Managing brand images and building brand portfolios are difficult challenges even for the most seasoned executives. This is particularly true in hard economic times when consumers are prone to forego known names to buy less expensive store brand substitutes. The recent example of Pampers diapers illustrates many of the challenges and some of the opportunities available to marketers to increase the value of their brand franchise.

The Case of Pampers

When you think Pampers you think of what-diapers of course-expensive diapers at that. These rather narrow associations were not helping the Pampers brand.

Although the brand commands a 24% share in the diaper category, it was and is now under siege from lower priced counterparts, particularly in the wake of new and improved store brands that have greatly upped quality. The economic recession doesn't help-particularly since Pampers' price is 50% higher than that of store brands. Nor did Pampers' advertising which, since 1961 had changed relatively little and tended to talk down to mothers. Pampers (and other diapers) are also in some sense responsible for their own slowed growth as improvements in diapers means fewer diaper changes (see Emily Nelson, Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2001, B1).

How can companies build and enhance their brand franchise-both deepening the meaning of the core brand and insulating the brand from price-based competition? Attention to a few simple concepts provides a start.

Brand Longevity through Line Extensions

Keeping customers around as long as possible is a problem for products like diapers since parents' desires for potty training force even loyal users to give up the product after a few years. Natural aging make the product obsolete among core customers-fueling expensive attempt to garner new customers.

Pampers' line extensions however, are aimed at keeping customers initially happy with the Pampers brand loyal for as long as possible. Different lines are offered for boys and girls and diapers are offered for different stages of kids' development. Diapers for newborns offer extra absorbency, toddler diapers have stretchy sides for crawlers and pull on pants type diapers are offered for toddlers and preschoolers who can't yet make it through the night.

Market Development through Brand Extensions

While retaining customers through line extensions is a no brainer, a much more difficult decision is how the brand franchise can be built through brand extensions. A brand extension is a management strategy in which a well known brand name (e.g., Pampers) is used to promote a new brand in a different category (e.g., Pamper's bibs).

Marketing academics have identified two basic strategies for engaging in brand extensions-(1) extend the brand to product categories that share similar features to the parent brand or (2) extend the brand to product categories that serve similar goals to the parent brand. The two strategies offer very different insights into potential extension options.

Extensions Based on Similar Features

The first-called extensions based on taxonomic category structure-suggests that one think about diapers as a subcategory of a larger taxonomic category (e.g., absorbent paper products). Conceptualized this way, Pampers could extend to other product categories that are part of this broader taxonomic category structure-- categories like diaper wipes, disposable paper bibs, napkins, tissues, as well as other products potentially outside the baby category (e.g., toilet paper, sanitary products, paper towels).

With this strategy, the brand franchise is built on what the product is-an absorbent paper product.

Extensions based on Similar Goals

An alternative is to look beyond what the product is-to what it does.

Broadly speaking, Pampers could be conceptualized as a brand that "protects kids from the elements". This type of reasoning-called extensions based on goal derived category structure-suggests that one look for core benefits or goals that the brand fulfills and extend to other products that serve similar goals.

Conceptualized as a brand that "protects kids from the elements" Pampers could extend to a broader array of categories, including bibs, diaper wipes and tissues, but also products like warm and protective clothing, antibacterial lotion, sunscreen, protective gear (like bicycle helmets, knee pads), safety latches for toilets and electrical outlets, and so on.

Of course other goals could be identified, suggesting different brand extensions and different meaning to the core brand. Comfort as a goal might lead to extensions such as baby blankets, pacifiers, wipe warmers and the like. A different goal-such as "fun" might lead to altogether different extensions like toys, mobiles, books, playmates and the like.

Being Strategic

Strategic thinking is key here. While there are a number of possible directions to pursue in developing brand extensions, one strategy must be selected. If too many directions are pursued, the brand loses focus and consumers become confused about what the brand stands for and why they should buy it. The extensions should fit together as a package to deliver a unified message about the meaning of the brand. Extensions to toilet paper, protective gear, and mobiles, for example, would leave consumers scratching their heads about just what Pampers is and why they should buy it.

Sequential Brand Extensions

A final issue in managing the brand franchise has to do with when a brand extension should be introduced relative to other extensions. Consider, for example, the fact that Pampers does want to extend its name to sunscreen. Going immediately from diapers to sunscreen could pose some problems. Not only is Pampers linked with expensive diapers, its association with diapers links the product with another set of not so pleasant associations-think malodorous bowel byproducts.

Extending the brand name from diapers to say-sunscreen-represents a potential challenge since consumers may immediately think that the product is- well, not so sweet smelling.

However, extending first from diapers to pleasant smelling diaper wipes and then to sunscreen applied through a wipe based product eliminates that immediate association. The sweet smelling wipe is not only linked logically with diapers and protection, one of its critical ingredients (its scent) counters and otherwise inappropriate association that might be transferred to the sunscreen extension.

Again, strategic thinking is required here. A company brainstorming session might identify a bunch of potential extensions (and licensing opportunities) that fit the goal derived category "things that protect kids from the elements". Among those that seem feasible, tactical considerations of when each should be introduced relative to others is helpful in building a core brand image that doesn't run into interference from other associations linked to the brand.

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image of Debbie MacInnis

Dr. Deborah J. MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, and a co-author of Brand Admiration: Build a Business People Love. She has consulted with companies and the government in the areas of consumer behavior and branding. She is theory development editor at the Journal of Marketing, and former co-editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. Professor MacInnis has served as president of the Association for Consumer Research and vice-president of conferences and research for the American Marketing Association's Academic Council. She has received the Journal of Marketing's Alpha Kappa Psi and Maynard awards for the papers that make the greatest contribution to marketing thought. She is the co-author of a leading textbook on consumer behavior and is co-editor of several edited volumes on branding.