The brilliant and insightful business cartoonist, Tom Fishburne, recently published this great “Marketoon” on the dangers of brand extensions. It reminded me of a conversation I had with some marketers recently about why I thought a brand that I once worked for had gone awry. It wasn’t brand extensions into new categories that got them into trouble, but proliferation of products within their very narrow category.
Conventional marketing wisdom used to mandate that any brand extension be rigorously tested with consumers before launch. An extreme example was P&G testing mint-flavored Crest for two years before launch, way back when core brands were single products, living in fear of cannibalizing their own sales with line extensions. Decades later, we can now look at the toothpaste aisle and find so many permutations of flavors, benefits, and forms of each brand that it’s hard to sort out what used to be a simple brand decision in this category.
Hence the problem.
In the comments following Fishburne’s cartoon, a poster talks about sighting a woman wearing Coca-Cola jeans. That’s a stretch. But so too was it a stretch for the company that I used to be involved with launching 18-20 new products in a small category. Even people close to the brand can’t give me a good reason to offer a small target audience niche this many products in one category. Instead, they claim that it wasn’t to satisfy customer demand but to:
1) Beat competition to the market
2) Get shelf space and force existing competition to make due with fewer facings.
This is a risky and very expensive way to build a business. With slotting costs in conventional grocery and the marketing challenge to explain why each product is different in the company line-up, a company can quickly run out of cash before the marketplace gives its answer. In addition to cost, throwing many solutions at the consumer for a problem they didn’t know they had, sets up tremendous confusion and dissonance, which may actually cost the brand any sale.
This Chinese menu approach also makes it difficult for the consumer to understand what the brand stands for–critical for maintaining brand loyalty.
What’s the most ridiculous example that you’ve seen of a brand proliferating its offerings so that you can’t understand which SKU is right for you?
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