Brand Architecture And What It Really Means For Business

by Kim Faulkner 24 March 2021

Whilst most discourses on brand architecture consistently tell you that it gives coherence and discipline to how brands should be managed at a macro-level; the business strategy aspect is largely ignored because branding is perceived to be about marketing and not as business strategy design. 

Brand architecture gives clarity to the various branded offerings of a company and explains how these are related (or not as the case may be). Done well, it promotes efficiency, and coherence which can unlock value in the underlying business.

A definition of Brand Architecture describes it as the higher-level plan for your brand eco-system, so you can determine how to best build and scale your brand over time. However, brand architecture is usually discussed as a function of marketing communications and design. 

So while most articles on Brand Architecture explain the different models from monolithic to free-standing, what's missing is how you decide which scenario is best suited for your business and how Brand Architecture can help address actual challenges.

At Activiste, we believe that Brand Architecture is a great framework for thinking through business strategy, change and how various customer segments and stakeholders are going to access your brand(s) and offerings.

This came to the fore as we have delved deeper into using Brand Architecture as a tool to unlock value in complex organisations. Particularly those which are expanding into the previously unchartered territory of which are changing the category they are operating in, in a significant way.


Singapore’s public healthcare system is one such example of a complex ecosystem with many different entities that serve a broad range of segments. The scale of the institutions that serve Singapore’s key clusters themselves are sizeable enough that staff from the different entities are a segment onto their own.

As the Ministry of Health restructured and consolidated providers of public healthcare into three integrated regional clusters – a number of large organisations including the Jurong Health, Alexandra Hospital Campus and polyclinics were brought together as part of the National University Health System (NUHS).

While the merger of entities was officially announced in 2017, internally the sense of affinity by staff from the different organisations remained with their previous brands. The challenge and opportunity here were to leverage a Brand Architecture refresh that would signal a definitive coming together of all entities. Importantly, it would reflect that while the name of the NUHS, would be retained, post-merger the entire institution would be refreshed by its new members and that this would be a starting point for a united ONE NUHS.

NUHS GROUP identities

A large-scale visioning co-creative conference with over 100 leaders from all the disparate entities of the cluster came together to articulate and internalise a new vision for the NUHS, and this session focused on new possibilities that the integration brought for the practice of healthcare and for the shared communities that the entities support. This unified vision would set the tone for the subsequent rebranding of all institutions as part of the NUHS.

Beyond changing uniforms, signage and communications, the decision to embrace a more monolithic brand architecture and, to adopt a new common identity across all entities in the health cluster, was a bold statement of belief in the power of an integrated system. Particularly since would include brand identities for Jurong Health and NUH which had been in use for many years.

To date, the NUHS is the only of the three institutions to adopt a fully monolithic system – clearly identifying each of its entities, from the health system itself, through to hospitals, campuses, specialist centres and polyclinics as part of one system focused on shaping medicine, transforming care and establishing a healthy community for Singapore.


Over the years, as the Singapore Management University (SMU) solidified its position as a premier institution of higher education, it needed to signal that it has also gone well beyond undergraduate degree programs to offer a growing suite of post-graduate, research degree and executive development and continuing education programs.

From fragmentation:

smu brand arch before 2

To highlight SMU’S growing capability in Research, Post-Graduate Degrees, and as well as unique differentiators in approaches to incorporating wellness, green and community aspects into its pedagogy and curriculum, “programmatic core” and “thematic cluster” sub-brands were developed as part of an extensive visual communications system.

Working directly with the President, Provost and senior leaders from the different schools and administration, Activiste developed a comprehensive brand architecture structure that streamlined all schools, institutes, centres and labs into a coherent whole; whilst highlighting areas of distinction and special emphasis.  

To this:

smu brand arch after


The value of Activiste’s approach to Brand Architecture, has been rolled out to a range of clients and partners including NETS, ST Engineering, GLH Hotels (Guocoleisure), APL Logistics, the Singapore Management University, BTPN Bank and many organisations at global, regional and local levels.

By thinking strategically about Brand Architecture, considering the business and growth aspirations of an organisation and using this brand-centred tool, we address meaningful challenges and create the structure for long-term change and value.



Kim has over 30 years of branding, marketing and design experience in Asia and has lectured and written extensively on the subject of branding, strategy development, marketing and design across the region.