There are three alternative strategies for launching a brand extension rollout:
Executing the launch of a new brand extension is critical to its success. Because the new product is in a different category from the parent brand product, there is usually a new set of competitors and customers. As mentioned previously, planning to launch only one product into the new category is risky because it will be vulnerable to attack from entrenched competitors who want to protect their market share and are likely to copy it. Since deciding to extend a brand is really the decision to enter a new category, plans must be made to think through future steps like a chess game. These future steps should include decisions about what other products will be launched and when.
There are three basic strategies for launching brand extensions that recognize the importance of becoming important in the new category. New products that remain orphans can rarely become significant enough in the category to become a major player. While attempting to get a small share of a large existing category is a major criterion for selecting a brand extension, staying in that position with only one item is never sensible. Therefore, the launch strategy to be employed must be thought out ahead of time. I always provided a client with a plan for what to introduce first, how that would change the options, and what products to launch after that. Sometimes there would be a significant time interval between launches (foothold strategy) and sometimes it would be almost immediate, launching line extensions or other brand extensions almost simultaneously.
Foothold Launch Strategy
In some cases, the ultimate goal is not achievable from the beginning. In the earlier Dole example, the goal was launching Dole refrigerated orange juice. Because Dole was perceived of as strictly a pineapple brand, this was illogical from the start. Therefore, the plan was to launch juices that were pineapple blends that were logical to consumers and thereby could gain a foothold in the refrigerated juice category. Foothold strategies are employed when intermediate products that are not the ultimate brand extension must be launched in order to successfully enter a new target category. A Dole Pineapple-Orange blend juice was not a major threat to brand leaders in the orange juice category. Even if it were, the Dole brand had a competitive advantage perceptually because of the close tie to pineapple. By launching the blends first, the company started from strength, minimized competitive reaction and gained consumer acceptance that Dole was in the refrigerated juice category.
Another classic example of using the foothold strategy was Dove. The brand was launched in 1957 with one product: Dove Soap. The proposition was that Dove was different than soap because it contained one quarter cleansing cream and will not dry your skin. Dove was positioned as much better for your skin than soap due to its cleansing cream and mildness. Advertising touted such claims as ‘Suddenly soap is old-fashioned!’ and ‘Dove creams your skin while you wash’. The atypical curved shape and blue-and-gold packaging with the dove bird logo was part of the original branding. Once firmly established as a successful soap product, Unilever launched a wide variety of other Dove branded products eventually moving away from the cleansing cream promise to any product in skin cleansing and care, antiperspirant, hair care and even baby and men’s product areas. The Dove brand had established a significant foothold, originally, in the women’s skin care market. Later brand extensions followed.
Line Extension Launch Strategy
Another approach to launching a brand extension is to do so with a range of line extensions concurrently. The concept here is to avoid the orphan syndrome by introducing a range of items in the new category. There are numerous examples of this strategy. My work on Nestle’ Gerber Good Start infant formula recognized that in this category, there are segments of formula buyers who want different products. Nestle’ introduced Good Start with and without iron, powder and liquid and Soy based formula. The logic of introducing a line of products to cover most segments is often the correct approach when a category has multiple products to meet segmented needs.
Brand Extension (multi-category) Launch Strategy
This launch strategy is used to introduce the brand into a range of different categories right from the start. This strategy can be more difficult because it puts the company into a number of new categories at the same time confronting new customers and competitors in multiple categories simultaneously. The appeal, however, is that a broad shelf presence and advertising and promotion effort could achieve wide notoriety, awareness and impact. The Clorox launch of Clean-up, Toilet Bowl Cleaner and Toilet Bowl Drop-ins resulted in greater on-shelf impact than a single product alone. Likewise, the Buitoni launch of refrigerated products included various pasta items as well as marinara, pesto and alfredo sauces (companion products).
Establishing a Plan Prior to Launch
I always develop a launch plan when recommending brand extensions. It is important to decide which strategy to employ when launching. Some situations naturally lend themselves to launching a line of products (line extensions or brand extension) from the start. Others are large enough and the competition tough enough that just gaining a foothold with one product is sufficient. Whichever way is chosen, the idea is to imagine a variety of brand extensions that could be introduced over time as prior brand extensions change consumer perceptions and thereby open the door to new ones which then become logical fits. The strength of the leverage of a brand provides guidance as to the ability of a brand to be extended narrowly or widely at the start.