Key Quick Lube

Branding a Motor Vehicle Empire - A Hybrid Brand Architecture


Challenge: Create a stronger brand identity

Successful businesses and entrepreneurs often share the same challenge: they have been following a pattern of success and growth, creating or acquiring new brands, without having time to stop and take a bird’s eye view of their brand identity. Successful businesses often find themselves with a brand portfolio that, while thriving from a fiscal standpoint, is not clearly defined as a strong brand. This was the challenge Key Auto Group brought to Vital Design.

Key Auto came to Vital with several different disassociated brands: from new cars to pre-owned cars to service to financing to towing and more (Figure 1). Vital Design was tasked with creating a brand architecture that leverage brand equity across the 10+ businesses already in the Key family and allowed the flexibility to bring on board any future brands.


Strategy: Design a hybrid brand architecture, keeping the company logo as the dominant brand

After researching the industry and the brands, it was clear that Key Auto needed a hybrid brand architecture that could accommodate both logos where Key was the dominant brand, such as the Key Portsmouth Used Car Superstore, and where it was the subservient brand, as in Key Portsmouth Chevrolet. Working with world-renowned brands like Chevy, Ford and Hyundai while also having used car brands and other industry-related brands required an emblem that would function in both dominant and subservient positions.

The final choice of logo was a simple emblem style design, showing the Key name in a chrome font that showed movement and energy, capturing the bright, modern feel of the Key rebrand. This emblem can be placed either above or below another brand, so that it can be used in both the used car dealerships and the locations where it is linked to a strong international brand like Chevrolet.

Result: A hybrid logo

The Key emblem ties together the overall brand architecture, allowing the many different stores, locations and services of Key to be branded as separate entities that all co-exist under the same parent brand. The hybrid structure also allows Key’s brand to grow: if they open a new location or acquire another dealership, the Key emblem can easily be transposed onto new brands.

Project Details
About Brand Architecture



The phrase “brand architecture” is just industry-speak for something that that most of us, as consumers, experience every day: how a company’s brands work together, and how consumers will understand and interact with the brands.

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to brand architecture, commonly thought of as “house of brands” and “branded house”. A house of brands is a “silent” parent brand, such as Proctor & Gamble. No consumer products come plastered with Proctor & Gamble branded labels—the company instead encompasses Olay, Febreeze, Tide and other recognizable consumer brands, even brands that sometimes compete with one another. This is also known as multiple brand architecture.

A branded house, however, is a company such as GE. The company is diversified into a huge variety of products and services, but every one of their sectors bears the immediately recognizable blue and white GE logo.  This is also known as a logo-linked brand or master brand  – the name and branding is consistent across all segments of the company. This is an expensive branding strategy, and it can make it difficult to access both very broad and very niche markets.


The middle ground between these two main brand architectures is a hybrid brand architecture: a company that is branded like Marriott, with one main brand with themes and elements that carry throughout the branding for several sub brands (Figure 4). Marriott has brands like Courtyard and Fairfield Inn under its main brand, and the Marriott branding appears (in a minimal way) on the logos etc. for most of the sub brands.

A hybrid brand has many benefits, including improved flexibility for growth. Any acquisitions or spin-off brands can all be brought under the brand umbrella easily. A hybrid model also protects brand equity and allows the brand to adapt to fit each target audience—for example, your extended stay hotels and luxury hotels can be branded differently but still within your main brand.

From a production standpoint, a hybrid model also much more affordable than creating a variety of different logos or building a monolithic brand (such as GE).  By having so many common elements, your cost of adding new brands is fixed and relatively inexpensive, and you don’t need to build a brand from the ground up every time you acquire a business or move into a new market.

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