How to avoid fragmentation when launching a sub-brand

Launching a sub-brand gives businesses the opportunity to target new customers and extend their reach, but when it comes to design is it better to exploit the strength of the parent brand or strike out with a standalone identity? 


For many businesses diversification is critical to growth, but when creating a new brand there are many factors to consider. While some companies choose to introduce a sub-brand anchored on the prestige, profile or authenticity of the original brand, others want the proposition to differ dramatically from their existing offer in order to appeal to a new market.

From a design perspective, marketing teams also need to consider whether a spin-off brand should retain a connection to its parent brand or make a bold move away, creating a distinct, standalone identity.

CYBG, which owns Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, opted for the latter when launching digital banking platform B in May, following the company’s initial public offering (IPO) in February.

The concept behind B was to create a fresh and stylish tech-focused brand that did not look, feel or sound like a bank, explains CYBG CMO Helen Page. Aimed at an affluent millennial audience, many of whom are first-time bankers, CYBG wanted the design to be free from any of the negative connotations surrounding the traditional banking sector.

“CYBG has an ageing demographic, so with B we wanted to recruit younger customers,” explains Page. “So far, 50% of the people signed up to B are aged 35 or younger. Having said that, twice the number of existing CYBG clients [than we expected] have elected to move accounts to B.”

From the working title ‘Download your Bank’ the name evolved simply to B, chosen to reflect the brand’s slogan, ’Be aspirational, be inspired, be everything you can be’. Aside from the ‘powered by Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank’ tagline on the website, there is no obvious connection between B and its parent company.

“CYBG has an ageing demographic, so with B we wanted to recruit younger customers.”

Helen Page, CMO, CYBG

Page explains that this positioning was not chosen to disassociate from the rest of the group, but was driven by a desire to make B a standalone digital product. “That being said, when we didn’t use the ‘powered by’ tagline and showed people the technology, they thought it had been developed by Apple. When we told them it was part of CYBG, they felt reassured.”

Colourful, vibrant and modern, the B app and website are designed to be intuitive and easy to use, breaking a customer’s account down into saving goals and their balance. The app also tags transactions automatically into categories, such as food and travel, and allows users to set a monthly budget for each type of expense. Eventually, customers will be able to personalise the app, for example adding their own photos.

READ MORE: How sub-brands are helping Marriott and Best Western target the Airbnb generation 

Page credits the aesthetic and slick user experience with the fact that the beta design was tested on 10,000 customers. The design team took inspiration from key digital players outside the banking sector such as Airbnb, Uber, Apple, Google and Fitbit.

The B launch was coordinated with a national TV campaign in June, which showed children dressing up and exploring imaginary worlds as a reflection of the app’s rejection of traditional banking. Hits to the B website tripled after the first advert was aired.

Premium positioning

Although CYBG is keen for B to operate as a standalone entity, other brands hope to give spin-offs weight by drawing a direct line back to the primary brand.

Britvic has launched Spritz, a sparkling upmarket sub-brand of its J2O soft drink, while Smirnoff is looking to carve out a premium niche in the cider category with the launch of its vodka-infused variation.


Cider brand Rekorderlig is looking to expand its reach through the creation of its new cider cocktail range. Blending Swedish minimalism with a splash of colour, the range was designed with a deliberately strong visual connection to the cider the brand is known for.

The ambition was to use enough design cues to remain part of the Rekorderlig family, while ensuring the cider cocktails stand out as a recognisably new product, explains Alison Pickering, brand director (portfolio) at Rekorderlig owner Molson Coors.

“We wanted the design to be premium, stylish and innovative, using colour and strong icons to stand out. The design of each can hints towards Rekorderlig’s fruit cider [bottles], particularly through the use of the fruit illustrations. It’s been a careful balance, focusing on the assets people recognise our brand for,” she says.

To create a point of difference the cocktail range has been given a premium edge through the choice of a matte silver can and distinctive swirls of contrasting colours. The can also highlights the inclusion of new ingredients such as vodka, gin and rum.

Waitrose 1

Supermarket chain Waitrose was also keen to boost its premium credentials through the launch of its first own-brand range for seven years, Waitrose 1.

Encompassing more than 500 products, from salted vanilla and passionfruit ice cream to smoked salmon and asparagus pizza, Waitrose 1 is intended to bring together the supermarket’s premium food categories under one, easily identifiable sub-brand. Waitrose 1 replaces three existing brands – Menu from Waitrose, From Waitrose and Seriously from Waitrose – while it retains its standard own brand range and Essential Waitrose basic products.

The team opted for a strong yet pared back design to set the premium range apart, explains manager of graphic design and brand Ruth Gavin. “We wanted to design premium in an unpredictable way – extreme simplicity, yet distinctive.

“The entire range has been designed with a continuous line drawing, which is different for every single product. As the range is the very best of Waitrose, much of the packaging also includes extra detail about the quality and provenance of the food, which ties in with the illustration.”

Aside from being the only Waitrose sub-brand to have black packaging – a shade called ‘squid ink’ – Waitrose 1 is also the supermarket’s only sub-brand with a number in its name, chosen after research suggested numbers are more memorable for consumers.

“It’s always important for us to include Waitrose in the name,” says Gavin. “One of the reasons we created Waitrose 1 was to improve navigation in these premium categories. To help customers find the very best of Waitrose more easily it was crucial to retain Waitrose in the name.”

Closely linked

Maintaining a connection to the parent brand was also important for crisp brand Kettle Chips when launching its premium Chef’s Signature range in last November and healthy baked Kettle Bites this January. As a result, both sub-brands incorporate key elements of the overall Kettle Chips branding, from strong colours to the woodcut-style logo.

Kettle Chips

Sitting above the core range, the Chef’s Signature collection has a “top tier design identity”, according to marketing director Andrew Slamin, which heavily references its partnerships with food producers, such as the Wensleydale Creamery and Maldon Sea Salt.

“The inclusion of the chef’s chopping board provides a strong sense of expertise and craft, and is the perfect platform to show off the premium ingredients used in each of the seasonings,” says Slamin. “We have maintained the strong use of colour coding by selecting background colours that are premium, warm and match the ingredients inside.”

To enhance the premium feeling, Kettle Chips chose a thicker packaging substrate with a tactile finish so that the chopping board has the feel of wood, while the glossy print enhances the images of the ingredients such as crumbly cheese and thick chilli jam. On the back of the pack is a resealable sticker in the shape of a chef’s apron.

The premium positioning seems to be appealing to consumers, with premium retail sales of Chef’s Signature on course to reach £2m within 12 months of distribution.

Kettle Bites

Meanwhile, to tie in with the post-Christmas fitness kick, the brand launched Kettle Bites. The product is positioned as a healthy alternative to normal crisps and is made from baked lentils and whole grains. It is aimed primarily at female consumers.

In contrast to the rich plum and forest greens of the Chef’s Signature range, the Bites packaging has a light cream background, with summery splashes of green and orange. There is a big focus on the illustration of key ingredients such as coconut and chilli, together with nutritional information including calories and fat.

As the the lead message on Bites is “taste and the health benefits”, it was crucial to create a clear connection to the parent brand. Slamin says: “The Kettle branding provides the reassurance of delicious real food, while the Kettle Bites branding makes the Kettle brand relevant to more occasions, successfully addressing any perception that we couldn’t offer a lighter alternative for daytime consumption.”

Whether it is a packet of crisps, drink or digital banking platform, creating a sub-brand gives brands and retailers the opportunity to flex their creative muscles and branch out into a new market. Current players are using sub-brands effectively to move into a premium niche or attract new consumers, choosing on a case-by-case basis whether to leverage their connection to the parent brand or break new ground.

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