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Creating A Sub-brand For Your Business

If you’re trying to expand your business and reach more consumers, one great tactic is creating a sub-brand. Unsure what a sub-brand is? Essentially, it’s a subsidiary or a secondary brand that “branches off” from a main brand.

Having said that, it’s important to note that sub-brands are not the same as brand extensions (the latter is defined as applying an established brand name to newly launched products or services.) With sub-brands, you’re pushing out a new category of products or services, and you may or may not choose to use the same brand name with these. With brand extensions, on the other hand, your new products are a lot more tightly woven in with your original brand, and they will definitely take on the same brand name as the original brand.

Different categories of sub-brands

1. House of Brands

With a House of Brands, the parent brand manages various sub-brands which are independent and unrelated. These brands may cater to vastly different target audiences and they tend to have distinct personalities which are communicated via their brand names, logos, and other branding elements. 

General Motors, for example, employs a House of Brands strategy with the various car brands that it has under its umbrella, including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, and more. Then there’s FMCG giant Unilever, which owns brands such as Dove, Persil, and PG Tips. If you were to ask the average consumer, they probably wouldn’t realize that all these brands originate from the same parent company!


2. Branded House

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the Branded House, an architecture where the parent brand is closely entwined with each of its sub-brands. With a Branded House, there’s no question that the sub-brand is associated with the parent brand. The company typically communicates this relationship through visual cues – such as similarities in logo, packaging, and the brand’s tone of voice.


For example, it’s pretty obvious that Google Maps, Google Chrome, and Google Translate originate from the same parent company. Apple also utilizes this brand architecture; they demonstrate consistency by affixing an “i” in front of all their products (iPod, iPad, iPhone, etc.).

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3. Hybrid Brands

Think of Hybrid Brands as a middle ground between a House of Brands and Branded House. On one hand, the company’s sub-brands are endorsed by the master brand, but on the other hand, these sub-brands have an identity of their own. How closely you want your sub-brands to tie back into your parent brand depends on your brand strategy; you can either have your sub-brands associate closely with the parent brand, or you might choose to let them have a more distant relationship.


One example is hospitality company Marriott International. The company owns luxury properties such as JW Marriott and Marriott, but it also has more budget-friendly accommodation such as Courtyard By Marriott on its portfolio. Again, the average consumer might not realize this, but Marriott also owns and operates several brands which don’t use “Marriott” in their brand names, including Ritz-Carlton, St Regis, and W Hotels.

Your sub-brand strategy: to associate or dissociate?

Bearing all this in mind, the one most important question to ask yourself when coming up with your sub-brand strategy is whether you want your sub-brands to tie back into your parent brand.

If your parent brand is well-established and reputable, having your sub-brand lean heavily on it will definitely be advantageous. Your sub-brand will be seen as more legitimate right off the bat, and this will allow you to build trust with your consumers in a shorter period of time. If you are planning to disseminate any press releases or hold media events, you might also be able to get more coverage when you rely on the clout of your parent brand.

How about the downside of associating your sub-brand with your parent brand? When you do this, consumers will come to see your sub-brand and your parent brand as (more or less!) a single entity, and if there’s any sort of criticism or negative feedback regarding your sub-brand, the image of your parent brand will take a hit as well. You’ll have to keep a close eye on both your parent brand and sub-brand(s), in order to make sure that neither of them is “dragging down” the other.

Now, let’s move on to talking about establishing a sub-brand which isn’t associated with your parent brand. One advantage of doing this is that you’re free to adopt any brand personality or tone with your sub-brand (without fear of it being incongruent to your parent brand). This helps you reach out to a wider audience, instead of appealing to a specific market segment.

One example is Unilever, a FMCG company which owns both Dove and Axe. Dove strives to be an inclusive brand and it’s known for promoting diversity and championing the idea of inner beauty. Axe is drastically different – up until late last year, all its ads revolved around the idea that liberal application of Axe products would result in sex for the wearer, and many deemed these campaigns “sexist”. 

As you might imagine, these brands appeal to intrinsically different target audiences. Dove is big with individuals who are huge advocates of equality and inclusivity while Axe is more popular with those who celebrate traditional notions of masculinity. Without coming up with two markedly different sub-brands (and giving each brand free reign with their marketing campaigns and messages), Unilever might not have been able to reach out to these drastically different target audiences.

Of course, when you establish a sub-brand which isn’t connected with your parent brand in any way, you need to start from scratch – and there are no shortcuts to take. Given that you’re not relying on the prestige or reputation that your parent brand has already built up, it might take quite some time before your sub-brand starts carving out a name for itself.

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Now that we’ve got the different types of sub-brands defined and decided whether we want to associate our sub-brand with the parent brand, it’s time to start thinking about strategy and what specific elements go into a sub-brand. Stay tuned for part two of Creating A Sub-Brand.

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