Brand Extension 101

When I put out a call for subjects you’d like me to cover in this blog, one of the first was for something on brand extension (thanks to James Butcher for the suggestion!). I’m going to cover a little about the considerations of brand extension, and give a bit of a 101 for anyone wrestling with this in their portfolio.

Hold up, Nicky – what is brand extension?

A brand extension is when you take an existing, established brand and apply it to a new product or service. It’s normally done to reach a new demographic, refresh brand perception, or expand the customer base & market – almost exclusively with the aim of increased revenue.

Who does this?

There are examples of this everywhere you look; Nature Reviews, Guardian Labs, Uber Eats, Cherry Coke, Virgin… Well, Virgin’s brand (over)extensions now cover space travel, so take your pick! I led the project at Nature Portfolio to review and organise the brand architecture and create a strategy around brand extension, so trust me when I say it’s really useful to think about this ahead of time, and to future-proof your decisions. A robust strategy for extension will save a lot of headaches down the line trying to unpick a complex portfolio (and what publishing house can say they don’t have complex portfolios? Anyone?).

Publishing activity has expanded rapidly into “commercial” or non-publishing revenue lines; branded content, advertorials, sponsored supplements, training, events… It’s incredibly important to understand the link back to your core brand and how these new areas impact it (especially when thinking about independent, peer-reviewed, trusted content like that in Nature).

Although it can feel like a quick way to expand a business and grow revenue, there are risks involved, and it’s wise to consider the following before you launch something new.

Things to consider before a brand extension:

Brand Equity
Assess the strength and recognition of your current brand. A strong brand can make it easier to enter new markets or launch new products, as consumers already trust the brand.

Ensure that the new product or market you’re considering for extension is relevant to your existing brand and target audience. There should be a logical connection or perceived benefit for consumers.

Portfolio Management

How does this fit into your brand architecture? Your governance structure? How will it tie in to the visual identity of your core brand? If the new products and services don’t carry the same promise/value to your customers, should they carry the name? How can you make any difference clear so market expectation is clear?

Maintain consistency in brand messaging, values (here I go again!), and quality across the original and extended products or markets. Inconsistencies can confuse consumers and weaken the brand.

Consumer Perception & Competitive Analysis
Alongside market research on the potential demand for the new product/service, make sure you ask customers about the impact on your existing brand. Will it enhance or dilute your brand image?

Risk Assessment
Consider the potential risks and challenges. Will a failed extension harm your core brand? What could that look like – is it worth the risk?

Brand Strength
Evaluate whether your brand is strong enough to support the new venture. If your core business is struggling, a brand extension may not be the best strategy and it might be time to review why your current brand isn’t resonating in your market. Back to the Mission, Vision and Values, I’m afraid!

If you’re considering licensing your brand to another company for extension, carefully choose partners that align with your brand values and quality standards and make sure you add safeguards which might include anything from quality control workflows and marketing oversight to legal protection and exit strategies.

Brand extension can be a powerful growth strategy when executed thoughtfully, but it carries risks. If I can help you to unpick a portfolio that’s grown rapidly and create some order and strategy, or if you are mulling over a brand extension and need some advice, please get in touch.