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A brand hierarchy plays an important role in defining your products or service offerings to your audiences. In this post, we provide an overview of what a brand hierarchy is, different ways to approach a brand hierarchy, and then look at brand hierarchy examples.

What is Brand Hierarchy?

A brand hierarchy or brand architecture is one overarching brand with sub-brands or sub-products within it. A brand may choose to set this up for a variety of reasons: perhaps they have different products with different target audiences, or they want to establish distinct variation between product offerings. With a clear reason established, a brand will create a brand hierarchy to carry their branding throughout their products.

Next, we’ll look at the difference between branding all products within one brand, known as similar value offerings, and creating separate branding for different products, known as different value offerings.

Similar Value Offerings

If you have multiple products all aimed at the same audience, it makes sense to have them all sit within the one brand.

Samsung does this very well for its mobiles, TVs and air conditioners, for example. The audience is the same - consumers who believe in quality, appreciate the service network that comes from an established brand and like innovative technology - so they can position them all under a single brand.

Different Value Offerings

If, however, you have multiple products aimed at different audiences, and therefore different value offerings, you might consider building these under separate brands so there is no confusion about what you do and who the customer is.

Unilever owns both Dove and Lux, both producing beauty soaps and shower gels. Lux is a more generic brand than Dove and therefore has a different audience. Building these two brands separately allows Unilever to have a presence in different sections of the market, delivering products to two audiences, who are unlikely to switch to the other if one stopped production.

Brand Hierarchy Examples

Single Master Brand

Universities often have a strong master brand and similar value offerings to cater to their audience, but different product categories within this one brand.

One good brand hierarchy example is what’s often found in university departments. These departments usually belong to the master brand and are named to provide consistency across the organization. Monash University used the same visual identity framework for their 2018 Open Day and used color to differentiate the departments in directional signage.

Monash University built a strong and consistent brand identity for their audience, with enough flexibility to be genuinely useful for campaigns and signage.

Sub-Brands and Product Brands

Company structure and ownership also influences brand hierarchy and architecture, of course, particularly following mergers and acquisitions when the contract often includes brand structure and naming conventions.

One of the best examples of this is, of course, chocolate.

Mondolez International owns the Cadbury brand among many other chocolate brands. Cadbury has many sub-brands (Cadbury Creme Egg, Cadbury Dairy Milk) while also being a product brand.

Mondolez grew their chocolate portfolio by acquiring Toblerone. It has its own identity, own branding and a separate value proposition to Cadbury so it made no sense incorporating it into their existing brand structure.

We also can look at The Hershey Company, which owns a wide variety of snack foods under their name while - similar to Cadbury - also exists as a well-known product brand. Though Hershey’s product has its own iconic branding, much of Hershey’s snack foods have their own brand identity.

These brand hierarchy examples look at the way master brands, sub-brands and product brands can all work in concert. Each brand has their own identity, and you can see some of the brands are sub-brands and others product brands.

Understanding how to build your brand hierarchy, or make a change to brand architecture, is a skill brand managers and the entire executive team should have a confident handle on and one that can be done in alignment with your brand’s pillars.

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