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November 29, 2022 // Terry McDermott  //       //  Opinion

Maximize Brand V.I.T.A.L.-ity: Tips for better connecting brands and sub-brands

Brand power and resilience have become hot topics in break rooms and board rooms, as the array of enterprise stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders, partners, communities) seeks to define their own shared purposes and align with others whose purposes they admire. A+P believes purpose and values are a brand’s heartbeat. As such, they should fuel everything the organization does… down to how it organizes and names other brands in its ecosystem. Properly aligning the lead brand with other named sub-brands, and even named product brands, permits leadership to maximize the business value of the whole brand system.

Brand architecture strategies can run the gamut, from a branded house, where the primary brand is always the dominant feature, to a house of brands, where customers may not even know the portfolio of brands are connected to a larger holding company. We often look at three key criteria when deciding where to place sub-brands and product-brands:

  1. Are the offerings similar enough to each other that they would logically form a group in customers’ minds? Do they solve the same problem? Do they target the same customers? If yes – join them up. If no, keep them separate.
  2. Is the parent company a juggernaut with strong awareness, recall and affinity? If so, lean into that equity and bring the children closer to the parent. If not, there may be no loss of value by keeping them separate.
  3. Would a system approach make sense? If Workday structures offerings around verticals and capabilities, it’s all still Workday software at the end of the (work)day. On the other hand, who wants to picture Old Spice and Pepto Bismol together in the same thought?



To make brand architecture decisions, it can help to understand each brand’s relative strength or equity. Our proprietary V.I.T.A.L. research approach allows brands to benchmark and track 45 unique brand attributes – aligned to each of the five key pillars of brand strength: Vision, Inspiration, Trust, Alignment and Leadership. Not only does the study evaluate Brand A vs. the competitive set, it also reveals which attributes are the strongest decision drivers for the customer. It’s one thing to know how a brand performs in general – quite another to know how it performs on the attributes that truly matter most to the market. 

With the right architecture model in place, the brands in the ecosystem can set about delivering consistent, coordinated action that demonstrates the purpose and values of the organization and its brands, all while reinforcing the V.I.T.A.L. foundations of brand strength. These include demonstrating a clear sense of purpose, sharing personality traits with consumers and making credible promises that are consistently delivered-upon. V.I.T.A.L. helps not only align the brand system, but it also drives brand action ultimately seen in organizational culture, in campaigns and in commitments to initiatives, such as ESG.

In our work, we constantly discuss brands’ strength and clarity. A colleague recently noted the power of the U.S National Park Service. Founded more than a century ago, NPS safeguards the nation’s special places. From urban environments like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis to the wilderness of Denali National Park and Preserve, NPS displays what we refer to as purposeful action. Each national park is special in its own way, and those sub-brands all support, and benefit from, the master brand. They do this in a variety of ways. But at the core, they are connected via efforts to protect local cultural heritage and to preserve outdoor recreation for future generations.  

The V.I.T.A.L. framework seeks to help all organizations benefit from the symbiotic connection of lead brand and sub-brands. Understanding the foundational elements of the lead brand paves the way for product brands and sub-brands to benefit. The action that then occurs benefits the components and the whole.


We have a host of solutions we customize to help organizations build, enhance and embrace their brand strengths. An example is brand storytelling. Narrative techniques assist us in empowering employees to put the organization’s brand into action throughout a customer’s journey. By asking and answering questions about the marketplace needs, we highlight the components that will help make a brand relevant to consumers. And by defining the brand’s foundations, we suggest and execute actions that deliver proof points of the brand purpose.

Any solution a brand implements must provide a measurable impact on brand strength, in turn driving an impact on business results. Market share may be a strong indicator of success for a product brand. But moving upstream, the expanded impact on brand awareness, brand perception and brand health are essential. V.I.T.A.L. encourages brands to benchmark their current situation and to track changes over time. A vast number of metrics can be employed to help monitor progress, and we recommend the most relevant metrics to deliver the picture of brand health.

Applicable and adaptable across any organization’s brand structure, our V.I.T.A.L. framework supports effective decision-making – from word choice on packaging to an acquisition strategy. We bring out the V.I.T.A.L.-ity in brands, connecting organizational purpose with the actions that bring it to life.

Learn more about our Brand + Engagement Strategy:

Terry McDermott is a digital evangelist with expertise in turning objectives into strategic plans and developing, executing, and measuring Go To Market programs. When a brand's purpose and value are clearly defined, it can expect increased performance.

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