T-Mobile’s Flext and the power of ownable descriptors

One of most misunderstood and mis-used bits of branding is the “sub-brand”, and there are very few examples where this has been done successfully. The theory: by using a “brand-like” name and design for your new product, rather than a straightforward ‘descriptor’, in theory you can stretch further and differentiate better. And at the same time you still build the equity of the “mother brand” that has given birth to the extension.

It works when:
i) the sub-brand and mother brand work together, like a forename and family name. For example: Gillette (family name) Mach 3 (forename); Bacardi (family name) Mach Breezer (forename). Ideally the combined names should be no more than 5 syllables, so they can be pronounced together, even if over time consumers will use a shorthand.
ii) the sub-brand tells a new ‘chapter’ of the same brand story, rather than telling a different story altogether. So, Breezer has Bacardi “Latin spirit in every one” and Mach 3 is the latest and best version of “The Best a Man Can Get” (though its all got a bit confused now with Turbo, Power and Nitro being added in the branding recipe).

Unfortunately, most sub-brands fail to respect these two rules. They are in effect new brands in disguise, often called “sub-brands” by marketing people to smuggle them past internal approval processes that have banned the creation of new brands. These sub-brands get their own budgets and brand teams and steal resources away from the main brand.

Which brings us onto the power of the “ownable descriptor”: it gives you a clue about what the product does, but has enough of a twist to make it hard to copy. A good example is T-Mobile UK’s new Flext tariff proposition, that has shaken up the UK mobile market and been highly successful in attracting new customers. As you expect from the name, it allows you to spend your monthly allowance on whatever mix of voice minutes, SMS and date you want, rather than having to pick x minutes, y SMS and z MB of data. You get a text alert when you are reaching your monthly limit. And you even get an automatic alert to tell you if you would get better value from a different plan.

There is no attempt to give Flext a personality, look and feel separate from the rest of T-Mobile, it is clearly a new chapter in the same brand story about helping connect more freely with people and stuff that matters. Using an ownable descriptor rather than a generic same, such as ‘flexible plan’, also makes it easier to recall and harder to copy. Contrast this with Vodafone’s  “Free weekend calls” and O2’s “Long Weekends”. These both feel like pure promotions, and so less ownable, whereas T-Mobile’s Flext feels more like a branded concept that has the legs to survive.

5 minute workout: are you at risk of falling into the sub-branding trap, or using a purely generic name for your new launch? If so, how could you create an ownable descriptor to do the branding job more effectively?

Choose thebrandgym to guide your upcoming brand stretch project.