Place Brand Architecture Explained: Meaning, Function and Limitations

Brand architecture is one of those terms often used in place marketing and branding. But what does it actually mean? Answers from our place brand research panel reveal that there exist different interpretations and approaches to brand architecture. Below a summary of insights shared by the panel.

What brand architecture means

Relationships is what brand architecture is first and foremost about, according to the panel. Bill Baker (Total Destination Marketing, USA) explains the term as follows:

Brand architecture for a place brand defines the relationships, structure and links that exist between the brand’s key internal locations and partners, and how they fit in the external geographical, thematic and marketing context. It relates to the synergy and advantages that can be achieved when they are sharing strong common attributes or DNA that are in demand by target audiences.

Andrew Hoyne (Hoyne Design, Australia), adds that brand architecture "goes well beyond logos and is driven by understanding the relationship of all the visual and tonal assets." He further stresses that those can include distinct precincts, programs and events.

Broadly speaking, "brand architecture is about strategical and tactical relationships between different brands in the same portfolio" (Caio Esteves | Places for Us, Brazil). It is, according to Efe Sevin (USA), about "how you coordinate various sub-brands under one name."

As such, brand architecture is "a key component of all branding projects. No brand plays alone. There are always multiple stakeholders, with different needs and goals related to the brand" (Gustavo Koniszczer | FutureBrand, Argentina).

Or, as Jonathan McClory (Singapore) puts it:

To me it simply means being smart about the different ways an overarching brand is applied to other associated brands that sit beneath or alongside the flagship brand.

Bill Baker (USA) illustrates this with the example of Portland:

Within Portland OR are the sub-brands of Downtown, Pearl District, PDX Airport, the Columbia Gorge, and a host of other locations and entities representing the city for economic development and investment. Portland also benefits from its external brand relationships and associations with the Pacific Northwest, Oregon, the U.S.A, West Coast, and the Oregon Trail.

Gordon Innes (USA) mentions the example of Iamsterdam, which functions as the brand for the tourism arm, CVB, businesses, residents, and students.

Ed Burghard (USA) points out that that brand architecture can be viewed in different ways:

The first is as a construct for managing the brand promise across a diverse industry portfolio. In that context you can elect to either construct a branded house (communication focus is on community promise) or a house of brands (communication focus is on a translation of the community promise into benefit statements for specific industries).

The second is as a management construct of organizations focused on delivering the community promise. In this case, if you select a house of brands construct, you explicitly document how each organization’s mission helps deliver the community promise.

In either case, "brand architecture requires places to think about how geographic scalar levels (neighbourhood, village, city, hinterland, region, country, nation) are linked (or not) through name awareness, association and image", as Robert Govers (independent advisor, Belgium) notes.

At a symbolic/communications level, place brand architecture "is about articulating a unified identity based on the ‘place’ reality" (Sonya Hanna, UK).

But the term brand architecture can also be understood in a different way. As Juan Carlos Belloso (Spain) notes:

There are two different ways to see or understand the concept ‘brand architecture’. The first one is using signature architects and architecture to differentiate and promote a specific place. We all remember the effect of Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and how the city used renowned worldwide architects to transform the city and make it attractive and differentiate it. There are many other examples, such as Dubai, Sydney opera, etc.

The other way to look at it is understanding the uniqueness of architectural heritage and assets of a place to use it to differentiate the place and to make it attractive. We have also examples of this, such as modernism architecture in Barcelona.

The benefits of brand architecture

In a corporate context, brand architecture helps the business determine "which resources should be allocated to which brand and how the brands are related within an organization" (Joao Freire | Grounded Brands, Portugal). He suggests that place brand architecture “gives a sense of mission”, which can help unify key players, concentrate resources, increase efficiency and create synergies.

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