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Brand Architecture | False Facades—Why Hybrid is Mistaken for a House of Brands

By Drew Letendre


The way in which brand architecture is almost universally presented — as an inverted ‘family tree’ hung with logos — can be misleading. And since this kind of representation can and does become the basis of practical recommendations that are carried forth in practice, it is important to at least identify the nature of the problem. This article discusses one unremarked manifestation of hybrid architectures and suggests more precise and transparent ways of mapping them.

False facades: Family Trees
The flaw of the diagrams I mentioned above is twofold. The first problem is their resemblance to a family tree or — more to the point — an ‘Org Chart,’ which visualizes strategic management and operations relationships, not brand relationships. This kind of mapping muddies the waters and complicates the explanation of branding. The way an organization is structured may be quite different — may not mirror — the way it organizes and deploys its brands in the market. It is a situation analogous to the difference between the graphical user interface of a PC and the deep, intricate labyrinth of hardware behind the screen. The user experience created through the interface will certainly depend on the invisible machinery, but the user need not see or understand any of it — and her experience might not be ‘helped’ if she could.

Hybrid Architecture: autonomous brands + brands graphically integrated with a parent brand (i.e., a Co-logo)


False facades: Co-logos and Invisible Hybrids
The second problem — and closer to the focus of our story — is the use of logos to represent brand relationships. The absence of a logo (or ‘Co-logo,’ to be precise) doesn’t indicate the absence of a Hybrid brand relationship or architecture. Why? Many of my clients work for branded corporate entities that manage portfolios of separately branded, separately identified products and services. To see how they represent themselves and their brand portfolios—diagrammatically—one would think that they maintain brand portfolios (the House of Brands model) — because the corporate brands (logos) or names that identify The Corporation are not visually mixed or integrated with the lower level brands (logos or names) of the products and services they sell (See the Marriott Courtyard Co-Logo).

Revealing Blue Prints: Temporal and Contextual Association
But to think these brands are, for that reason, NOT hybrid brands or that there isn’t a Hybrid architecture, is to make a mistake. Brand relationship and therefore brand architecture is not a matter of logos or identities (only). They don’t have to be manifested through visual identities or logos to be real. Those — hybrid — relationships can exist (and be quite robust) as a function of marketing and sales strategy. My clients often market and sell by toting master branded business cards and PPT presentations quietly endorsed in the headers and footers, while presenting sub-brands with no visible, visual tie (‘lock-up’) to the corporate parent ID. Prospects and clients come to an understanding of the brand relationships in a different way, in a different language, if you will. But the relationship is no less real for that—and it is understood. Brands that are linked temporally and contextually in a highly consistent, disciplined fashion, but aren’t ‘formalized’ as ‘co-logos’ constitute hybrid architectures.

In conclusion, when it comes — particularly — to Hybrid Architecture, new mapping conventions need to be employed to reveal bona fide brand relationships that might not be thought to exist, absent hybrid or ‘Co-‘ logos (e.g., like Marriott Courtyard). What may be especially useful in this regard is using alternatives to the classic inverted tree structure, substituting, for example, concentric configurations (or webs) that radiate outward from a core master brand, locating sub-brands like ‘satellites,’ of varying sizes and at varying distances from it (and perhaps connected by lines of different weights, colors, or patterns that more precisely encode their relationships).