When Brand Extension Is a Good Strategy

Brand extension strategy illustration with design elements

Developing a consistent and easily recognizable brand is essential for building customer loyalty. It’s also a fundamental part of any successful marketing strategy. But sometimes, when you’re launching a new product or product category, a new service, or a big marketing campaign, it’s necessary to create additional guidelines that can accommodate that offering. When this happens, you’ll need to have an effective brand extension strategy in place.

When do you need a brand extension, and why can it make a huge difference for your organization? Let’s answer 3 frequently asked questions about designing a brand extension strategy.

What Is a Brand Extension?

Brand extension illustration with icons for font and color palette

Expanding your business comes with its share of challenges. For instance, while it’s always exciting to launch a new product or service, new questions arise in the process. If you’re targeting a different audience than you normally do, how can you hope to attract and retain their interest? And do you need to adjust your core messaging, and/or your brand’s look and feel, to talk about the new offering?

Oftentimes, your current branding doesn’t provide all the guidance or the flexibility you need in order to effectively represent and sell something new. And that’s where a brand extension strategy comes in. A brand extension isn’t a rebrand. Rather, it builds upon and expands your current brand to develop a product- or service-specific visual language. (Learn more about what a visual language is.)

Likewise, a brand extension might be a good fit when you’re designing a distinctive marketing campaign. In this case, you might be trying to reach a different audience from your usual target market. Or you may want to test different messaging or a distinctive tone to inject new life into your brand. Designing a custom visual language or brand extension for such a campaign is usually a good strategy.

When Do You Need a Brand Extension Strategy?

Illustration of branded marketing materials

A brand extension builds upon your brand equity — the trust and loyalty you’ve developed with your current customers. That means you won’t be starting from scratch. So you’ll want to make sure that your new branding doesn’t present too great a departure from your existing look and feel. Instead, it should evoke your current brand while making any necessary adjustments to appeal to a distinct audience and/or talk about a new product or service in a compelling way.

But what if your new product or service is a huge departure from your current offerings? When you’re extending into such a radically different market that it may be confusing for current customers, it can sometimes be a better choice to develop a separate brand, rather than extending your current look and feel. In this case, a brand extension may not be the best fit for you.

How Can You Design a Brand Extension Strategy?

Illustration of the design process for a brand extension strategy

The first and most important consideration when you’re determining how to move forward with a brand extension is audience. Who does your new product, service, or campaign seek to reach, and how does this audience differ from the core target audiences that your brand is designed to appeal to? For instance, they may be a younger or older demographic. Or, if you’re moving into a different part of the country or the globe, they may be geographically distinct. They could even have different interests. For instance, if you usually make dress shoes and now you’re making running shoes, you’ll be trying to reach a group with very different concerns than what you’re used to.

Audience will not only determine messaging and tone, but how you communicate with them visually. You may choose your color palette based on whether you want to inspire comfort or excitement. Fun and quirky illustrations will set a drastically different tone than realistic or minimalist ones. You’ll also need to determine whether your videos will feature animated motion graphics, live-action shots, or a mixture of both.

You’ll make similar decisions based on what your goals are. In fact, defining your goals is the second essential pillar to developing an effective brand extension strategy. Whether you’re trying to corner a new market in your industry or reach a whole new type of customer, you can’t achieve it until you name it. Your goals will similarly determine your strategy for differentiating the design and messaging of your brand extension from your core brand.

After identifying your target audience(s) and your goal(s), consider partnering with a consumer insights firm to gain a deeper understanding of what your audiences are looking for, and how you can make your brand truly speak to them. Custom research on your industry and your company’s place within it can help you identify new opportunities and innovative approaches.

A brand extension isn’t a rebrand, but it can feel just as challenging to design an effective strategy and make your launch a success. Consider partnering with a skilled visual communication and brand strategy agency to ensure that your brand extension meets — and exceeds — all your goals.

Erin McCoy

Author Erin McCoy

Erin McCoy is director of content marketing and public relations at Killer Visual Strategies. She earned her BA in Spanish with minors in French and Russian, and holds 2 master’s degrees from the University of Washington: an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literature. She has won nearly 2 dozen awards in photojournalism, and has dedicated those skills to boosting Killer’s brand recognition and thought leadership in visual communication. Since Erin took on her marketing/PR role, Killer has been named a member of the Inc. 5000 for 4 years in a row; has been featured in such publications as Inc., Forbes, Mashable, and the Huffington Post; and has been invited to present at such conferences as SXSW and SMX Advanced.

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