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5 Steps to Creating Successful Sub-Brand Guidelines

5 Steps to Creating Successful Sub-Brand Guidelines

As companies grow, they typically evolve into needing sub-brands. A sub-brand is simply a division or subsidiary of an existing brand. 

If you’ve begun to research sub-brands, you’ve likely realized this isn’t as straightforward as you may have thought. You’ll come across lots of confusing information, terminology, and sub-brand examples that are all treated very differently.

In this article, we’ve simplified what you need to know about the 5 most important steps you need to take to create your sub-brand guidelines.

These are the steps we follow to carefully and successfully expand our clients’ brands. You’ll learn about the different sub-brand types and the steps for creating your own effective sub-brand guidelines. 

Let’s jump into the different sub-brand types.

Step 1: Determine Your Sub-Brand Type

The first step is to determine what type of sub-brand you’re working with. There is so much information out there about sub-brand types, brand architecture, brand houses, etc. 

There are multiple types of brand architecture approaches. Depending on the brand strategy, the sub-brand approach taken will differ. 

We’ve broken down the brand architecture types for you below.

Branded House

In a branded house, all the brands in the portfolio share values with the master brand and share their name. It’s also likely that the sub-brands don’t work independently of one another. This style means all brands within the house are consistent in terms of look and feel, marketing messaging, and more.


Branded House-2

How It Works:

  • Main logo typically paired with a word in the same font


  • FedEx: FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight
  • Google: Google Maps, Google Translate, Google Document


Sub-brands are still very closely tied to the parent brand, but have a bit of their own identity as well. Their offerings are slightly different, however they still maintain the values and messaging of the parent brand. 




How it Works:

  • Main logo paired with design elements and/or a sub-brand names in different fonts.


  • Apple (iPhone, iPod, iMac)
  • Virgin (Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Care, Virgin Hotels)

Endorsed brand

An endorsed brand involves the parent brand providing their endorsement to another brand from within the brand family, giving the endorsed brand legitimacy and a sense for the audience that the endorsed brand is of the same quality. Each endorsed brand has a different audience, offering and identity. 


Endorsed Brands-1

How it Works:

  • Brand identity is distinctly different from the parent brand
  • The only visual design consistency across an endorsed brand portfolio is the reference to the parent brand on the logo.


  • Marriott (Residence Inn by Marriott and Courtyard by Marriott) offers its customers a range of brands for different tastes and price points

House of brands

Not to be confused with a “Branded House,” a House of brands is actually the complete opposite: multiple brands that work independently of one another different audiences, products, and identities.

House of Brands-1

How it Works:

  • Different names, voice & tones, and visual identities
  • Seen by the audience as completely different brands


  • Unilever: Dove, Axe, Ben & Jerry’s, Lipton
  • Procter & Gamble: Tampax, Braun, Old Spice
  • General Motors: Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick

Hybrid brand architecture (mix of all 4 types)

Brands that have been around a long time might use a hybrid brand architecture. When a new brand is created, it’s decided whether that will be more of a sub-brand or a standalone brand (house of brands). 


How it works:

  • Each sub-brand has its own strategy, with varying levels of unique brand personality, look, and feel. Visually the brand incorporates a range of sub-logo types.


  • Coca-Cola: Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Sprite, Dasani

Step 2: Take inventory of current assets


Sub-Brand Guidelines Inventory

It’s time to get organized! Gather all existing logo files and other assets from your brand, both parent and existing sub-brands. Look at them all together. Answer the following questions:

  • Look and Feel: Are there many different colors that aren’t part of your main brand? Are there many different styles of design elements?
  • Formats: Are there a lot of sub-brand name length variations and formats? List those out.
  • Future Use: Will the logo template need to be flexible for future sub-brands?
  • Organizing: Where will your files and sub-brand guidelines live? Who will need to access them internally and externally?

Step 3: Decide on your sub-brand mandatories


Sub-Brand Guidelines Colors-1

Which elements are key to conveying the parent brand message? Now is the time to determine what elements must stay in your sub-brand logos, and which can be cut:

  • Main logo and/or Logomark: The sub-brand type helps determine whether the main logo stays or goes
  • Taglines: There is a lot of flexibility here. Typically the tagline only exists with the main parent logo, and specific uses are predetermined. The tagline can be separated out as a separate element to be used in specific instances, independent of a logo or sub-brand logo.
  • Colors: Is there a main brand color palette that must be adhered to?
  • Brand Voice: The parent brand voice should never change. However the sub-brand may have its own tone of voice. (Voice is what you say, tone is how you say it).

Step 4: Consider how much of their own identities your sub-brands should have

Sub-Brand Guidelines Typography

Once you complete Step 3, you will have determined which elements are key to conveying your parent brand message. In Step 4, we determine which elements are key to conveying the sub-brand's message.

It’s important to protect the integrity of the parent brand. However, it’s also important to allow for some of the sub-brand’s identity to come through, and give the sub-brand owner parameters to work within. That parent-sub-brand balance will be decided by the sub-brand type.

Areas to consider:

  • Logomark: Should additional or unique logomarks or iconography be created?
  • Logo elements: Which elements can be changed, removed or added?
  • Color Palette: Is there a need to allow for color palette variation, or is it necessary to reign it in? Consider whether you may need to create additional color palettes for your sub-brands.
  • Typography: Should each sub-brand have its own font?
  • Voice and Tone: Will the voice and tone of the parent brand remain, or do the offerings and audience vary enough to warrant developing a unique tone and or/voice?

Step 5: Making the Logos and Guidelines

Sub-Brand Guidelines Get Started

Now the fun begins! As you design your sub-brand logos, some things to keep in mind:

  • Orientation: This can be tricky with longer sub-brand logos. Consider how the logo elements will stack for vertical layouts. For horizontal layouts, avoid letting the sub-brand logos get too wide.
  • Scaling: What happens to your sub-brand logo when it gets scaled down? Make sure all the words remain legible, and that logomarks don’t break down.
  • Profile Icons: At some point, you will need to determine how to fit your sub-brand logo into a small square profile image. It may be possible to keep with the parent brand logo or adding the sub-brand name to the parent brand logo. A lot of this is determined by the sub-brand type from Step 1, as well as your audience and goals on the channel.
  • Future-proofing: How will future sub-brands be created within these guidelines you’re creating? Will you allow for different font choices? An expanded color palette? Or do you want to limit that now before sub-brand owners have a little too much fun? Tip: Make sure to account for longer, multiple word sub-brand names, they are guaranteed to come up.
  • List of Don’ts: An important part of every brand guideline, you’ll want to make sure to explore all the bad ideas to your heart’s content. Document them in the sub-brand guidelines to prevent them from becoming reality.

Creating sub-brand guidelines can seem like a daunting task. We hope following the 5 essential steps we’ve outlined for you will help simplify your process and help you create successful sub-brand guidelines.

Have you already figured out which sub-brand type you’re working with? Are you excited to start developing or streamlining your sub-brands?


Like what you read? Contact us to see how we may be able to help you meet your marketing goals.


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