Corporate Brand vs Sub Brands

August 9, 2017


Recently, I was working on a branding project for a client based in China. Despite the client being a state-owned corporation (party operation), it had its own uniqueness in terms of the different foreign investments generated from various business units. While I was working on the branding project, I found that people were confused about the terms “corporate brand” and “sub-brands”.

Therefore, in this post, we will explore the following:

  • What is a “corporate brand”?

  • What are “sub brands”?

  • The foundation of brand management

  • Branding and business culture


A “corporate brand” refers to the company as a whole
A “corporate brand” promotes the brand name of a corporate entity. It doesn’t relate to individual products or services, but broadly covers the aspirations, ethos and thinking behind the company itself. It does not have to be limited to one mark or name – corporate branding can encompass a variety of customer touchpoints including logo, packaging and advertising. It is a way to encourage a certain business culture for employees and it helps to manage the perception of the company by stakeholders.


“Sub brands” relate to businesses within a company

To explain the term “sub brand”, let’s return to my branding project. For example, my client is an automotive corporation, producing passenger cars and commercial vehicles. Within the organisation, business units are divided by joint ventures (JVs), i.e. the business unit is partnered with a French automotive company, a Japanese company, and a Swedish company. Therefore, each business unit will have different product brands, i.e. a luxury range, budget range, heavy-weight range, and a light-weight range, etc. Therefore, there’s a corporate brand for the corporation, sub brands for each business unit, and product brands for each product under the respective business unit.

The foundation of brand management

The best way to differentiate “corporate branding” and “sub brands” is to understand the target audience. How do you want to be perceived and by who? When it comes to reviewing your own brand, if the target audience is only your customers, then you will be looking at a sub brand project to effectively communicate the approach by that business. However, if your target audience is not just customers, but the company as a whole (including stakeholders etc.), then you will be looking at a corporate branding project. Do you have core brand values that need to apply? Do you know what your brand attributes are? These are all questions you will need to answer before you can progress with any type of branding project.


Branding and business culture

Returning to my client branding project, at one of the business units, we were working on an Internal Brand Engagement project. This is an interesting piece of work because people were debating whether they should include the corporate culture as part of the project. In my professional opinion, I would say that if the purpose of any branding project was to change your employees’ mindset to become more customer focused, then it should only focus on making them understand exactly what the brand is - how everyone can contribute to the brand and, ultimately, live the brand. However, changing the mindset and behaviour of your employees involves changing your corporate/business culture, which is far wider than an internal branding engagement project.


In summary, deciding on whether you need to focus on your corporate brand or sub brands relates entirely to your target audience. You will need to decide whether you wish to reach people inside your business (employees, partners and customers) or outside of your business (customers). Once you have decided who you are targeting, you can then embark on the right type of branding project. Read more about branding…

If you have any questions relating to this blog, or you need advice on corporate branding or sub brands, then please feel free to contact me.


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