Building a Brand Family

When developing a brand strategy, many times the creative direction is driven by more than one entity. Most companies today have several products and/or services that live under one core brand. It's important that the relationship of these elements be defined for current and future initiatives.

Typically this is referred to as a brand family. You have the core or parent brand that sits at the top of the overall brand structure. Underneath this umbrella live the additional products and services. There are several strategies that brand architects use to define this relationship.

Below are several approaches I've used for managing a brand-within-a-brand dynamic.


At the top of this structure sits the parent brand. Its role is to define and establish the messaging and the overall look and feel of the company as a whole. This part of the brand will be the most visible to most people because its attributes are being promoted through high visibility channels such as the web, print, television, outdoor and social media.

In addition, the parent brand will play a key role in the company’s creative and content branding. Tactics such as signage, retail outlet design, advertising – even forms generally need to be represented under the parent brand umbrella.

Below the parent brand are the separate but integrated offspring or sub-brands. Their role can represent:

  • Individual Products
  • Unique Services
  • Education Programs
  • Internal HR Initiatives
  • Events
  • Digital Assets

Each one of these sub-brands can assume its own unique identity while still aligning and following the basic principles of the parent brand. This structure is extremely practical because they all perform a different function within the overall make up of parent brand.

Tactically, the offspring all share the similar typographic, visual and messaging style. Their unique qualities come through naming, logo marks, shifts in colors, language and visual interpretation.

It’s worth noting that sub-brands will also have (at times) different audiences and marketing tactics. The more relevant and consistent a communications tool and message align with its recipient’s interest and expectations, the more successful the outcome will be.

Apple is a terrific example of this approach. They've managed to balance this branding technique so well that consumers have a true affinity and connection with each individual product or service.

They've evolved their brand so successfully that today's Apple steps back and proudly allows their offspring to shine. 


This approach flattens the overall structure of a brand and its sub-brands and is built as a single entity. In other words products and services generally are not identified by a unique name or mark and are treated more or less as an extension of the primary brand.

This strategy works best when a single offering or service has built and sustained the company's success. Additional offerings are generally represented as a support line that locks up with the brand's parent logo.

From an execution standpoint, it can be an efficient way to execute marketing materials. It can also be the most limiting. It's essentially one logo supported by a range of qualifying lines that identify the product or service. All of the communications share one set of very specific brand guidelines.

The down side of this approach is that the individual lines of business can fade into the background behind the core brand. This could be problematic when product successes and failures are attributed to the parent company and not the responsible product or service.

This creates a customer relationship that exists with the core company alone. Any affinity with a particular sub-brand is more organic than deliberate.

FedEx has been managing this creative direction successfully for years. The brand name is indeed king. Products and services that live under the core brand seem more like functional attributes that exist under a single solution.


This strategy is a great solution when the parent brand prefers to allow its offspring to go out on their own.

The sub-brands are free to establish their own unique look and feel as long as they maintain pre-determined characteristics of the lead brand. This approach is successful when the parent brand has a broad portfolio of products and services. Any other structure has the potential of becoming impractical or confusing.

The individual line of business is responsible for their own brand platform and they define the creative approach that fits best with their customers and the product or service they represent. What's interesting about this direction is that these sub-brands traditionally take on a Parent & Offspring or a King of the Hill approach when building out their product line's brand.

P&G is a great example of this. With thousands of SKUs in its portfolio, any other approach would simply be impractical. This structure enables brands like Crest to develop a strong brand hierarchy around its extensive offering.


Defining the brand and its sub-brands – pinpointing each of the brand’s attributes, benefits and unique characteristics – is a process that yields loyalty, efficiency and continuity with every communications touch point.

The right formula for your brand will not only define the best persona for your company but will also provide structure as you continue to grow.

Learn more from Richard Shuback on branding in his class at DCPA15.

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