Green-lighting the launch of a sub-brand, variant or extension to a new category is an exciting time for any brand manager. One important decision concerns the new launches’ brand identity – how to balance the existing identity of its parent brand, with creating the new launches’ own visual space. Creation of an identity that is too far from the parent brand risks under-leveraging existing parent assets. However an identity that is too close to the parent brand could compromise the visibility of the new launch. To paraphrase Goldilocks: How do you create a new launch identity that neither too far nor too close, but is “just right”?
In this piece I outline factors to consider when creating the identity of a new launch. For clarity I will use the label ‘new variant’ to refer to any new brand launch that draws on a brand name from the existing (“parent”) brand.
The first priority is to protect the parent
To warrant a new variant, the existing parent brand must have some measure of success; success that you should want to protect. In the excitement of launching a new variant within a category, it can be easy to lose sight of this bigger picture. Even if recent sales have declined, the sales the parent brand generates will continue to be important for the company’s bottom line, while the new variant is still unproven. Therefore the first priority should be to protect the parent brand, and make sure any decisions do no harm.
The basics of building a brand identity
The brand sits in the memory of your category buyers, like an anchor, to place all branded information in the same part of the brain. This information includes the various bits of information that are part of the brand’s identity, such as colours, logos, characters or jingles, which we call Distinctive Assets. The primary purpose of Distinctive Assets is to uniquely trigger the brand name in the minds of category buyers. For example the Yellow shaped M is how you know you will shortly pass a McDonald's on the highway, while if you pick up a triangle shaped chocolate bar, you can be pretty certain to have a Toblerone in your hand.
Building links to Distinctive Assets takes time, as category buyers need to establish and retain links between the colours, taglines etc and the brand name in their memory. To build these assets, you need:
Reach – so as many category buyers as possible build the link;
Co-presentation – so there is a direct link between the asset and the brand name anchor; and
Consistency – to refresh and retain existing links between the brand name and Distinctive Assets, and avoiding mental competition and fragmentation.
Consistency is particularly pertinent when considering new variants. The first step to effective brand architecture is to avoid a parent/new launch clash of identities. A new launch that competes rather than complements the parent brand identity leads to unproductive asset building activities. To avoid this clash, you need to know the strength of your parent brands’ assets.
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