Vision and Purpose Make Boundaries Disappear
The ability for a brand to stretch itself depends on how well-defined it is. There’s a loftier idea in place and that’s why certain companies like Nike are so successful at being able to flex and pivot. Nike expresses a bigger ambition, stating their goal is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world,” and in turn, they view everyone in the world as having the potential to be that athlete. “The best brands aren’t just about the individual products they sell,” notes Josh Line, SVP of Marketing Strategy at Viacom. “Great brands serve a powerful need in the lives of their consumers.”
In the same way, Ralph Lauren has come to epitomize American heritage, allowing it to be more than just a fashion retailer. No other company can claim they’re equally adept at outfitting the US Olympic team, opening a luxury dining establishment in midtown Manhattan, and providing the perfect paint color for your home or office.
A Powerful Brand Idea Attracts Fans
A broadly defined brand idea means that your brand can mean many things to different people, allowing room for growth and exploration into other spaces. This hinges on a big idea or emotion that can be successfully harnessed to help build out your fan base. Beyoncé’s independence. MTV’s continuing pop-culture relevance. Red Bull’s adrenaline-fueled lifestyle. These are concepts each brand is known for that draw people in, and as a result create flexibility for potential expansion. And while some seem obvious, others are more surprising:
• An athletics apparel brand that’s focused on high-quality materials has a signature beer: (Lululemon’s Curiosity Lager)
• A hotel that attracts a jet-set clientele introduces a helicopter charter service: (StndAir)
• A non-conventional religious leader releases a rock album: (Pope Francis & Believe Digital)
• An eco-friendly diaper line extends into a skincare collection:(Honest Beauty & Honest Company)
• A body care line informed by art and culture builds on their reputation with a literary platform: (Aesop’s The Fabulist)
Brand Flexibility Can’t Be Forced
The brands who stretch successfully often do so by finding a natural fit with their audiences. Take for instance the alignment of two ultimate civil servants—the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Housing Works (a New York based non-profit that acts as an advocate for the homeless and HIV+ individuals and is known for their stylish store windows). The Turtles’ custom interior design proved to be a seamless integration for the fellow do-gooder’s spring benefit auction.
Fashion designer Jeremy Scott of Italian fashion house Moschino has also experimented with brand flexibility. First in his Fall 2014 collection with the introduction of Sponge Bob Square Pants, and then again in his Fall 2016 ready-to-wear collection that paid tribute to The Ren & Stimpy Show. Each was a nostalgic nod to the millennials within his fan base who grew up watching the popular Nickelodeon cartoons.
While potential revenue extensions can be enticing, there’s also a risk in not aligning with the central idea of the brand itself. For example: A brand known for quick-service dining might do better with a quick-service dry-cleaning extension than a signature fragrance because it’s not a linear progression or a natural leap for fans.
The Future of Brand Flexibility
The constraints that once held brands hostage are being torn away as audiences continue to validate that they’re open to this shift from the norm… as long as it makes sense and feels true to the brand experience. Celebrity and corporate brand extensions will continue to flourish and grow if they stay strong and consistent, never deviating from their overarching message.
Ultimately, the more holistic the path is to your next brand extension, the better the outcome from fans and consumers.
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