In part one of this series on branding, I covered three types of sub-brand architectures that work well when there's a certain level of brand loyalty to an established, pre-existing brand. Oftentimes, there's an opportunity to capitalize on the "halo effect" of the existing brand, provided consumers already know, like and trust it.

In some cases though, the sub-brand isn't always the best approach. It could lead to confusion between the primary brand and the sub-brand identity or if the sub-brand fails, it could negatively impact the parent brand. In other cases, the sub-brand architecture just simply doesn't serve the parent brand or existing customers and it makes more sense to break off a completely new brand.

When individuality is best for the brand

When is the individual brand structure more fitting? A few ways to know is if you can check off any of the following:

  • You offer multiple products or services that aim to serve distinctly different audiences
  • The products or services have two separate visions and purposes
  • Each is strong enough to stand on its own without the endorsement of the parent brand

This is referred to as "house of brands." Examples include P&G with Pampers, Bounty, Tide and Charmin; Newell with Rawlings, Rubbermaid, and Elmers; and Mars with Orbit, Snickers and Twix.

As you can see, the parent brand doesn't tend to be publicized. In fact, many of us may not have even know Rawlings, Rubbermaid and Sunbeam were linked by the same umbrella corporation, or that Dove and Lipton are both products of Unilever.

Another prime example of this is Google, which has employed the "branded house" strategy with Google Glass, Google Play, maps, books etc., as well as a "house of brands" strategy with Nest, Fiber, etc. However, as the company began moving into driverless cars, health care, and other fields, they were growing more distant from their brand promise and corporate mission.

This led to the creation of Alphabet. Going this route enabled Google to hone their brand focus, leaving Alphabet as the parent to the company's broad portfolio products, services and innovations. This approach helped eliminate the threat of creating confusion in the marketplace.

The advantage of this approach is each brand is, in essence, free to play its own game, unrestricted by the meaning of the parent brand. The downside is, it requires each brand to have its own marketing budget, market position and customer segment. Not only do you have to take into consideration the customer and vision, you'll have to consider your marketing budget and the capacity of your marketing team.

In some scenarios within the individual brand approach, each brand may have some crossover in terms of personas each appeals to, but in other cases it will be vastly different. Going the individual route can be tricky when it involves multiple persona targets, but the opportunity to increase personalization with each brand to reach disparate audiences can also be enticing for organizations.

The risky side of each equation

As I mentioned, one advantage of an individual brand structure is it frees up each brand to play its own game. It also keeps each respective brand somewhat protected from any potential damage caused by misconceptions, failures and missteps of the other.

Because most sub-brands are visually and tonally in line with each other, bad publicity or a colossal failure in even a smaller venture can have disastrous consequences. We've seen this play out with well-known brands like Samsung with its Galaxy Note 7 and even Apple --even the most diehard Apple fans will abandon the brand across the board if one product doesn't meet their expectations.

Of course, the flip side of this is neither gets to benefit from the other's successes or brand awareness either. This can be a drawback in some scenarios.

One other thing to consider is the potential confusion the individual brand route can cause in the marketplace. For instance, Centrieva, an accreditation management software for higher education had launched a series of new products, each with its own brand name and all for a tangential market. Their customers and prospects were becoming increasingly confused about the offerings.

By parsing out Centrieva as the corporate brand, and creating Weave as the masterbrand with each product as a sub-brand of Weave, it created more cohesion among their offerings. Weave was applied to each product name to build brand association and recognition, and demonstrate how each product worked together as one cohesive platform. This was blend of models, or a hybrid, in which the corporate brand took on a similar role as P&G, where Weave was more front and center like Apple or Google.

Choosing the right path

Typically if the new product or service aims to fulfill a different purpose or it doesn't share a particular stance, it may be best to completely separate the two brands. If however, there's an underlying vision or purpose that is echoed throughout each of your offerings, sub-branding might make more sense.

The answer on which direction to go can often be found in your vision, values, customers, and market position:

  • Who are your customer segments?
  • Do you your products target vastly different segments?
  • Do these differing segments want to be associated with one another?
  • Does the new product fulfill upon your existing brand's deeper purpose and vision?

Answering these will help you get to the root of the best approach for your brand architecture. Of course, you'll also want to take assessment of your company's goals. Keep in mind, as strategist David Aaker put it in his book "Brand Portfolio Strategy," product portfolios should touch on these key factors: Relevance, clarity, leverage, differentiation, and energy.

Is the brand relevant in the minds of your customers? Is it clear what you do or offer, or do you regularly hear, "I didn't know you did that?". Can you leverage synergies across your products?

Are your products differentiated enough? Are each of the products or brands fueling or energizing the business?

Published on: Nov 17, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.