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Kurt Hanson: De-Extending Your Brand

starbucks popPassing through O’Hare on my way to Boston this morning I stopped at a Starbucks and noticed that they are in the process of switching out the brand of popcorn they sell: As shown in the accompanying photo, they’re replacing their “Starbucks” brand of popcorn with a third-party product called “Pop!”

This makes perfect sense: Whatever positive characteristics are denoted by the Starbucks brand, they don’t seem particular relevant to the product category of popcorn. (For chocolate-covered caramels, the Starbucks brand seems fine; cocoa beans and coffee beans seem similar, and chocolate-covered caramels are a logical and delicious accompaniment to a cup of coffee. Popcorn, not so much.)

Applying this philosophy to radio: In the past decade, I’ve talked to (and in some cases even worked with) lots of broadcasters who want to “extend their local brands online” — exactly as Starbucks a few years ago thought it was a good idea to extend their brand into popcorn.

But, in fact, I have come to believe that a fresh new brand created for the new product category makes a lot more sense.

kurt hanson aboutThe core attributes of the “Mix 109 FM” brand (to use a fake example; the FM band doesn’t actually go up that high) have to do with ubiquity of access on AM/FM devices, a reasonably tight playlist of one’s favorite songs (all within a single genre,) affable air personalities, information services during morning drive, and so forth.

Virtually none of these characteristics transfer well to an online product. Online, consumers seem to prefer a wider range of genres, deeper playlists, little if any DJ patter, no extraneous information services, and the ability to personalize the music stream.

So why use a legacy-media brand for a new-media product? I don’t believe it makes any more sense than using a coffee brand for a salty snack product.

To close with one more analogy, let’s switch to another of my favorite product categories: Hamburgers.

McDonald’s may perceive that there’s a new big category opportunity opening up in fast-casual gourmet burger dining. (Just as the Internet is a new delivery system for a different type of radio, so are waitresses a new delivery system for a different type of burger.)

So, should McDonald’s try to “extend their brand” into this new delivery mechanism, opening up, say, a “McDonald’s Gourmet Burgers” chain of restaurants?

I don’t believe so; I believe a fresh new brand would work a lot better for their purposes.

Sure, launching a new, purpose-specific brand will be a slower start — but I believe it is far more likely to lead to a bigger payoff.

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Kurt Hanson

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