Product line extensions are to brands what fuel is to cars. Or not?
A couple of days ago, I read a fantastic New York Times piece on the weird jargon of Modern Marketing. If you manage to pass their paywall, you can find it here. I recommend it and challenge you to eliminate one word from your marketing vocabulary at the end of this year. Will it be “Snackable content” or “Storytelling” or “Humaning.” I will try to move away from using the word CORE and return to the simpler BRAND.
Before doing that, I wanted to share some ideas on our marketer’s constant struggle to position different line extensions or sub-products in consumers’ minds when at best, they can only remember the master brand. A typical growth strategy in fast-moving goods is to piggybank on a brand name and launch another variant with a twist (a different flavor, smell, better feature(s), etc.).
We call that line extension, or more fancy: product innovation. The purpose of this launch is to get some incremental sales or positively cannibalize the current offer at a higher price or to create something that you can talk about with retailers and with customers. In some categories, not launching innovations is similar to breaking the conversation with your retail partners. They want it for novelty, promotional appeal, and buzz. You want it to drive growth on the core brand variant. In some product categories, the competitive pressure is so high that you can’t avoid playing this game.
But, it’s always better to grow your main product, which I will no longer call CORE as of next year. In general, this is the established proposition that benefits from the scale of the supply chain and its distribution channels. It usually also has a better margin for you as a company.
I firmly believe product line extensions' role is to build further the brand equity that will halo on the core – on the brand. It’s hard to acknowledge, but your customers don’t care about your innovation and all the efforts you’ve put into it. They don’t care about your brand, either. They probably are curious to try, but they don’t want to be confused and, in general, want to relate the offer to an existing memory structure.
So how can you launch an innovation with more chances to grow your brand?
- In communication, Ensure the line extension voice belongs to the brand, and you use the brand’s distinctive assets at maximum.
- In pricing, be careful with undercutting your current price levels with too much promotional activity or a lower permanent price for your innovation.
- Stop believing your customers will fall in love and/or marry your product line extensions. At best, they will think your brand did a cool thing.
Happy to hear your views on using line extensions to grow brands.