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VOL. 045

What kind of Sub Brand should you build?


In our first piece in this series, we covered why Sub Brands are such a pervasive Brand Strategy approach right now.

Today, Sub Brand Summer marches on with a look at the different types of Sub Brands your brewery can build. 

We’ll outline and explore the subtle (but important) differences between Sub Brands and Endorsed Brands, and when each one can make sense for your brewery.

But before diving into that, let's first outline two important foundational concepts that will help you better understand this subject. 

Want to learn more about Sub Brands and Endorsed Brands? 

Foundational Concepts 


There are two key concepts to understand before delineating between Sub Brands and Endorsed Brands. 


The first is the role of the parent brand in Brand Architecture 

We discussed this at length in BBT Issue 22. But as a quick refresher, when we help our clients make Brand Architecture decisions, we’re most concerned with protecting their parent brand’s equity.

– How will this extension add value to, or detract from, your parent brand?

– How far can we extend your brand without losing its core meaning and relevance? 

– Can your parent brand credibly enter this new space? 

– To what degree should your parent brand be present on this new brand? 

Without a strong parent brand, you have nothing to extend. No equity. No goodwill. No reputation. No secret sauce. Nothing. 

This is important when you set out to build a Sub Brand because, especially in the initial stages, you will be leaning heavily on your parent brand’s equity and goodwill. 

The relationship between your parent brand and Sub Brand will continue to diminish the further to the right you move on the Beverage Brand Architecture Continuum (represented in the graphic below), moving from Sub Brand onto an Endorsed Brand and potentially a stand alone brand approach over time. 


The second key concept you need to understand is the idea of a Main Purchasing Driver.

A purchasing driver is the primary reason someone buys a product. 

Your parent brand and new product brand can both play this role depending on how you frame their relationship, and the line can become blurry as you make your way from Sub to Endorsed Brand.  

An important question here: Are people buying a product because it is explicitly from your brewery? In this case, your parent brand is the primary purchasing driver. 

Or, is someone buying this new product because of its own specific style or brand (and the fact that it’s produced by your brewery is either a nice bonus or doesn’t factor into their decision at all)? In this case, your new brand is the main purchasing driver. 

Back to the Beverage Brand Architecture Continuum (above), your parent brand’s role as the main purchasing driver diminishes the more rightward you move along this continuum.



Now that we’ve covered these two concepts, let’s define Sub Brands and Endorsed Brands.

Sub Brands 

A Sub Brand is a connected closely to your parent brand, but think of it as a little extra spice given to separate itself from the rest of your portfolio

A Sub Brand still carries the same overall values that intuitively link it to your parent brand, but targets a specific audience with further defined attributes and benefits that might not be offered by the parent brand alone.

This allows you to build stronger bonds with your existing customers while expanding your overall footprint by dipping your toes into new categories and audiences.

Under a Sub Brand strategy:

– Your parent brand is the Main Purchasing Driver 

– The packaging looks, more or less, in line with the rest of your portfolio 

– Your parent brand and new product brand share equal prominence on packaging

Sub Brands make sense when:

– You want to explore a new category or occasion while still flying under your parent brand’s momentum and mindshare 

– You know you want to create a new product, but you’re not sure what that looks like long term (e.g. will it become a standalone brand?)

Sub Brand Examples

(Below top): Fernson Brewing deliberately shifted away from a monolithic portfolio by building individual Sub brands. Read a full case study on this project here.

(Below middle): Left Field Brewery's Ice Cold Beer and Sierra Nevada's Little Thing Sub Brands.

(Below bottom): A collection of Sub Brands from around the beer industry. Note how each brewery's parent brand identity (logo) is locked up with the Sub Brand name / core iconography in these examples.

Endorsed Brands 

An Endorsed Brand stands mostly on its own, but with some level of endorsement—or, assurance of quality, trust and credibility—from the established parent brand.

An Endorsed Brand leverages the mind share and reputation of your parent brand while insulating it to varying degrees.

This can manifest as a “stamp of quality” or in a more meaningful alignment (think a similar naming element or thematic relationship).

Under an Endorsed Brand strategy:

– Your new product brand is the Main Purchasing Driver

– The packaging departs from your core portfolio’s look & feel 

– Your parent brand is relegated to an “endorsement” role 

Endorsed Brands make sense when:

– You want a clear separation from your parent brand 

– You have plans to scale and spin off the brand at some point 

– You’re targeting a different audience from your core line, but there is enough carryover (values, brand & story) that some tie to your parent brand can make sense.

Endorsed Brand Examples 

(Below top): 7th Inning Seltzer and Say Hey Sparkling Water by Left Field Brewery.

(Below middle): Rhinegeist employs a variety of Brand Architecture approaches within their portfolio. These are two great Endorsed Brands. (Devil's advocate: You can almost make the case for Cincy Light being a Sub Brand due to how strong and recognizable Rhinegeist's core icon is. In this case, it stands in for their main logo no different than the Starbucks Mermaid icon or Nike Swoosh.)

(Below bottom): A collection of prominent Endorsed Brands from around the industry.


At a quick glance, the difference between a Sub Brand and an Endorsed Brand can seem blurry. Indeed, they both leverage your parent brand to varying degrees and they both aim to build a platform for future growth. 

But the real difference, for our conversation here, is in your intent. 

If you intend to build up a new brand within your brewery’s portfolio, then you can look ahead to see which plan might help you best accomplish that goal down the line. 

Then, you can backward plan from there and arrive at which approach makes the most sense for your brewery right now. 


Now that you understand the different use cases for Sub Brands and Endorsed Brands, we’ll set theory aside and spend our final issue of Sub Brand Summer walking you through how to actually build and scale your Sub Brand.

Has your brewery built a Sub Brand?

Shoot me an email if you have. And bonus points for letting us know what worked (and didn't work) for you as you developed the brand.

[Podcast] Sub Brands vs. Endorsed Brands

Here's a fun companion podcast for today's BBT issue that dives into the subtle (but important) differences between Sub Brands and Endorsed Brands.

Give this a listen while brewing, gardening, deadlifting, and/or rollerblading past your haters.

Sneak Peeks (works in progress)

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Craft Beer Branding Guide

The Craft Beer Branding Guide outlines how to brand, position and launch a new brewery or beverage company. This is a must-read for any brewery in planning.

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