Strategically stretching your brand

Last week I posted on an approach to brand extension that I called ‘radical brand stretching’, and expressed concerns that it lacked strategic rigour and business reality. In this post I propose on alternative approach to strategically stretch you brand in a way that reinforces and grows the core.

1. LEVERAGE your core

The importance of having a strong core brand and business from which to stretch is confirmed by global research we did with over 100 marketing directors. In our survey, 95% said that brand stretch success was less likely with a weak core brand, with most of these saying success was much less likely.

The first and most obvious role of a strong core is providing relevant equity that can be leveraged in the new category to help drive trial. As one marketing director commented, “Strong core equity is like a great calling card and gets you in the door. Lacking a strong calling card the effort and resources needed to get penetration are much higher.”Apple is of course a brand that has mastered the art of equity leverage, with the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.

An additional and less often quoted role of a strong core is the business competences and know-how that can be leveraged to create advantage in the new category. In the case of Apple, the iPhone benefited hugely from Apple’s core “ecosystem”, including iTunes for content, Apple ID for ease of payment and distribution via the Apple Stores.

2. EXPAND your core

Defining your market in benefit terms, not product terms, is a critical first step to help identify brand stretch opportunities. For example, Airbnb is doing more than just renting rooms, it is offering the ability to ‘belong in a city’ when you travel. Defining the market this way is fertile ground for then identifying other ‘jobs to be done’ for Airbnb’s customers beyond simply renting a room to stay. This led to the brand stretching into offering travel services with ‘Airbnb Trips’, as I posted on here. Here, hosts offer travel-related services such as skateboarding lessons and recommendations on cool places to hang out from well-known and interesting locals (design bloggers, salsa dancers, fitness gurus etc.). This creates additional revenue for hosts and for Airbnb, but also strengthens the brand experience.

3. GROW your core 

When stretching your brand, try to highlight opportunities that don’t distract from or dilute your core but rather reinforce it. And I’m not just talking about the hard-to-pin-down image benefits called ‘halo effects’, where a new product or service is supposed to enhance attitudes to the core. No, I’m talking about hard-wired mechanisms that directly grow the core. Here are some examples I’ve posted on before:

4. PROTECT your core 

To protect your core business, we recommend being highly selective when stretching into new markets, focusing on fewer, bigger, better initiatives. This reduces the risk of launching small brand stretch attempts that suck valuable human and financial resources from the core.

And what influences the chances of success? In our research with marketing directors, the a strong core was the most important success factor, with 90% rating it as extremely or very important. This was closely followed by a differentiated, relevant concept combined with a product that delivers. These factors contribute to the “Size of the Prize” for a brand stretch initiative. But also important were factors linked to the company’s “Ability to Win“, including sustained marketing investment and getting distribution.

These results confirm our own experience, where companies often under estimate the go-to-market challenges of brand stretching. Examples of unsuccessful brand stretch attempts with decent concepts but a lack of ability to win in the new category include Lynx/Axe shaving and Heinz Farmers’ Market Chilled Soups. In contrast, Dove’s stretch into deo was helped by Unilever’s capabilities in this category, including distribution, on-shelf presence and a commitment to long-term investment.

In conclusion, even though digital technology has changed many things in the world of marketing, we still believe your best chances of brand stretch success come from taking a strategic approach that is based in the hard reality of business.