The Challenge with Brand Architecture in Owned Media

The Challenge with Brand Architecture in Owned Media


One of the most heated debates among marketing teams embracing owned media is not around content production, or distribution, or measurement. It’s brand architecture. The mere mention of it sends chills down this recovering CMO’s spine.

But what is it?

According to The Branding Journal, brand architecture “defines the role of each brand and acts as a guideline for the interrelationship between the brands in your organization.”

For most early stage companies, brand architecture is not yet on the radar. And rightfully so — you operate only one “master brand” for your company (think Gainsight or Crossbeam or Dovetail). Typically the first brand architecture conversations begin as these businesses acquire other companies and are forced to make the decision — do we keep the acquired company’s brand identity or rebrand them under our own?

But for companies who are embracing owned media, these brand architecture debates begin much earlier.

These companies may decide to launch a separate brand identity from their master brand for thought leadership, media, or community efforts. Using the same references as above, you might be familiar with Gainsight’s “Pulse” brand for Customer Success, Crossbeam’s “Insider” community for ecosystem-led growth professionals, and Dovetail’s “Outlier” brand for research professionals.

Some of these brand architecture decisions may be inherited (the media brand preceded the company brand), others may be driven by acquisition, or others yet might be strategically separated. You can understand the appeal of separation — the master brand stays focused on selling software while the media brand is dedicated to thought leadership.

Whichever decision you make comes with its own set of challenges, and surely, endless hours of debate revisiting the decision. There’s no universally correct answer. In this article, I’ll try to lay out the various approaches and highlight the benefits and risks of each.

First, here’s a quick story of my own journey with brand architecture.

A Case Study of Gainsight and Pulse

When I first joined Gainsight in the spring of 2013, the company was called Jbara Software. We were working with an agency to help us rebrand the business — not that there’s anything wrong with the name Jbara :).

While that rebranding process was in flight, we decided to host an industry conference for Customer Success professionals. We needed to name the event to start promoting it, but hadn’t yet landed on a master brand for the company. With time running out, we decided to call the event “Pulse” since our leading brand territory on the project was exploring personal health as a metaphor for customer health.

It’s funny looking back that we abandoned that brand territory and landed on Gainsight.

But the conference was a hit for our industry and we decided to double down on Pulse and transform the program from a one-time event to a 365-day community for Customer Success professionals.

There was something really beautiful about it. Gainsight was in the business of selling software, while Pulse became a missional commitment to advance the interests of the profession. The logos were different, colors were different, and even though emails were still sent from an email address, recipients knew that Pulse was a safe space focused on education and community rather than a sales pitch.

As the category matured however, we started running into issues with brand architecture.

For a time, the Pulse brand began to develop more equity than the Gainsight brand. A large cohort of the Pulse audience was very happy to engage in thought leadership programs with no intention to ever learn about Gainsight — a difficult reality for software companies. But for the cohort of our audience that did convert into customers, there was a growing expectation around hearing more about technology and innovation in our industry.

We debated. Endlessly.

What thought leadership programs should go under the Gainsight brand? What should go under Pulse?

The issues became even more prevalent as we acquired businesses that sold to other buyers. Pulse meant something to the Customer Success profession, could we expand its meaning for the product and community audiences?

Overtime we made the decision to bring the brands closer together. We kept Pulse distinct as a media brand, but it started to take on more of the master brand’s visual identity. We began to pepper in some product-oriented content (in a respectful way) in order to serve the changing needs of our audience.

The Pulse brand was able to evolve. But my sense is if you ask anyone currently at Gainsight about brand architecture today, they would say that the debate rages on.

Two Models of Brand Architecture for Owned Media

Again, there are no one-size-fits-all answers to the brand architecture debate. But there are pros and cons to each decision. Here are the common models that I’ve seen used in the market today, and some commentary on the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

Master Brand as Media Brand

In this model, the company’s master brand is also used for content and thought leadership programs. In most cases, the company will “extend” the master brand using a unique identifier — usually a descriptive word for the program or most recently “+” as a cognitive reference from consumer media.


  • Salesforce moving content and event programs under Salesforce+.
  • HubSpot extending their master brand with Academy, Podcast Network, and more.
  • Paddle notably rebranded Profitwell Recur (a media property they acquired) into Paddle Studios.


  • Keeps the team focused on building equity in the master brand.
  • Easier path to monetization — audience explicitly opting-into learning from a vendor.
  • Straightforward implementation of digital experience (ex.


  • No distinction between software sales and thought leadership motions.
  • More difficult path to audience building — no longer a “safe space” for community.
  • Limited creative expression (visual identity, tone & voice, etc.) when governed by the master brand guidelines.

Separate Media Brand

In this model, the company creates, acquires, or otherwise maintains a distinct brand identity for their media efforts and (typically) enforces a strict “church and state” approach between selling software and thought leadership. Many of these start as event brands that eventually transition into 365-day media brands.


  • Reveal acquired PartnerHacker with the intention to operate the brand independently.
  • Klue operates a media brand called The Compete Network for product marketers.
  • KeyPlay is a software business that was born out of a media brand called PeerSignal.


  • Distinct brand establishes equity as a trusted space for thought leadership.
  • Casts a wider net for audience acquisition, engaging people into becoming prospects.
  • Creative freedom to take risks without exposing the master brand to potential damage.


  • Maintaining and investing in building equity into two separate brands.
  • Creating fandom within an audience that has no intention of buying your product.
  • Building a cohesive digital experience between the core website and the owned media property.

Beyond these two approaches, there are surely other brand architecture models that make sense for companies building owned media practices. One of the emerging topics is the role that founder and employee brands play in owned media — but that’s another topic for another post altogether.

What else am I missing? I’d love to hear your ideas on new models or your experiences implementing the above two.

One thing is for sure, this topic can become emotionally charged. I’d encourage companies who are navigating the discussion to keep an open mind and be willing to shift course as your audience and community efforts mature.

Anthony Kennada | About the Author

Founder and CEO, AudiencePlus

Prior to founding AudiencePlus, Anthony served as the CMO of incredible companies like Hopin and Front. He was the founding CMO of Gainsight where he and his team are credited with creating the Customer Success category -- a novel business imperative, profession and software category that helps subscription companies grow sustainably by becoming customer obsessed. By focusing on human first community building, content marketing, live events and creative activations, they developed a new playbook for B2B marketing that built the Gainsight brand and fueled the company’s growth from $0 to $100M+ ARR, and eventual acquisition by Vista Equity at a $1.1B valuation. You can follow him here.


The Challenge with Brand Architecture in Owned Media

Marketers are awakening to the fact that transactional approaches yield limited results. The true power lies in forging genuine connections with your audience, and owned media is the conduit for this transformation.

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