Separation and connectedness in brand architecture strategy

February 13, 2023
Consumer Brand architecture

Many companies maintain a portfolio of brands, with sub-brand sitting underneath or alongside a parent brand. Consider:

  • Apple and iPad, iPod, iTunes
  • Channel Nine and Nine News, Wide World of Sports, A Current Affair
  • Tooheys and Tooheys New, Tooheys Old, Tooheys New White Stag

Each of these brands are connected strongly to the mother brand, whilst retaining a strong individual brand identity and market capture.

Let’s dive into this scenario, looking at how you create separation but connectedness across a branded portfolio.

Diet Coke and Coke Zero

We’ll start by taking a look at one of the world’s greatest brands: Coca Cola. Within the Coca Cola portfolio sit Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero, amongst others. Functionally they all do the same thing – quench thirst and satisfy taste buds.

Let’s take a closer look at two of those brands – Diet Coke and Coke Zero. What really is the difference between these products? It’s been argued that that Diet Coke has no calories, while Coke Zero has zero calories. Hmmm. Here’s the actual difference: Coca-Cola Zero is sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame potassium (ace-k). The only chemical difference between Coca-Cola Zero and Diet Coke is that Coca-Cola Zero has about half the aspartame, but more ace-k. Not surprisingly, none of this is part of Coke’s marketing collateral, and probably amounts to almost nothing in terms of tangible or discernible differences…

The drinks are essentially the same, but the one named Zero is marketed towards men, who are more aligned to associations of “zero” than “diet”; whilst Diet Coke has traditionally been geared to women who feel more reassured drinking a “diet” product. So, adding the Zero brand allows Coke to expand its market beyond making Diet Coke appealing to both genders.

So what is important is not so much the actual difference, but rather how your target audience perceives the difference.

So how do you have a separation, yet connectedness across each of the brands in your architecture or portfolio? Well, it’s all about having a clearly defined:

  • Brand Role and Positioning
  • Target Audience
  • Visual Identity identified (eg Coke Zero has a prominent use of black teamed with traditional Coke red)
  • Messaging and tone of voice … which then reflects all of the above.

Johnnie Walker

Let’s look at another well-known beverage brand. Johnnie Walker has a number of brands within its portfolio – Black Label, Red Label, Blue Label etc. Every type of Johnnie Walker scotch has a different colour. The purpose of that is to denote the different type of Scotch and to position them differently. For example, Johnnie Walker Blue Label reflects exclusivity through device (eg serial numbering), placement, rarity and cost. These give the portfolio a clear sense of separation, whilst allowing them the necessary level of connection via;

  • Clear brand positioning
  • Target audience and occasion
  • Visual Identity systems


Developing additional brand personalities requires a classic process of brand positioning to achieve the requisite balance between separation and connectedness. The aim here is to find the distinctive position a brand adopts in its competitive environment and to reflect it accordingly – internally so it’s recognised within its portfolio and externally, within its competitive context. Good positioning ensures the target audience can tell the brand apart from others, as it specifies and express the brand’s point of difference. You do this by defining the brand’s benefits to the customer and then identifying differentiating brand attributes.


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