We tend to judge the likelihood of whether a brand extension will work on the compatibility that consumers will feel between the brand they know and the extension they are being asked to accept. As Brad VanAuken has observed, “Any brand extension into a new product category must reinforce one of those primary associations without creating new negative, conflicting or confusing associations for the brand. If this rule is followed, the brand extension will actually reinforce what the brand stands for.” In fact, providing that association is strong, Nigel Hollis says, “the fit between the brand and the category does not need to be based on a direct application of the brand’s functional credentials”.
The Need For Structure
Now, in a new study, Wharton marketing professor Keisha Cutright and co-authors James R. Bettman and Gavan J. Fitzimons of Duke University, contend that, alongside the quality of the product, the way it is marketed and the fit with the current identity, consumer psychology also has a role to play in whether a brand extension flies or flops. Specifically, the team identifies people’s feelings of control.
If people are in a situation or a position where they feel less in control than normal, they may be less inclined to stray from the tried and true. According to Professor Cutright, when people experience a lack of control in some aspect of their life, they yearn for greater structure. For this reason, they may see a brand extension as a step too far.
Control Is Subjective
Communication, the marketers found, was critical to consumers retaining that precious sense of being in control. Cutright and her colleagues also identified that certain demographics, such as older consumers and people on low incomes, feel less in control and, one would assume, are therefore less likely to ‘experiment’ with an extended brand offering. That same sense of lack of control applies to people who have experienced uncertainty, and a corresponding lack of structure, through a natural disaster for example, and even for employees who, faced with uncertainty over their jobs, may hesitate to push the boundaries by suggesting brand extension opportunities.