brand that brings you Hellman’s mayo and Axe Body Spray. How does Unilever keep track of it all? Brand architecture.

Brand architecture is both art and science. To learn more about how and why large companies structure their brands, CMG will take you through the three basic tiers of brand architecture. We can help you apply core brand values in a way that makes sense for your business.

What Is Branding Architecture?

Brand architecture pertains to the organizational relationship between brands within a company. There are several different forms of brand architecture, and it doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) just apply to the way a company is currently structured. A company with the foresight to set up a foundational system for its current and future brands will be far better prepared to tackle organizational growing pains as they come. Brands are usually organized in one of the following three ways:

Corporate Brands

Corporate brands use the same name for all of their products. This kind of branding is also called umbrella or family branding. Apple is a prime example of this. You’ve got the Apple iPod, the Apple Watch, the Apple operating system, the Apple iMac, and so on. Obviously, a marketing campaign for the Apple iPod is going to be different than a campaign for the iMac, but all of the brands and products — no matter how diverse they may be — are identified under a single brand.

Endorsed Brands

In this case, you’ve got a parent brand and then a sub-brand. The logo, branding, and marketing materials are different, and people often recognize the sub-brand as its own distinct entity. The parent brand endorses the sub-brand, giving it more credibility. Marriott is a great example of this. There are regular Marriott hotels, but there’s also the Marriott Vacation Club, the Courtyard by Marriott, and the Residence Inn by Marriott. You might choose the Springhill Suites over a different hotel simply because it’s endorsed by Marriott.

Individual Product Brands

These are brands that seem totally separate from each other, but are actually owned by the same company. Remember Ben & Jerry’s? They’re owned by Unilever, which also owns Lipton tea, Country Crock margarine, and Bertolli. Some companies with this brand architecture actually own competing brands — Procter & Gamble owns several shampoo brands, including Aussie, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, and Pantene. A strong brand structure ensures they stay out of each other’s way.

Brand architecture only gets more complex as a company grows. Staying resilient while building a successful brand structure in the midst of growing pains means you aren’t afraid to trust your gut. Businesses need to have a road map in place to guide them through expansions. You don’t want to end up competing with yourself!

At CMG, we specialize in partnering with your to bring your brand to its fullest potential throughout the brand architecture. Building a solid brand structure gives you a foundation on which to build innovative offerings, fulfill your brand promise, and deliver exceptional customer experiences.