The Ansoff Matrix tells us that brand extension as a growth strategy is a riskier option than market penetration and market expansion; although it is less risky than diversification. Ansoff also stated that brand and product extensions should only take place once market penetration and market expansion opportunities had been exhausted. So in today’s marketplace, why do so many firms choose brand extension as their primary method of growing their brand?
Well the answer is that many of today’s commercial markets are mature. Market Penetration and expansion opportunities are scarce and increasingly costly. Rather than starting from scratch in a new market, it is easier to enter it with an existing brand.
In his book The New Strategic Brand Management, J.P. Kapferer give advice on whether brand extensions is an appropriate strategy. He strongly believes that in mature and luxury markets it is necessary.
Many luxury brands use extension as a core business model. In these markets it can provide increased brand power and profitability. This is why major names in the fashion industry introduce perfumes, luggage and watches. Some fashion designers, such as Victoria Beckham extend their design services to products like cars. Mrs Beckham apparently designed the interior trim of the Range Rover Evoque.
A successful brand extension relies on the business’s ability to create a distinct competitive advantage through leverage of existing reputation in a new, growing, market sector.
Kapferer argues that five basic assumptions must be met if a brand extension is to succeed:
- The brand must already have strong equity and a strong asset base. Trust levels with consumers must be high. The extension must offer strong customer benefits, both tangible and intangible.
- Assets must be transferable to the extension. Consumers must believe and acknowledge that the new extension product will be endowed with the benefits already associated with the brand.
- Extension products must offer a real perceived competitive advantage in the minds of consumers compared to the products of competitors.
- The brand’s values must be relevant to the market segment into which it will be extended. However, the segmentation of the new market should be done in such a way as to make it difficult for competitors to react quickly.
- The brand extension must be competitive in the long run. That means you need to provide sufficient resources to achieve market leadership and to develop productivity.
Brand extension can also be a defensive strategy. It can also be linked to efficiency and productivity measures.
- Firms use brand extension to reduce media and other costs. Rather than the expense of separate campaigns for different products, they are merged into a single mega-brand.
- Some brands operate in declining product categories. To avoid market contraction and closure, these brands need to expand into new segments. In 2003, Porsche entered the 4×4 market. A time when the market for sports coupe was declining.
- In business to business markets, brand extensions can evolve as a result of the need to provide ever-increasing customer value. For example, a firm providing office cleaning services may begin to offer the provision and maintenance of house plants, or furniture, or art, to its existing customers. British Gas faced new competition when the UK utilities market was opened up to competition. They extended their base by offering domestic white goods maintenance to their existing customers.
- A brand’s market can be cyclical or seasonal. Brand extension may be necessary to flatten out that cycle. The Bill Paterson film, Comfort and Joy took inspiration from a real life and very violent war between the operators of ice cream vans in Glasgow. The real war was a very nasty affair between organised crime gangs who were using the vans to sell drugs. In the film, it was a battle to preserve territorial boundaries. The main protagonist of the film, a radio DJ played by Bill Paterson, got the competing firms to cooperate by extending their brands into the sale of deep-fried ice cream fritters which could be sold in the winter. (the film was made before the advent of the deep fried Mars Bar).
- Brand extensions can also be a result of a firm having insufficient resources to maintain a wide brand portfolio. By merging brands the costs of packaging and promotion can be shared. Scarce resources can be targeted on productivity or quality improvement. In such circumstances, brand extension can a curse into a blessing turning a house of brands into a branded house.
- Brand extensions can get round promotional and advertising restrictions. The promotion of tobacco products is widely prohibited. Brands such as Dunhill are now as well, if not better known for their luggage and accessories than their cigarettes. In many states it is illegal to advertise prescription drugs directly to consumers. Pharmaceutical firms therefore extend their brand into over the counter medicines.
Brand extension can be a risky growth strategy but if you are operating in a market which is mature and meets the above circumstances, brand extension may be a better option than a full diversification.