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A sub-what? And do I need one?

A sub-brand is a product or service that sits underneath a main brand. The sub-brand is very much part of the main brand, sharing its values and ethos, but it has its own distinct characteristics and identity. Think of sub-brands as branches on a tree—connected to the trunk (the parent brand) but branching out in their own unique directions.

Examples of sub-brands are Gmail, Drive, and Maps. These all bear the unmistakable mark of the parent brand, Google, while possessing their own unique visual identities.

If you’re a regular reader of Studio Bifrost’s blog, you’ll know I always ask clients “why” at the start of projects to ensure they will deliver the required result—even if that means changing the scope. Creating a sub-brand is no exception!

Sometimes, creating a sub-brand may not be necessary or advisable. For instance, if the new product or service closely aligns with the parent brand's existing offerings and targets the same audience, working with the parent brand’s visual style may prove to be more effective.

Additionally, if the company's resources are limited or the market segment for the new offering is relatively small, investing in a separate sub-brand may not justify the costs and efforts involved. In such cases, leveraging the existing brand equity and expanding product lines or services under the established brand identity can be a more practical approach.

But what if you do really need to create a brand within a brand?

Two approaches

A successful sub-brand should sit under a successful umbrella brand, so it makes sense to review the overarching brand to ensure it communicates the right messages to your target audience. When was the last time you reviewed your main branding style? Does your new sub-brand substantially alter the brand’s offering? If it has been some time, or your new product or service is drastically changing the direction of the overarching brand, it’s worth testing how your current, parent brand is holding up in your marketplace and against your brand vision.

If the parent brand does need rebranding, you can do this at the same time as creating your new sub-brand. From a design point of view, this can be a simpler process than creating a sub-brand to fit with an existing brand. This way, there are more creative possibilities, and allowing space for additional, future sub-brands can be easier.

We did something similar to this for Intelligent Decisioning. They already had two sub-brands but recognised that their existing branding didn’t fit with their parent brand, which was also overdue a rebrand. We, therefore, overhauled the visual identity for the whole group – check out our case study!

Alternatively, if your umbrella branding is staying in place, it’s still quite possible to create a strong visual identity for a sub-brand by working on the sub-brand alone.


5 top tips for creating a sub-brand’s visual identity

Regardless of whether you start again with your group’s visual branding or develop the sub-brand to fit under the existing umbrella brand, here are some tips to make sure you create a visual identity for your sub-brand that communicates the right message to your target audience.

1 – Build the foundations right

First you need to get up and personal with your brand. You need to understand what makes your offering different, what problems you’re solving for your target audience and what your values are. At Studio Bifrost, we call this running a brand analysis. For a more detailed description, check out Unlocking creativity: A journey through the graphic design process

When you’re creating a sub-brand, you need to understand how it fits with the parent brand’s offering, ethos and values, and what differentiates the sub-brand. For example, does it have a slightly different target audience, or is it for a specific group within the parent brand’s audience?

2 – Choose your common ground and differentiators for your logo

As a sub-brand shares its ethos and values with its parent brand, it makes sense that part of the logo should be the same, and part should be different.

Broadly, there are two options:

  • The sub-brand could have the same icon or symbol and typeface in its logo as the parent brand, but different colours.
  • The sub-brand could have the same colours and typefaces as the parent brand in its logo, but different icons or symbols.

While creating a sub-brand with different typefaces to its umbrella brand is possible, this is likely to look messy and inconsistent.

Within those two main approaches, review your brand analysis findings and what sets your sub-brand apart from the parent brand. How can these differences be expressed through the use of colour or iconography?


3 – Consider how the rest of the branding style will work for your sub-brand

The logo alone may be enough to help your sub-brand stand out from your umbrella branding, but a logo is not the only part of a visual branding style, so you may want to support the logo with other visual stylings, such as colour palettes and additional typefaces. However, I definitely advise keeping the differences between the two brands to a minimum. Any differences you make should be intentional and have clear reasoning behind them. Otherwise, you run the risk of the sub-brand not looking like it’s part of the main brand.

As described in tip 2, using different typefaces can look messy or inconsistent in family logo design. However, depending on what makes your sub-brand different from your parent brand, you can exercise some creativity with supporting typefaces. If you go down this route, do so with caution and ensure your chosen typefaces complement the parent brand’s supporting typefaces. One option could be to retain the body copy typeface from the parent brand but go for a new headline typeface.

A safer bet is to use the same typefaces and style of imagery as the umbrella brand but use colours differently. These could follow the logo.

For example, your parent brand uses a deep purple with bright orange-yellow in its logo. The supporting colour palette consists of the logo colours, plus lilac and shades of grey. For your sub-brand, you retain the umbrella brand’s purple in the logo but swap out the orange-yellow for a lime green. You can use the same greys and purple as the parent brand in your supporting colour palette but include the lime-green instead of the orange-yellow. You could also retain the lilac from the parent palette if it harmonises with the other colours or switch it out for another shade of green that complements the rest of the palette.


4 – Look to existing sub-brands for inspiration

Does your brand already have existing sub-brands? If so, how do these fit – in terms of both offering and from a visual branding point of view – with your main brand? How does this compare to your new sub-brand? To retain a strong, group look, the sub-brands should have all the same differentiators as each other – e.g. they all share the same colours and typefaces as the parent logo but have different icons in the same style.

5 – Consider future sub-brands

You never know what the future will hold, so it’s worth designing to allow space for another sub-brand. If there were to be another sub-brand, how easy would it be to fit it in alongside both the parent brand and the sub-brand you’re working on? If colour is the differentiator, are there plenty of options for other colours that would fit with the shared colours and branding elements? If iconography is the differentiator, does the style allow for a lot of creativity?


With careful planning and execution, creating a logo and other visual styling elements can be a powerful way to help your sub-brand stand out from your competitors, gain its own identity and expand on your parent brand’s reach and look. A successful sub-brand visual style is a delicate balance between unity with the parent brand and its own individuality while clearly communicating your brand values and benefits to the people most likely to buy from you – your target audience.


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