Most companies think about extending their brand to maximize their exposure and value. That’s why we have HUMMER cologne (at least while the vehicles were in production), and Purple Oreos. In many cases, these brand extensions makes sense: if a brand’s primary product has entered a phase of slow or low growth, extending the brand to new products may invigorate the whole line. And sometimes a brand extension is more of a statement. A costly fragrance with your product’s logo likely won’t generate massive revenues, but it may enhance the primary product’s image as a luxury item. And where would Coke be without Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and its other siblings?
Sometimes, though a tight brand focus can be the key ingredient for success. I’m reading Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business by Nancy Lublin, and she provides a personal example of keeping a brand tightly focused.
Lublin’s non-profit organization, Dress for Success, was founded to ensure that women without the means to purchase expensive business wear could obtain an appropriate suit for job interviews. As her organization grew and reached critical mass, the option of providing the same service for men was presented to them by one of their board members. Men, too, can find themselves in situations where they lack appropriate interview apparel.
Non-profit organizations aren’t normally driven by thoughts of expanding market share or revenue growth for its own sake. But serving male clientele would have given Dress for Success the ability to help twice as many needy individuals, perhaps doubling its impact. And the expansion wouldn’t be difficult, as they had donors of male suits practically lining up, and some of their local affiliates were already serving both men and women. Even lacking a profit motive, assisting a much larger group of disadvantaged people to land jobs is no small thing for an organization dedicated to that laudable purpose.
After considerable deliberation, though, Dress for Success decided to maintain its focus on assisting only female job-seekers. (They actually helped the board member start a new organization to serve men.) According to Lublin, this decision was based on “choosing to have a crisp, clean focus and protecting the brand’s simplicity.”
Did their strategy work? Absolutely. Dress for Success has grown to more than 100 locations worldwide, and serves more than 50,000 women annually.
A very tight brand focus won’t work for every business situation. Brand extensions may not only generate incremental revenue, they may actually enhance the value of the original brand. But willy-nilly extensions can also muddle a brand’s image. Does adding “Frosted Strawberry Muffin-dough Oreos with Sparkly Sprinkles and Cream Cheese Filling” further cement your brand image as the leader in cookies with stuff in the middle, or does it move you farther away from what consumers know you for?
Before making major changes to what your brand encompasses, be sure that the added scope fits your branding strategy and won’t dilute your message.
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