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Crossover brands: Beyond linear extensions

We have conventionally believed that brand extensions work in adjacent categories where the core benefit of the brand can be extended to a related category.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2011 23:07 IST

We have conventionally believed that brand extensions work in adjacent categories where the core benefit of the brand can be extended to a related category. This saves money and time and can potentially strengthen the equity of the master brand. Extensions are common — Gillette deodorants, Colgate toothbrushes, Dettol soap, Knorr snacks and Walls ice-cream parlours. Crossover brands are a step beyond. While brand extensions rely on strong linear and evidence based marketing, crossover brands are fuelled by intuitive leaps of thinking. They borrow from a strong identity and a compelling set of values and express it in a completely different category with speed.

The Virgin brand is a fantastic example of crossover branding — airlines, records, bridalwear, holidays, vodka, cars, bank accounts, mobile phones, cosmetics, condoms, gyms. Starbucks’ push into music and retail labels striding into financial services is the other example. FMCG and consumer durable brands have made small crossovers within a broad definition of the category. Home appliance brands — Philips, Whirlpool, Sony and Samsung — have extended across the space to offer televisions, audio visual systems, washing machines, refrigerators and microwaves.

But the most game changing crossover brand in recent times is undisputedly Apple’s iPhone. At 20.3 million units, it was the largest selling smart phone, pushing Nokia to its lowest ever share since 1999.

Crossover brands need two qualities: one, they should own a space (usually a word or phrase) in the mind and two, they shouldn’t be anchored in a category. The word “own” is critical. Innovation (Apple), fun (Virgin), eccentric (Absolut). The brand should be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word.

While Volvo owns “safety”, it is quite anchored in automobiles. Similarly Colgate (dental care), Infosys (information technology) are shackled to their categories. It may be difficult for these brands to attempt true crossovers.

The next step is to find categories where the brand space can change the game. The question to ask is: “In which categories can the brand space change the key dimensions of competition?”

Apple can pretty much enter any category, as long as it can deliver genuine innovation. It can build iVans (smart vehicles) and iHealth (smart personal health management devices) and turn the category on its head. Absolut has the potential to change the rules of the game in the online gaming industry.

Closer home, the Mahindra group has employed a hybrid strategy. Mahindra has crossed over from automobiles and engineering into IT, financial services, real estate, leisure and entertainment, retail and other sectors with smart variations of the Mahindra corporate brand.

Here’s looking at a few opportunities:
Google schools: a brand that organises the world’s information can be trusted to translate information in to insight and inculcate values of integrity, curiosity and diligence in the future generations. Google education apps would ensure that the education is cutting edge and engaging.

Apple iSpaces: can be the most innovative workspaces on the planet with the trademark minimalist design, superb engineering and finish and delightful user interfaces. Modular office units with intuitive touch screen walls to display presentations, spreadsheets, personal photographs and streaming videos.

Dell second homes: would be customised — you can select the size, the form, the specifications of floor finishes, bathroom fixtures and furnishings from an online cafeteria, approve the budget and your custom-made home would be ready in 18 months.

Virgin cars:for the young, upwardly mobile.Simple and fun,they could make driving a pampering experience with thermal massage seats, drive assist navigation systems and pothole sensors (especially in Mumbai). Virgin service centres could be like entertainment hubs.

People brands have a huge crossover potential. Filmstars turned politicians (Regan, MGR, NTR, Jayalalitha) are the best examples. Aamir (perfection) and SRK (suave)can both be potential crossover brands, though the categories for them to jump into are very different. In spite of his popularity, Hritik might not be a potential crossover brand as he doesn’t own a territory in our minds.

What opportunities do crossover brands open for businesses? When businesses sit down to develop their strategies they should begin with the brand. Is there a lighthouse brand which can cross over to the category and be a game changing player? Which one? Why? How? Alternatively, is their brand capable of a crossover? Why? Where? The answers would be very rewarding.

The writer is COO, Piramal Realty