How far is too far?

The Business Standard - Monday, December 10, 2012

It  is difficult and expensive to build a brand. High media clutter, high shelf-clutter and high mind-space clutter (coupled with ever shortening attention span by consumers) makes for very few successful new brands in the country. It can be argued that apart from a very select handful that includes Fastrack, Café Coffee Day and Big Bazaar, there are no truly successful new brands out there. The lure of brand extensions is understandable as it utilises the current equity of a brand and leverages it for brands to foray in other categories.

Brand extensions fail, sometimes, disastrously. Nirma, a brand synonymous with detergent powder (every time we hear Nirma, the next line “washing powder Nirma” follows tunefully in our minds) launched Nirma Shudh Salt. Does that mean Titan — known for watches – should not enter eyewear?

Titan Eye is, after all, struggling to be profitable. Or that Wipro should be only ‘applying thought’ to their IT business and not to diapers and soaps? Ponds stretched the brand from its iconic Dreamflower Talc to the new age Age Miracle/Perfect Radiance range. The brand has not as much as stretched, but has snapped into two – the two Ponds stand for different things.

So, what are the principles of successful brand architecture? The answer lies at the core of the brand. Tata, for decades, has stood for trust. Since that is at the core, the brand extends anywhere where trust is important. Trust, however, is basic. It works for generic products such as salt but does not work where the consumer seeks more than trust. Tanishq stands for design but the Tata Gold Plus brand stands for trust. As for Rolls Royce, it is the ultimate super luxury car. Does that equity help in the space of aircraft engines? If Rolls Royce had stood for technology or innovation, it could traverse the course to not just aircraft engines but perhaps any high-end equipment; but luxury makes the stretch not so successful.

The closer the new product connects with the existing core value proposition of the brand, the more likely it will be able to diversify. For instance, Kingfisher (its current troubles notwithstanding) as the King of Good Times, can expand into different categories such as liquor, airline, calendars and Formula 1; as against Jet Airways that only stands for a ‘world-class flying experience’, and can only extend into air-related businesses.

Over-extending the brand or using it indiscriminately is potentially prone to failure. Take Lifebuoy’s first attempt at launching a talcum power under the same brand. The product was positioned on the family health platform in clear dissonance with the core proposition of the talcum powder category — beauty. The variant was discontinued and re-launched as prickly heat powder, which supposedly resonates better with the core values of the Lifebuoy. Even where the brand name seamlessly extends across categories, it is important to not fall into a ‘click and extend’ trap such as the one Himalaya has fallen into. Himalaya sells a range of herbal/ayurveda product across hair, skin and oral care under one umbrella brand. While it is a great brand extension strategy, there was needed a visual demarcation as the sea of sameness makes it difficult for the consumer to navigate across a shop shelf and new variants invariably vanish without a trace. In such cases design solutions are required to maximise opportunity for the brand.

Alpana Parida is President (alpana@dyworks.in) and Priyanka Shah,  GM - Strategy,  of  DY Works, a leading brand strategy and design firm.

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