Where to start?
There is no single approach to brand extension, but what are the factors that drive success? Let’s start with a short story.
In 1881, Rowntree launched Fruit Pastilles, and in 1893, Fruit Gums. Their success allowed them to launch new chocolate products, including chocolate beans. However, through the early 1900s, Rowntree struggled to make milk chocolate to match the quality of market leader, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. In 1931, George Harris was appointed marketing manager for chocolate products. Mining his knowledge of marketing and consumer research gained in America, he then launched Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp. It was later renamed KitKat (Figure 1), and today there are over 200 KitKat brand extensions.
He also transformed Rowntree’s Chocolate Beans into Smarties. Brand extensions available today include large size Smarties, Fruity Smarties, and ice cream Smarties (including McFlurry versions).
While initially launched as ‘fruit confectionery brand’ extensions, KitKat and Smarties, evolved into discrete, and highly successful new ‘chocolate’ brands. As a result of these successes, Harris became Rowntree’s company Chairman in 1941. Today he is also recognised as a father of modern marketing (Figure 2).
Benefits of brand extension?
Let’s decode the benefits of brand extensions to better define ‘success’. In summary brand extensions are a source of growth, or reputation, or both.
Growth by increasing market penetration or share, for example by increasing usage, attracting new customers, or entering new customer segments or markets.
Also reputation, by boosting awareness, rational or emotional perceptions.
These fit nicely with the brand managers’ role to maximise profits and brand equity. Of course, none of these aims are mutually exclusive. What seems apparent however, is that the further a brand extends, the greater the dissonance from the core. While this implies greater opportunity, and potential for a ‘new’ brand, it also implies greater risk. (Figure 3). Of course, it is not always the brand manager that drives innovation, but often the R&D department. The question then, as George Harris understood, is whether a brand extension or new brand strategy, will inspire greater success.
Brand extension vs. launching a new brand?
So is it better to extend a brand, or launch a new brand? Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of each option (Figure 4). Net extending a brand allows it to benefit from its existing brand awareness and equity, thus potentially reducing launch promotion costs. Conversely, launching a new brand, builds new equity, though at higher cost.
How to extend a brand?
There are two principal ways; either brand extension by evolving from the brand core or to realise a vision.
Brand extension by evolving from a core
Boots No7, launched in 1935, initially as a retailer own brand. Originally as a skin care line, though cosmetics followed and then took off in the post war years (3). Over the years the brand has had several make-overs: both changes in livery (blue, terracotta, brown, grey, black etc), and also many brand extensions. In 1971, the decision was made to build an independent brand, repositioning it as a fashion brand, though exclusive to Boots. Product innovations also added to the ‘skin care’ equity, with (Special Collection) Positive Action Cream (1980) (designed to compete with upscale skin care brands). In 2007, No7 went a step further by launching Protect & Perfect Serum. A BBC Horizon documentary declared it the only product on the market to have proven anti-ageing effects. It caused a storm in Boots’ aisles with stock selling out in just two weeks. Today ‘Protect and Perfect’ is a sub-brand extension in its own right; and sold well beyond Boots’ stores (Figure 5).
Brand extension from the core requires understanding on the nature of the brand equity, its strengths and weaknesses, and then building on those strengths, or eliminating weaknesses.
Brand extension to realise a vision
Olay (or Oil of Ulay, Olaz, or Ulan) as it was originally known, launched in South Africa in 1952 (4). A pink beauty lotion, it was promoted as ‘the secret of younger looking skin’, becoming global category leader. While largely a single product brand, it was clearly perceived as ‘for younger looking skin’. In 1985, Procter & Gamble therefore acquired the brand, and invested significantly in R&D, to create a raft of brand extensions to better deliver the said promise. Today brand extensions include Complete, Total Effects, ProX, Regenerist, Regenerist Luminous, Classics, Fresh Effects, Body (North America) and White Radiance (Asia). They include a host of ingredients to deliver the younger looking promise: including a broad spectrum sunscreen, retinyl propionate (a vitamin A derivative), glycerin, niacinamide (vitamin B3), and amino peptides.
Lessons learned from other brand innovations
Gucci brand extensions
Gucci started out making saddles for wealthy horsemen in Tuscany in 1921 (5). Impressed by some of the luggage he saw guests with at luxury hotels, he then employed fine leather craftsmen, and the latest machinery, to make luggage. Then over time he set up stores to reach elite customers. Clothing followed in 1964, as did the iconic double GG logo on belt buckles. As the company established a reputation for classic Italian style and luxury, it prospered through the 1970s. While ups and downs followed, the hiring of a strong creative, Tom Ford, in 1990 to design a ready-to-wear collection, took the company to new heights. Most recently the brand extended into homeware and decoration (Figure 6) and the trend to social sharing via digital media has inspired continued growth.
Caterpillar Inc. (sometimes shortened to Cat) is the world’s biggest manufacturer of construction equipment. The name dates from the merger of two companies in 1925; one of whom Holt, whose tractors were used to haul guns in World War 1. During World War 2 their trucks also found fame with the US Navy who used them to build military bases. Since the 1950s the company grew through a series of acquisitions; all bringing new products to market under the Caterpillar name.
Caterpillar brand extensions
By the late 20th century, Caterpillar was synonymous with reliability, durability and technology, and a distinctive yellow livery. In 1994, therefore, via a carefully controlled licensing programme, Caterpillar extended the brand to a selected range of merchandise. Originally and most famously boots. The footwear sector has boomed since, and remains the most successful consumer product licensing segment to date. In the late 90s, Caterpillar also issued its first watch license, to Catwatches.com (Cat calls them rugged timepieces), and in 2016, to mobile phones. According to Kenny Beaupre, Caterpillar Brand Licensing Manager, “This builds positive brand awareness which helps in many ways. It also connects new and existing audiences to Caterpillar’s products and services. We’re fortunate people like being associated with our brand, and Cat licensed products are a great way to show this connection.“
The Walt Disney Company brand extension
Walt Disney, a shy yet visionary man, famously created his first sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie in 1928 (4). It featured what was to become the world’s best known mouse. In 1935, he went on to create the first full length, animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 1955, he opened the world’s first amusement park, Disneyland (in Anaheim, Los Angeles). To fund this he also diversified into TV programmes, including the Mickey Mouse Club, and live action movies. By the mid 1960s, when Walt Disney died, he’d set high standards, instilled strong beliefs in, and established a clear vision for the company, “to make the world happy”.
This vision has since guided Disney’s “imagineering”.
1. Brands grow and extend through both evolution (from a core brand feature or promise) or revolution, sometimes through R&D to create new-to-world products, and achieve a brand vision. Ultimately, reinforcing clear customer perceptions, and thus an ability to answer the question – “what does the brand stand for”? (Figure 8)
2. Great brands, and thus brand extensions, tend to have high awareness (at least in their niche). And also both strong, and distinctive rational and emotional benefits. Pay particular attention to boosting the latter, as it means people pay more.
3. Successful brand development springs from many sources; clear insight, a strong creative leader, visionaries, a great R&D department, or a strong brand belief system. All combine to give a clear, almost obsessive, sense of direction.
4. Don’t think narrowly i.e. within a market segment, to extend a brand. However, do think logically and laterally, to understand customers, and their brand perceptions: to uncover an insight or thread to connect the brand parts, and give long-term brand direction. And even if a finding is untrue, it could still be revelatory, unlock extra growth, and easily become true.
5. You are more likely to reveal extraordinary brand extension ideas, through a culture of innovation. It’s also possible to do this by hiring folk, who are not hidebound by their previous experience. Virgin Atlantic, for example, was established by a team with no airline experience.
6. Don’t cannibalise your own sales unless you are making more money i.e. gaining higher margins.
7. Slapping your brand name on any product risks eroding rather than enhancing your brand. So beware of a stretch too far, and consider using a new brand when dissonance and upside potential is great.
What do you think works best?
2. Sébastien Jaulent, Katia Luxin, and Yna Sacko, Dissertation on ‘Advantages and Disadvantages of Brand Extension Strategy for Companies’
3. No7 Beauty
5. Gucci : https://Gucci.com
6. Caterpillar : https://Caterpillar.com and https://shopcaterpillar.com
7. Capodagli Bill, Jackson Lynn, The Disney Way – Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company (1988)