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Brand Extensions: Yes, No or Maybe?

Every interaction should reinforce your audience’s gut feeling about your brand.

I’ve been thinking about brand extensions lately, prompted by a recent Super Bowl spot.

The topic comes up often for growing organizations—nonprofit and for-profit alike. So let’s talk about when brand extensions work, and when it's better to avoid them.


Focus Is Key

Building and maintaining your organization’s brand over the long term requires extreme focus.

This is because a brand can only represent one main idea in a customer’s mind. Marty Neumeier calls it a 'gut feeling.' Volvo = safety. Coca-Cola = refreshment. Disney = magic.

Everything your organization does should work to reinforce that gut feeling.


Brand Extensions

Brand extensions happen any time an organization seeks to grow by launching new offerings, services or products under its parent brand.

It’s understandable why extensions are appealing. After all, organizations spend years building awareness and trust with their members, followers and donors. It’s natural to want to leverage that by extending it to a brand family.

When They Work

Brand extensions make sense when they reinforce and strengthen the meaning of the brand.

The OXO brand of ergonomic, thoughtfully-designed kitchen tools is one example. It makes sense when OXO repeatedly introduces new tools that align with our understanding of the brand.

Dyson is another example of (mostly) effective brand extensions. After becoming famous for its revolutionary vacuum cleaner, Dyson was able to extend its ‘revolutionary air handling’ meaning into hand dryers, air purifiers and hair dryers.

Too often, though, brand extensions can run the risk of weakening a brand by blurring its meaning.


Uber: A Simple, Strong Brand

Uber successfully disrupted the urban transportation segment in the early 2000s by establishing itself clearly in people’s minds for one thing—a better taxi service.

Simple. Clear. Easy to remember and explain.


Uber Eats

In 2014, Uber saw an opportunity to leverage its technology and infrastructure to move into the growing field of food delivery.

Thus, Uber Eats was born. It’s like Uber, but now it transports food instead of you.

Just like that, a crystal clear picture in customers’ minds becomes just a bit blurry.

Uber Eats…But Different

If you watched the most recent Super Bowl, you may have spotted the Uber Eats commercial, announcing its latest extension-on-an-extension.

Uber Eats now delivers non-food items, from light bulbs to kitty litter.

The commercial shows celebrity customers, now confused about the brand, attempting to eat non-edible things that Uber Eats now delivers.

I’m not picking on the commercial itself. It’s fine. The agency executed on the brief they were given—I just think it was the wrong brief.

Continuing to expand what Uber means forces people to work harder to figure out how the brand fits in their lives. More work = less clarity.


An Alternate Approach

Back in 2014, rather than launching Uber Eats under the ‘Uber’ name, the company could have created an entirely new brand, built from day one to own the idea of delivery.

From this strategic position, the new company could launch with food delivery and easily expand to other items, without ever deviating from its core purpose.


What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

It’s easy to understand the appeal of brand extensions. It feels natural to launch new programs or services under your established name.

Before doing so, take a step back and ask yourself: Will this new offering make our core purpose more or less clear to our audience?

If it’s the former, consider launching it under your current brand.

If it’s the latter, it’s time to think about creating a new brand that can grow and prosper with its own unique meaning in customers’ minds.


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Was this helpful? What challenges are you facing in building and growing your organization’s brand? Let me know in the comments or email me at hello@shanestarr.com.