Most companies know how to extend their brands by leveraging organizational competencies and determining unmet customer needs. However, surprisingly few have a strategic approach briefing in place to ensure that potential new product areas are consistent with a brand’s identity. Even an outstanding new product concept, satisfying a significant unmet customer need, will not succeed in the market if it is launched under the wrong brand identity.
Here is a four-step road map to make sure that future new products or services complement, or better, enhance the current equities of the brand.
1. Determine brand and category associations.
The first step in determining brand relevance is to begin with a comprehensive assessment of what your brand and those of key competitors in the category currently stand for in the minds of customers.
Even an outstanding new product concept, satisfying a significant unmet customer need, will not succeed in the market if it is launched under a brand identity for which it is a poor fit. The foundation of this assessment is qualitative customer research (e.g., focus groups and in-depth interviews), which provides the richness and depth of response needed to construct an accurate portrait of your brand and the category. The research should focus on uncovering the key associations customers link to the brand and competitive brands in the categories (e.g., product or service features, functional, emotional, and self-expressive benefits, and personality).
2. Develop brand extendibility proxies.
Once the six to eight key associations have been identified for the brand and category, proxies should be carefully chosen for each one. To accomplish this, turn each association into a continuum of attributes and benefits that range from “close in” to “far out” relative to where customers perceive the brand to be today.
This continuum begins with a proxy that’s relatively close in and ends with one that is a significant stretch from how customers perceive the brand today, with several points in between. It’s important to remember that these proxies were strategically chosen to represent distinct points on a continuum. The proxies chosen may or may not represent good new product opportunities for the brand (i.e., customer unmet needs). What’s more important at this point is that they provide the basis for rich conversations with customers as to how the brand can and cannot be extended in the future (i.e., brand relevance).
3. Conduct brand extendibility research.
Once brand and category associations have been determined and representative proxies selected, it is imperative to go back to customers to solicit their input.
A variety of stimuli can be used for the chosen proxies to facilitate brand extendibility research discussions, including white paper concepts, representative images, and actual products or prototypes. During focus group customers are asked for their opinion as to how well each product, service, feature, or benefit fits with the brand in question.
Once again, it’s important to remember that we are mostly interested in understanding customer rationales for why something does or does not fit with the brand.
4. Create brand extendibility guidelines.
The final step of this approach is to take the insights obtained in the previous step’s customer research and develop guidelines detailing how the brand can and cannot be effectively extended. Customer feedback (i.e., which proxies are in, which are out, and the reasons why) needs to be interpreted and translated into guidelines for extendibility.
Once an adequate number of guidelines has been established, it’s helpful to prioritize them because they won’t all be of equal importance. One way to think about this is to establish several guidelines that are imperatives. What this means is that unless a potential new product or service opportunity satisfies these guidelines, it should not be considered for marketplace introduction. Other guidelines would be deemed important but not mandatory. In other words, if a potential new product or service opportunity satisfies this guideline, it should be considered favorable.
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