Gladwell On Brand Extension

Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out.  I’ve got his earlier two; The Tipping Point and Blink.  That doesn’t mean though that I’m a number-one-fan, next stop stalker.  His books lack flow and colour, making them a trial to push yourself through.  In terms of prose he could certainly benefit from the kind of electricity Freakonomics charges, for instance.  Nevertheless, keen to learn of his latest musing, I came across an article of his (beware: at 5,400 words it requires longer than a coffee break) from 04 entitled The Ketchup Conundrum.

I suspect in it, he deliberately set out not to make a point, rather providing a commentary.  If I were to write his conclusion, I would certainly promote a thesis.  It would be that every product manager should think of hundreds of extensions to their precious product.

Citing the success of a new style of mustard as a precursor to the vast range of spaghetti sauces now available suggests every product has a limitless number of tweaked variants.

This thinking of course collides violently with those that believe ‘less is more’  Brands should not be diluted at all.  Offering more alternate choices on the same theme confuses customers so much, they pop along elsewhere for an easier decision.

I do not inhabitat that space.  I remember having a slightly tiddly chat with a girlfriend during early evening drinks one Nineties evening, where I discovered that before embarking on a marketing career, she’d done a spot of lecturing.  We got to discussing marketing things we’d change.  The issue of non-existent product extensions arose.  I’d always been perplexed at this, as when I was first taught about the Product Life Cycle, such extension strategies are highlighted.  If, I frustratingly pondered, this kind of stuff is covered in Marketing 101, then why isn’t it everywhere?

She became highly animated.  It turned out she’d harboured similar frustration about her favourite countline snack; Maltesers.  We then had what seemed like hours of her talking about orange-chocolate ones, mint-centred ones, bigger ones, cream-filled ones, white-chocolate ones, square ones, hollow ones, naked ones and dark-chocolate ones.

You could be on the side of the debate that would think this isn’t the way to go.  Or you could be on my side, where all this is a must.  If so, then you as a solution salesperson probably have more control over how you sell you wares than you realise.  Your extension strategies, your ways of providing infinite choices, can involve creating new SKUs and new combinations of products.  Think on…

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