“Many of the successful new product introductions each year are brand extensions, such as Apple’s iPhone, Godiva coffee, and Jeep strollers,” one group of researchers recently wrote. However, not all brand extensions are successful, they note in the report. “Consumers tend to respond more favorably to extensions that fit with their perceptions of the parent brand,” they state.

So, what must a marketer do to get customers to stretch and accept a product that doesn’t quite fit a brand’s established line? The researchers conducted a few experiments to determine what makes a brand “elastic.” Here are some of their findings.

First, a few consumer tendencies:

  • Consumers are more accepting of extensions into distant product categories for brands with prestige concepts (think Rolex) than brands with functional concepts (think Timex).
  • With functional brands, holistic thinkers provide more favorable responses to distant extensions than analytic thinkers. (Both groups respond equally favorably to prestige brand extensions, the researchers note.)

Then, some advice for marketers:

Use a sub-brand (e.g., “Excer wallets by Toyota”) instead of a direct brand (e.g., “Toyota wallets”) to reduce analytic thinkers’ resistance to a product stretch.

Use “elaborational communications.” These address “potentially problematic features of the extension, to reduce analytic thinking,” they write. (Example: Consumers are presented with a press release describing the “Excer wallet” to elaborate on its appeal.)

Match extension information with the consumer’s style of thinking. “Adjectives induce a holistic frame by encouraging a focus on global, abstract relationships; verbs induce an analytic frame by encouraging focus on specific properties and details,” they suggest.

Stretching doesn’t have to hurt. By applying a few tactics to address how consumers think, marketers may get shoppers to stretch and accept an innovative brand extension.

Source: “What Makes Brands Elastic? The Influence of Brand Concept and Styles of Thinking on Brand Extension Evaluation,” by Alokparna Basu Monga and Deborah Roedder John.