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Sunday, June 23, 2024

When to brand stretch

Richard Taylor explores the key factors that help drive continued brand and business growth

Great British heritage brands play a huge role in our lives; they’ve often grown up with us, from childhood into adulthood and beyond. To do that, they have to remain relevant in our world. This means continuously evolving to ensure they retain a place in our hearts and – most importantly – minds when we’re in autopilot shopping mode.

Alongside the changing nature of human life and consumer behaviour we have shareholders who demand exponential growth for an ever-increasing return on their investment. As such, businesses need to leverage their brands and this is about exploring the possibilities of just where the brand has license to stretch in the eyes of its consumers today and those it is looking to attract tomorrow. You can hear the CFOs within: “just how can we sweat the asset!?”.

Well, we see lots of businesses do this incredibly well. Be that through recruiting new audiences (think KitKat chunky targeting a bigger bite male audience), new occasions (our own work with Pizza Express, moving the brand from chilled pizza into frozen.

The frozen occasion is more of a rescue meal as opposed to chilled being a pizza in the next 48-hours), or new needs (Method surface clean successfully moved in to body clean).
All of these are valid ways in which to extend legacy heritage brands, brands that are often number one or two in market, with little headroom for strong commercial growth.

The only way we can sweat the asset is by exploring just how can we stretch the brand’s memory structure and find the most commercially viable way in which to do so. Brands are like elastic bands, they can be stretched so far and the closer into the core product or service offer, the easier it often is for consumers to understand the equity stretch. I would never buy a Tesla motor vehicle as it doesn’t talk to my petrolhead nature, and I just see them as a copy and paste white goods manufacturer. However, when I was looking for a battery to go alongside my new solar panels at home, I knew that Tesla would be the optimal choice as their battery technology and AI functionality is second to none. So, an easy stretch from its core ingredient within. One of my all-time favourite brand horror story extensions and the one I cite the most in client meetings, is when Colgate moved into frozen lasagne in the 1980s. A move that nobody can quite fathom to this day, as what equity transfer is there in toothpaste into an Italian meal – zero. It proudly sits in the Museum of Failure. Yes, it’s a thing.

So just how do marketers stretch their brands for commercial growth when the core product has so much equity in our minds? They simply begin by understanding just what it is about the brand that people love and explore if that can be translated into other categories, adjacent or beyond. Often, we see brand product stretch close in within a store, so Coca-Cola will more than likely bring new canned carbonated beverages next to its core red in order to own the ‘refreshing drinks’ space. Pizza Express leveraged its restaurant equity from pizzas into iconic products like dough balls and salad dressings, products that it knows people love and often asked if they could buy in the supermarket.

The move into frozen pizza from chilled helps the brands ubiquity by not only targeting new occasions but also helps to recruit new audiences. The price point in chilled pizza is higher than that of frozen so many younger people don’t buy into the brand in the supermarket. This play into frozen recruits more people into the brand. It is often a case of understanding the permission you have to stretch as well, Method is the perfect exemplar of a lifestyle brand that is all about bringing design and style into cleaning. Whereas P&G’s Fairy Liquid is about more functional grease cutting power. So, the foundation of the brand and role it plays in our minds is crucial. Fairy can stretch into washing your clothes, but a stretch into your body is perhaps a step too far.

So just when is the right time to stretch your brand into new spaces? Ideally before your core product brand starts to flatline and go into decline. Sometimes it’s just too late, the famous Fuji Vs Kodak 35mm film business being my favourite ever stretch success and failure. Fuji realised it had to cannibalise its 35mm film by moving into the digital camera market, whereas Kodak stuck to its guns and belief that digital cameras were a fad! Just look at who still exists today and is thriving in the digital camera market.

Business leaders demand growth and marketing is a powerful tool when used right, a true enabler for growth. As part of any planning cycle brand leaders look to innovation roadmaps to deliver growth, exploring a combination of the license that the brand has to stretch and then the production capability to deliver that stretch at a strong commercial margin. This is often why moving in and around your core production competency is where most brands play, if you are a chocolate manufacturer you can cleverly engineer pretty much anything in chocolate, but if you are to move into soap it’s a whole new ball game.

The fight to stay relevant to your audience is a constant battle, but it can be where businesses and brands have fun and deliver growth. The opportunity for successful innovation is huge, however the failure rate of NPD is high. As such, only a handful of the world’s biggest companies truly invest in innovation, and they continue to win. Lots of manufacturer business aren’t prepared to take the risk. Are you prepared to roll the dice? Can you afford not to. Here is a quick innovation checklist for your consideration:

1. What is the brand fit, just what permission do you have to stretch the brand in people’s minds?

  1. Is it meeting an unmet audience, occasion or need?
  2. Is there room for disruption in the market and are you adding value?
  3. What is your ability to execute the innovation and make money?

Richard Taylor is the CEO of Brandon Consultants


Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor, Managing Partner, Brandon Consultants. Richard is an international brand strategy, marketing and communications consultant who helps refresh established brands while assisting new ones as they find their place in the world. Brandon’s central mission is to ensure their client’s brands are those that people relate to, respond to, and return to.

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