Before Branding A Subcategory, Ask 4 Questions
During my recent webinar around brand relevance, I noted as usual that you need to brand innovations in order to own them and to provide the basis for defining a new subcategory with a “must have.” Someone from the floor noted that over-branding can result and asked how that can be avoided.
Over-branding is a risk. Innovation champions usually inflate the potential importance of their ideas and are overly optimistic about sales impact, for both personal and professional reasons. When there is a policy in place to brand important innovations, these champions expect and usually receive a brand. After years of this pressure to support innovation with brands, the result can be a bewildering and unsustainable blizzard of brands that are not supported adequately and ultimately become, at best, expensive descriptors.
Any innovation that is a candidate for getting its own brand or sub-brand should be subjected to four key questions:
Do enough customers believe the innovation to be a “must have” so that it will support a new subcategory that competitors will have difficultly being relevant? It has to really matter in the marketplace. It cannot just be a “nice-to-have” feature.
Does it have legs? Will it be possible to create and maintain competitor barriers because the innovation is protected? Can it be improved on an ongoing basis because the brand will become dominate in the marketplace? If so, will the firm have the motivation and resources to build and maintain the brand over a long time horizon? If the brand, after an initial push, will not or should not be supported, then it should not be created in the first place.
Are there alternative uses of brand building resources? What is the opportunity cost of committing to a brand? A brand portfolio assessment needs to identify the strategic brands that will support strategy going forward. If a branded innovation does not have a strategic role, the value of investing behind it is reduced.
Is the innovation brand simply a descriptor? A descriptor brand that will lack brand building support needs to be self-communicating or be in a context in which its meaning is obvious.
It’s not easy to avoid over-branding, and it’s even harder to correct the problem by reducing the brand portfolio. One of the challenges of branding innovations is to walk the fine line between supporting market-changing innovations and creating brand proliferation, resulting in weak brands and marketplace confusion.
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