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5 things every entrepreneur should know about brand architecture

Brand architecture is an often misunderstood aspect of brand strategy. Here’s a primer on what every entrepreneur should know about brand architecture, from what it means to how it can benefit a small and growing business.


By Rob Meyerson, Principal at Heirloom

5 things every entrepreneur should know about brand architecture

Savvy entrepreneurs know how important it is to build a strong brand—one that resonates with customers and helps a product or business stand out from the competition. And these days, most businesspeople understand that branding is more than just logo design, color palettes, and catchy headlines on a website. But the benefits and best practices of one aspect of branding—brand architecture—continue to elude many entrepreneurs. Below, I’ve explained what brand architecture is, some of its benefits, and a few dos and don’ts to help you integrate brand architecture into your strategy.

1. Brand architecture is how a set of brands relate to one another.

Maybe it’s the word “architecture” that trips people up. Brand architecture isn’t about “building” a brand from the ground up or defining the structure of a brand, exactly. In other words, despite the terminology, it’s not all that similar to what an architect does when designing a building.

Brand architecture describes how brands are organized—whether they’re grouped, any hierarchies between them, and whether they have related identities, such as a shared GE monogram or names that all start with “Mc.”

2. Brand architecture requires more than one brand.

As the definition above suggests, brand architecture is about how two or more brands relate to each other. If you’re launching a new company or only have one product, it may be too early to think about brand architecture (with the possible exception of third-party relationships, which I’ll explain below).

That said, it’s never a bad idea to think ahead. If you plan to launch new brands, products, or features in the coming years, do you know how their names or identities will relate to those already in the market? One mistake a lot of new businesses make is giving their company the same name as their first product, which can cause confusion down the road.

3. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Why is it important to think about how your brands relate to one another? The primary goal of brand architecture is to make things clearer and easier for customers.

Rather than thinking about how you’d like to organize your portfolio, think about how customers will encounter and perceive your offerings. Will they be able to tell what you’re selling, what the differences are between each item, and which one is right for them?

Done right, brand architecture can also help with cross-selling and up-selling. For example, a clear good-better-best arrangement of tiers in a SaaS offering, with simple names to match, will not only help customers select the right tier but may encourage them to upgrade when the time is right.

4. Err on the side of fewer brands (i.e., not everything needs a cool name).

In general, for startups and small businesses, a simple brand architecture is the way to go. Building a strong brand is hard enough without having to divide your focus and resources. Avoid the temptation to give everything a catchy, trademark-protected brand name.

If you’re launching an office supplies company named Whizbang®, consider naming your products the Whizbang® Pen and Whizbang® Paper Clip rather than Penumbra™️ and Clipalicious™️. Descriptive names like “Paper Clip” don’t require trademark protection, which will save you the hassle and expense of filing paperwork with the trademark office (or hiring a lawyer to do so).

But more importantly, investing in a single brand (e.g., Whizbang®) ensures that any positive experiences customers have with your products redound to that one brand’s benefit. This will pay dividends over time.

5. Consider mutually beneficial relationships with third-party brands.

If fewer brands and descriptive names sound boring to you, I’ve got some good news: Brand architecture also includes interesting ways of collaborating with other brands. Specifically, brand owners should consider three opportunities:

  • Co-branding is the use of two brands to market something—similar to the more modern concept of brand collabs. Nike+iPod is a classic example of co-branding. To find potential co-branding partners, look for successful brands with complementary offerings or a similar customer base (i.e., people who love your brand will also love brand X).

  • Licensing can be incredibly powerful, but can spell disaster when done carelessly. If you’re familiar with Caterpillar-brand boots, you’ve seen brand licensing at work. Caterpillar, the construction company, does not make footwear. Instead, they license their brand to Wolverine World Wide, Inc., in what I assume is a lucrative arrangement for both companies. If it makes sense for your business, consider the possibility of licensing a third-party brand. Or, if you have a strong brand, explore opportunities to license it to others. But beware of untrustworthy partners—the last thing you want is to damage your brand by slapping your logo on a low quality product.

  • An ingredient brand is presented as a component or feature of another brand. “Intel Inside” is the best example of a successful ingredient brand campaign; the company’s chips are sold as components within other manufacturer’s computers. Think about whether your brand or products could “power” someone else’s (literally or figuratively), or vice-versa. Ingredient branding only works in select situations, but—as the Intel example demonstrates—can provide an alternative path to brand greatness.

By keeping these five points in mind, you’ll be a step ahead of the average entrepreneur—not to mention some professional brand consultants—when it comes to brand architecture. Keep the customer in mind, plan ahead, keep it simple, and look for opportunities to partner with other successful brands. Brand architecture is often misunderstood, but with these basic principles, you can use it to build a stronger, more customer-friendly brand.

122 views2 comments


Great article. Simple way to begin to think about brand architecture

Rob Meyerson
Rob Meyerson
3 days ago
Replying to

Thanks, Bruno!

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