A brand hierarchy is a means of summarizing the branding strategy by displaying the number and nature of common and distinctive brand elements across the firm’s products, revealing the explicit ordering of brand elements. By capturing the potential branding relationships among the different products sold by the firm, a brand hierarchy is a useful means of graphically portraying a firm’s branding strategy. Specifically, a brand hierarchy is based on the realization that a product can be branded in different ways depending on how many new and existing brand elements are used and how they are combined for any one product. Because certain brand elements are used to make more than one brand, a hierarchy can be constructed to represent how (if at all) products are nested with other products because of their common brand elements. Some brand elements may be shared by many products (e.g., Ford); other brand elements may be unique to certain products (e.g., F-series trucks).
As with any hierarchy, moving from the top level to the bottom level typically involves more entries at each succeeding level—in this case, more brands. There are different ways to define brand elements and levels of the hierarchy. Perhaps the simplest representation of possible brand elements and thus potential levels of a brand hierarchy—from top to bottom—might be as follows:
- Corporate (or company) brand (e.g., General Motors)
- Range brand (e.g., Chevrolet)
- Individual brand (e.g.. Lumina)
- Modifier (designating item or model) (e.g., Ultra)
The highest level of the brand hierarchy technically always involves one brand—the corporate or company brand. For legal reasons, the company or corporate brand is almost always present somewhere on the product or package, although it may be the case that the name of a company subsidiary may appear instead of the corporate name. For example, Fortune Brands owns many different companies, such as Titleist, Footjoy, Jim Beam, Master Lock, and Moen, but does not use its corporate name in any of its lines of business. For some firms, the corporate brand is virtually the only brand used (e.g., as with General Electric and Hewlett-Packard). Some other firms combine their corporate brand name with family brands or individual brands (e.g., conglomerate Siemens varied electrical engineering and electronics business units are branded with descriptive modifiers, such as Siemens Transportation Systems). Finally, in some other cases, the company name is virtually invisible and, although technically part of the hierarchy, receives virtually no attention in the marketing program (e.g., Black & Decker does not use its name on its high-end DeWalt professional power tools, and Hewlett-Packard created a wholly owned subsidiary for its low-priced Apollo ink-jet printers).
At the next-lower level, a range / family brand is defined as a brand that is used in more than one product category but is not necessarily the name of the company or corporation itself. For example, ConAgra’s Healthy Choice family brand is used to sell a wide spectrum of food products, including frozen microwave entrees, packaged cheeses, packaged meats, sauces, and ice cream. Other examples of family brands boasting over a billion dollars in annual sales include PepsiCo’s Tropicana juices and Gatorade thirst quencher, and Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser beer. Most firms typically only support a handful of family brands. If the corporate brand is applied to a range of products, then it functions as a family brand too, and the two levels collapse to one for those products.
An individual/ product line brand is defined as a brand that has been restricted to essentially one product category, although it may be used for several different product types within the category. For example, in the “salty snack” product class, Frito-Lay offers Fritos corn chips, Doritos tortilla chips, Lays and Ruffles potato chips, and Rold Gold pretzels. Each brand has a dominant position in its respective product category within the broader salty snack product class. Basic product brands can be refined through sub-branding.
A modifier is a means to designate a specific item or model type or a particular version or configuration of the product. Thus, many of Frito-Lay’s snacks come in both full-flavor or low-fat “Better For You” forms. Similarly, Land O’Lakes offers “whipped,” “unsalted,” and “regular” versions of its butter. Yoplait yogurt comes as “light,” “custard style,” or “original” flavors.
Different levels of the hierarchy may receive different emphasis in developing a branding strategy. For example. General Motors traditionally chose to downplay its corporate name in branding its cars, although the name recently has played a more important role in its supporting marketing activities. Such shifts in emphasis are an attempt by the firm to harness the positive associations and mitigate against the negative associations of different brands in different contexts, and there are a number of ways to place more or less emphasis on the different elements that combine to make up the brand.