Brand hierarchy examples: What it is and why it matters (with models and types)
The world is filled with more brand hierarchy examples than you might think. Every company with a significant connection to another brand or business shows us a form of brand hierarchy.
Unfortunately, for beginners in the marketing and branding world, it can be difficult to understand what brand hierarchy actually means, and why it’s important. On a broad scale, one of the core purposes of effective branding is to give your audience clarity.
A well-structured and defined brand helps people to understand what your company stands for, its mission, and the values that guide your decisions.
As your business grows, purchasing new companies, creating new products and sub-brands, and extending into new markets, brand hierarchy shows how all of your assets are connected.
It’s essentially the key to outlining the “family tree” of your company, and how all of the different branches come together.
Here’s your guide to brand hierarchy, complete with brand hierarchy examples.
What is brand hierarchy? An introduction
Brand hierarchy is a term that refers to the different levels or components of your brand family, and how they work together. As large companies grow and evolve, they often begin to branch out into new ventures, creating different product lines, or forming relationships with new companies.
Over time, a single brand becomes a “brand portfolio”, a collection of identities, images, and assets that all align with one “core” parent brand.
In a sense, a brand hierarchy is a lot like the organizational structure of a traditional business team. In a company, we have the founder or owner of the organization, supported by a selection of executives. Underneath those, we have middle-management, line managers, and non-management roles.
In a brand, your assets fall into a similar structure. Usually, we have a “core brand” or parent brand that stands at the very heart of your brand portfolio. Beyond that, there’s your “extended” brand assets, such as sub-brands, and brands within brands.
It sounds complicated, and it is. Brand hierarchy can be difficult to master at first, but it’s also important to ensure you can manage your full portfolio as effectively as possible.
Brand hierarchy vs brand architecture: Is there a difference?
If you’ve searched for brand hierarchy examples before, you’ve probably encountered various insights into “brand architecture”. Often, these two terms are used interchangeably, but is there a difference?
Both architecture and brand hierarchy are two parts of the same strategy. In both instances, the idea is to create a clear organizational structure for your brand assets, portfolio, and product lines.
Brand hierarchy defines the arrangement of brands and products within a brand architecture, such as the “house of brands” architecture. It looks at how these components are aligned.
Brand architecture, on the other hand, is a little broader. It also looks at the relationships between the assets in your brand portfolio.
Brand hierarchy vs brand identity
Two other terms that frequently overlap in the branding world are “brand hierarchy” and “brand identity”. Here, the difference between the two concepts is a little clearer cut.
As mentioned above, your brand hierarchy is a set of brand names and their associated services or products, connected by a core, or parent brand.
Brand identity, on the other hand, is an intangible concept. It’s made up of the core values, missions, visions, and other components that differentiate each brand from its competition. Each brand in your “hierarchy” has its own identity.
That identity includes everything from a distinct tone of voice, to an image (logo and color palettes), and even specific brand values.
The benefits of a clear brand hierarchy
Brand hierarchy can be difficult to master, but it’s an important concept for any growing business. A good brand hierarchy can be a valuable tool, helping to establish the authority of your organization, increase brand recognition, and strengthen customer connections.
A good brand hierarchy doesn’t just elevate the equity of each individual brand in your portfolio, it also helps to boost the authority of your core, or parent brand.
Some of the biggest benefits of branding hierarchy include:
- Differentiation: Organizing the individual brands in your portfolio effectively, and defining how they exist together can help to differentiate you from your competition. It gives you a clear structure you can use to enhance the value proposition of your company.
- Brand equity: Brand equity looks at the value in a brand name, and the reputation a company builds with its customers. A strong brand hierarchy allows equity to flow from one brand to another, and increases the equity of the main brand.
- Brand management: Managing brand families and brand assets is easier when you have a well-established brand hierarchy. It can help with strategic decision-making, and even guide product development in each individual brand.
- Consistency: Even if each of the brands in your portfolio sell different products, they may share an underlying vision or mission. Brand hierarchy gives you the clarity you need to send a consistent message through multiple brands and your marketing strategy.
Brand hierarchy examples: The main types and structures
As you’ll see in the brand hierarchy examples below, the “hierarchy” of your companies can take on many different structures, depending on a range of factors. Usually, your chosen brand hierarchy will depend on your overarching branding strategy, marketing efforts, and positioning.
Let’s take a closer look at the main types of brand hierarchy (with examples).
1. Branded house hierarchy
The first type of brand architecture or hierarchy we’re looking at today is one of the most common.
The “branded house” or “corporate brand hierarchy”, involves a structure where all of the sub-brands connected to a core company leverage the same core brand assets, such as a name, or a slightly altered logo.
With a branded house, the “master brand” lends its brand equity, reputation, and positioning to all of the other brands within its portfolio. For instance, FedEx has multiple business branches and different service offerings that operate as individual brands.
There’s FedEx Freight, FedEx Express, and FedEx Ground, for instance. All of these companies conduct different operations, and offer specific services, but they operate under the same name and master brand “FedEx”.
Other brand hierarchy examples that use the same model include companies like Virgin, or General Electric. Virgin has Virgin Media, Virgin Money, and so on. General Electric has GE Security, and GE Aviation. Both companies tie their sub-brands to their master brand directly.
This structure is common in the world of brand hierarchy because it’s simple. It allows organizations to expand without having to create entirely new brand identities. It also ensures new companies can build on the reputation the master brand has already developed.
The biggest downside to this approach is that if one brand suffers reputational damage for some reason, all of the connected brands are affected by the backlash.
If FedEx Express was involved in a scandal, customers wouldn’t just boycott the “Express” company, they would rail against the entire FedEx operation.
2. Monolithic brand hierarchy
The Monolithic brand hierarchy is very similar to a “house of brands” strategy. Sometimes, the two terms are used interchangeably. However, there can be a slight difference between the two.
A monolithic brand hierarchy focuses more on connecting the individual products and services offered by a company, rather than creating entirely “separate” brands. For instance, Apple has the iPad, iWatch, and iPhone, all of which feature similar branding and the Apple logo.
Monolithic brands, or “umbrella brands” use the same brand across all products, and although different teams might be responsible for delivering and creating those products, companies recognize all of the assets as being part of the same brand.
Outside of Apple, other brand hierarchy examples using the “monolithic” structure include companies like Heinz. The Heinz brand has a huge line of products, but they’re all marketed with the Heinz name.
Once again, a monolithic brand architecture has similar benefits to a “house of brands” solution. It’s great for smaller brands that are introducing new product lines to an audience, and want to retain their existing reputation.
However, issues with one brand in the hierarchy and pass over to the others.
3. Endorsed brand hierarchy
An endorsed brand hierarchy, or “family brand” structure, uses a strategy that positions products and services as “sub brands” under an existing parent company. With this approach, the main corporate brand doesn’t take center stage in the branding and marketing.
However, it also doesn’t disappear from a company’s marketing strategy entirely. Instead, it acts as a kind of “endorsement”, enhancing the reputation of each individual sub-brand.
The sub-brands are all independent, and have their own logos, and products. However, they benefit from being under the “umbrella” of the main brand.
Nestle, for instance, promotes a range of product lines, such as KitKat, Nescafe, and Smarties. This approach gives sub-brands a little more freedom to deviate from the personality, look, and feel of their parent brand, compared to the monolithic or “branded house” structure.
At the same time, the independent brands still benefit from the presence of the larger company’s endorsement, and sometimes even its logo or name.
As another example, hotel company Marriott has sub-brands like the “Courtyard” and “Fairfield Inn”, but each sub-brand still benefits from the Marriot logo, brand, and identity.
4. The house of brands hierarchy
Though the terms “house of brands” and “branded house” might seem similar, they actually refer to two completely contradictory brand hierarchies. While the “branded house” unifies all of its sub-brands around the same logo and identity, the “house of brands” takes the opposite approach.
Otherwise known as the “individual brand” hierarchy, the house of brand gives each sub-brand or product line in its portfolio its own distinctive identity.
The parent brand is still financially responsible for each sub-brand, and still plays a role in their marketing campaigns, and the development of their brand positioning.
However, every individual brand has its own unique logo and ethos, separate from the larger brand. The best examples of brand hierarchy that use this structure are Procter & Gamble, and Unilever.
Procter & Gamble owns dozens of individual brands located across different categories, from Tide to Gilette. Similarly, Unilever is responsible for a massive collection of different, individual brands.
All of the smaller brands benefit from their own distinct messaging, values, and brand mission.
This can be a good way for a master brand to branch out across multiple different product categories, without having to worry about diluting their core identity.
Additionally, if any issues happen with the separate brands in a house of brands, most of the other companies wouldn’t be affected. For instance, if you lost your respect for Gilette, that wouldn’t necessarily stop you from purchasing Pampers, and so on.
5. The hybrid brand hierarchy
Finally, the hybrid brand hierarchy combines the various structures mentioned above. Large companies mix and match different types of “hierarchy” until they find a strategy that works best for them. A good example of this comes from Google.
Google is a large corporate brand with a variety of dependent sub-brands that are marketed using the Google name, logo, and identity. You’re probably familiar with Google-branded products like Google Pay, Google Maps, and Google Play.
At the same time, however, Google is also responsible for a range of independent brands with their own unique identities, like YouTube.
Another excellent example is the Coca-Cola company. Some of Coca-Cola’s sub-brands are connected to its main identity, like Coca-Cola Zero. However, others have their own distinctive identity, such as Smart Water, and Fuze.
A hybrid brand model allows companies to experiment with different levels of branding across their portfolio. They can connect some products or solutions to their core identity, endorse other brands, and allow some companies to operate completely independently.
As a result, it’s easy to appeal to a wide range of customers, including those who wouldn’t necessarily be influenced by the reputation of the corporate brand.
The levels of brands in a brand hierarchy
To understand brand hierarchy fully, it’s important to get a clear insight into the different “levels of brands” that exist throughout a company’s brand strategy.
In each type of brand hierarchy, from the umbrella brand model to the branded house model, brands and solutions exist at different levels.
First, we have the “corporate brand” or “master brand”. This is the over-arching parent brand that forms the top level of the brand hierarchy.
For instance, Coca-Cola and Amazon are corporate, master brands. They’re the parent behind all of the new brands and brand extensions that emerge, connected to the main parent company.
Beneath this, we have the “family brand”, the group of brands that exist under the same corporate brand, and leverage that organization’s reputation and branding.
These companies sometimes have a higher level of brand value than other brand extensions, because they benefit from the brand elements that have already been created by the larger company.
Next, there’s the individual brand, the companies or sub-brands that exist independently of the parent organization. These brands have their own unique identity, position, and target audience. For instance, Coca-Cola uses the Smart water brand to appeal to people interested in mineral water.
Finally, there’s the “product brand”, or the individual brand given to a product or service within an individual brand. Apple, for example, is a corporate brand that’s responsible for various “product brands”, such as the iPhone and the iPad.
Choosing your brand hierarchy strategy
Figuring out how to manage the different brands and products in your brand hierarchy requires a strategic approach. Companies organize their hierarchies to support their overall branding and marketing strategies.
Here are a few key steps to managing hierarchy effectively:
Step 1: Define your brand strategy
Within a brand’s hierarchy, there needs to be a guiding mission or goal for the overall organization. At a glance, Procter & Gamble’s collection of brands might seem like a random mishmash of different products and services.
However, the company’s overall focus is to offer the widest range of “consumer goods” available. Coca-Cola focuses on the food and beverage industry. Although the products it offers may vary, they all aim to deliver joy and refreshment to consumers.
Defining your overall brand strategy means figuring out what you want your parent brand to accomplish, how it should be positioned, and which market it should serve. From there, you can begin to look at the positioning of each sub-brand or extension brand in your portfolio.
Step 2: Consider the pros and cons of different hierarchies
Next, think about the benefits, and potential downsides of each brand hierarchy option you can explore. You can use the brand hierarchy examples above to help you here. Each type of brand hierarchy has its own pros and cons.
For instance, if you already have a well-established parent or corporate brand, choosing a “branded house” structure means you can transfer the equity you have into your new sub-brand. You won’t have to start from scratch when it comes to attracting a target audience and earning their trust.
However, this structure also means that damage to one of your sub-brands will affect your entire brand portfolio. Alternatively, taking an approach that allows each brand to exist independently from your parent brand protects you from this risk.
It also means, though, that you’ll need to invest in a significant amount of marketing to ensure you can grow each individual brand.
Step 3: Monitor and evaluate
Managing the various levels of branding in your brand portfolio or hierarchy is a constant process. You need to always pay attention to not just the reputation of your corporate brand, but the impact each smaller brand is having on your equity and growth.
If the image of a sub-brand begins to falter, you may need to consider a brand refresh or an entire rebrand to protect your wider business.
A refresh or rebranding project can be a good way to rectify problems with a misaligned brand. It can also help to give clarity to your larger corporate brand, if you discover consumers are becoming confused about your purpose or mission.
Ready to start building your brand hierarchy?
As you can see from the brand hierarchy examples above, and the insights we’ve given throughout this guide, brand hierarchy can be a complex thing.
When companies begin to evolve and expand, it’s important to ensure you understand how your different sub-brands and product lines will align. Choosing the right hierarchy can make or break your chances of growing into a truly successful, multi-national company.
A good hierarchy will provide a clear visual and conceptual structure for your brand family, helping to maintain brand equity, and preserve customer loyalty.
However, it’s easy to make mistakes. If you’re struggling to grow your brand, or you don’t know how to develop a strong brand hierarchy, it might be best to seek the help of a professional.
Brand consultants can offer expert insights into the branding hierarchy strategies that make the most sense for your growing company.
Fabrik: A branding agency for our times.