Understanding the Importance of Sub-Brands

By Phase 3
September 14, 2023



What do Jeep Wrangler, Diet Coke, and FedEx Home Delivery have in common? They are all successful sub-brands. Each sub-brand has its own customer base and unique set of features and benefits, but they are also deeply connected to its overarching master brand. This is one of many strategies of brand architecture.


What is Brand Architecture?

Brand architecture is the organizational structure of brands within a company's portfolio, including how each brand is related to and differentiated from each other. Brand architecture defines a company's master brand, sub-brands, and products or services underneath each. There are different types of brand architecture, including the “branded house” model, where sub-brands carry the master brand (Jeep, Coca-Cola, FedEx) in their name, and the “house of brands” model, where there is no traditional visible link between the master brand and the sub-brands (Procter & Gamble, Gap, Unilever).

In this post, we are going to focus on the “branded house” strategy of brand architecture. The goal of this strategy is to create clarity and consistency between each brand and sub-brand within a company portfolio. When done successfully, this strategy can achieve alignment in positioning, promote cross-selling and brand awareness, enable innovation and new product development, and support marketing and communication efforts. Ultimately, a branded house strategy aims to create value that supports a company's overall business goals and objectives.


What is a Sub-brand?

A sub-brand is a distinct brand within an existing brand that targets a specific market segment or produces a particular product line. Sub-brands maintain key visual elements of the master brand, for example, the Diet Coke logo is a modification of the Coca-Cola logo. A sub-brand is a natural extension of the master brand. Yet, they have their own name, voice, and identity, all designed to engage a specific target market.

This strategy is used when a company wants to introduce a new product or service that is significantly different from its primary offering but still in the same product category (for example, soft drinks). It is also used when a company decides to move into a new market and wants to capitalize on existing brand equity. So, when a car company like Jeep introduces a new model (say the Wrangler), that model becomes a sub-brand to Jeep. Hence, the sub-brand is Jeep Wrangler.

A sub-brand will have its own marketing strategy based on the target market and may use completely different marketing channels. Sub-brand marketing aims to differentiate it from the master brand by appealing to the target audience while leveraging the master brand's reputation and equity. But, of course, sub-brand marketing should never undermine or diminish the master brand in any way.


Benefits of a Sub-brand

Sub-brands can help master brands increase engagement and loyalty with their existing customer base by providing more value and services. Sub-brands can also attract new customers and expand the business into new revenue streams. When entering new markets, a sub-brand can be a valuable tool to change the expectations or perceptions of consumers. A lucrative sub-brand can help the master brand build awareness with an audience that otherwise wouldn't have been exposed to it. Customers loyal to a sub-brand are more likely to purchase a product from the master brand. Also, a well-designed sub-brand strategy can help to clarify and differentiate diverse products or services within a company's portfolio.


When to Consider a Master/Sub-brand Architecture

There are several critical points when creating a master/sub-brand architecture may be crucial to success, including:

  1. Acquisition - Over 20 years, our client ProMach acquired multiple best-in-class packaging machinery companies all over the globe. After acquisition, each of these companies would continue to use their existing brand assets, with the addition of only a small endorsement line that read "Powered by ProMach." This resulted in inconsistent brand experiences, communication strategies, and consumer understanding of what ProMach offered as a brand. At the time, there were 26 different brands, 26 different logos, disparate collateral, websites, and trade show presence. ProMach brought the Phase 3 brand team in to define a provocative brand story that tied the company together. We created a new brand platform and a visual identity for the master brand, as well as a comprehensive brand architecture for the 26 sub-brands. This new brand architecture told a consistent and compelling brand story, with a unifying vision that brought the core brand to the forefront and united all the product brands underneath it. The strength of the brand architecture framework has allowed ProMach to expand to 60 sub-brands today.
  2. Expansion into other markets - A sub-brand can be positioned to target a specific market segment that the master brand has not entered, which opens up new opportunities for growth. Developing a master/sub-brand architecture can maximize the value and potential of a company's portfolio by tailoring sub-brands to diverse markets or needs while still maintaining a sense of customer loyalty and trust with the master brand.
  3. New product/category development - Similarly to new markets, a master brand can expand its product offerings by developing new product lines or a whole new category of products as sub-brands. These new products or categories should align with the master brand's values and mission but, if done correctly, can build new revenue streams and target audiences for the master brand.
Examples of Master/Sub-Brand Architecture

Aside from the very prominent brands already mentioned, a master/sub-brand architecture is common in B2B product brands. For example, Adobe, Hubspot, and Cisco all offer several tools and software platforms that offer different applications for businesses. Each product line has      its own unique sub-brand that enhances the master brand.

Recently, Barnsley Resort in Georgia tasked the Phase 3 brand team with elevating their brand to attract a new generation of guests. We developed a new, modern brand for the resort that cultivated a sense of place where visitors can forge lasting, meaningful moments with their favorite people. The new brand was incorporated into every touchpoint of the customer experience with the resort. That included the three unique dining experiences on the Barnsley Resort property: the fine dining Rice House, mid-tier Woodlands Grill, and the relaxed, outdoor Beer Garden. We approached each concept as sub-brands through the perspective of flora and fauna. This included an Osage orange tree for Woodlands Grill, sage from the garden for Rice House, and hunting dogs for the Beer Garden. Each sub-brand has a unique personality reflected in the distinct location, atmosphere, and menu but also connects back to the Barnsley Resort brand. These sub-brands will support the master brand in communicating with the resort’s past, current and future guests. In addition, they will build awareness for the master brand as standalone brands that appeal to restaurant customers from the surrounding community.


Marketing Sub-Brands

Developing a marketing strategy for sub-brands takes careful thought and a clear understanding of a company's goals. It's important to evaluate how the sub-brand aligns with the master brand’s values and marketing strategy but also develop its own distinct identity and attributes that set it apart from both the master brand and the competition. A sub-brand marketing strategy should be consistent with the master brand's messaging, tone, and visual identity. It should also include unique messaging and creative that appeals to the target audience. The sub-brand's target audience must drive the decision about which communication and marketing channels are used, even if different from the master brand. Of course, these decisions also depend on the sub-brand's business goals. By carefully thinking through these factors, business leaders can develop successful marketing strategies that grow a sub-brand and bolster the master brand simultaneously.

Brand architecture, and the concept of master brands and sub-brands, can help business leaders ensure consistency in branding, create brand clarity, and build customer loyalty and trust. The decision to use a master/sub-brand architecture should be based on a clear understanding of the company's history, goals, and objectives, as well as the needs and wants of the target audiences. Developing a strategic brand architecture can strengthen a brand and drive business growth.

The Phase 3 brand team are experts at developing effective brand architecture strategies for clients. For more information, contact us today.