Broadening a narrow brand

Extending a narrow brand is a problem most companies face when they get out of their start-up phase. You’ve built a business selling time management software to vets and doctors and now you see your best chance of growth in adding accounting software to your portfolio.

A year down the line, you’re screaming inside your head as one of your oldest time management customers tells you about the great accounting software he just bought from your competitor.

“How”, you ask yourself, “did he not know that we did accounting software”?

We’ve all been there.

Extending a narrow brand image is far more of the communications exercise than strengthening a weak brand or recovering a negative brand. If you’re worried your brand image is too narrow it implies that you already have a viable product/service to promote. Your issue is that nobody’s heard of it.


Step One – raw materials to challenge a narrow brand image

Start the process of extending your brand image by working backwards. What materials are you going to need to prove your ability to supply a new product/service? The most powerful evidence is a case study. Nothing says “we can do it for you” more strongly than “we have done it for them”.

You need a customer before you can produce a case study. An Account-Based Marketing (ABM) approach works well when you’re looking for a specific type of customer. This sees you creating a detailed profile of a target customer, their problems, goals, management and staff. It’s the opposite of a mass-market approach.

ABM is quite an easy process to follow if you target an existing customer. Don’t let that make you think you can skip the research though. You’ve still got to persuade your customer to abandon their current supplier in your favour. ABM gives you the foundation on which to build a great pitch. Just be grateful that your research will be quicker because you already know the company.


Step Two – develop the narrow brand to broad brand pitch

In step two you develop the way you’re going to promote your over-looked product/service. It’s your communications plan. Like all communications plans, it should be based on customer needs or goals and value propositions. See our Little Black Book on Lead Generation for more details.

What makes this sort of communications plan different is your messaging. You’re not trying to promote your brand from scratch as much as you’re trying to expand your narrow brand, to extend what people already know about it.

Promote the hidden product/service as an logical extension of what you already offer. You want your customers to acknowledge that, for example, if you can build steel structures for houses, you can also build them for factories and railway platforms. You increase your customers’ confidence when you promote any skill or technology that is common between the product/service they know you for and the new product/service you’re promoting.

Don’t forget to build on the positive attributes people already know. This may be your customer care rating or NPS score. It may be your customer retention rate. Or your growth rate. Or the number of new qualifications your staff have gained. Or a new industry accreditation.


Step Three – target customers

There are two dimensions to identifying the potential customers you want to promote your unknown product/service to: existing customers and non-customers.

Your existing customers already know you. Identify which of them could use your over-looked product/service. Which of them see you as a narrow brand? If they could use your unknown product/service, it probably means they already buy it from one of your competitors. Who do they use? Why? How do you competitively position yourself against that competitor?

Other potential customers don’t know you as well. You need to promote your success with your well-known product/service as the reason you’re also good at supplying your new product/service.


Step Four – new channels to expand a narrow brand

If you’re promoting an unknown product/service into a new market, you going to need to find new communications channels. Global platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook will still work but you need to find new trade associations, publications, websites, podcasts, blogs and exhibitions through which you can promote yourself.


Side-Step One – extending your portfolio

The steps above assume you’re struggling to build awareness for a product/service you already offer. What if you know you need a new product/service to broaden your scope but you don’t know what that product/service should be? That’s a different problem.

This is where you’d come to that old darling of business schools around the world, the Ansoff Matrix. This proposes three attractive and one ambitious routes for growth.

The Market Penetration route could be described as the ‘could do better’ option. You’re not looking for new markets, you’re not developing new products, you’re just trying to sell more of what you already have. You’re trying to increase your market share. It’s often dismissed as unnecessary because we all like to think we’re competent professionals doing everything as well as it could possibly be done. Closer investigation normally shows there are plenty of ways to improve.

The Product Development route envisages you producing new products to sell to your existing market. The earlier example about producing accounting software to sit alongside existing time management software is a good illustration of Product Development. The advantage of this option is that you have a ready-made market in which you’ve already established your credibility. You’ve broken down most of the barriers to entry. Your problems come if you try to develop something that is not a logical extension of what you already do. Doctors might worry about the credentials of a software company that expands into the distribution of medical supplies.

The Market Development route envisages you selling what you already sell to new markets. Engine manufacturers are a great example. They sell engines to truck manufacturers, boatbuilders and generator suppliers. The challenge in Market Development is understanding the technical and commercial nature of the new market. Automotive engines, for example, are subject to very different emissions legislation than static engines in generators.

The ambitious route is Company Diversification, where you try to develop a new product to sell into a new market. It’s very difficult to establish credibility in a market that doesn’t know you for a product/service you’ve only just started promoting. That’s why most companies diversify by acquisition. They buy the expertise and experience they want to promote.

Virgin – all kinds of growth

Virgin is a company that’s tried practically every sort of growth strategy. It started life as a record company. Examples of its company diversifications include Virgin Atlantic (successful), Virgin Cola (not so successful) and Virgin Rail (successful for a while, not so much anymore). It’s also been extremely successful with product development, expanding its holiday portfolio to include Virgin Holidays, Virgin Voyages and Virgin Hotels. You might also say that its activities in space represent market development with Virgin Galactic addressing the well-heeled consumer market and Virgin Orbit addressing the commercial satellite market. In its early days, the launch of Virgin Megastores was a great example of market penetration as it gave the music production business a new and more direct route to its ultimate customers.

Growth is risk

Product Development, Market Development and Company Diversification share a common risk: your activity with a new product, market or product and market combination could damage your reputation in your established base. It’s comforting to assume that the strength of your existing brand will carry you through the growing pains you experience with new products. Be aware that it’s just as likely that the opposite will happen. The growing pains could damage or annihilate the strong brand you’ve taken years to build with other products.