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A brand is an idea in the mind of the consumer whose power lies in the ability to influence purchasing decisions.
The marketing activity called "branding" is all about the focusing the idea down to that "one word" which is uniquely you and planting it inside the reader's mind to establish and grow your "position" there. You may want to review some of the earlier entries in this series here to learn more about how to focus your marketing in order to strengthen your brand. Today's entry in the series discusses the idea of "subbranding" which is another way of saying "ways to weaken your brand. Click through the jump-break to learn what subbranding is and how to avoid doing it.
What is a Subbrand?
The Law of Subbrands asserts that what the branding activity builds, subbranding can destroy. The reason why is the same reason that applying Immutable Law of Marketing (for Indie Authors) Law 9 (Law of Opposites) succeeds. The problem is, applying Law of Opposites to your own brand isn't hurting the competition; it's self-destructive.
It's easier to see what a subbrand is through illustration, so I'll use the examples Ries gives in his original book (The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding) on which this series is based. He uses brands, which were strong until they started subbranding:
Cadillac branded themselves as an upscale domestic automobile manufacturer--that is, a "Made in the USA" alternative to expensive European cars. Wealthy Americans could be patriotic and stylish in their automotive choices.
Then Cadillac wanted to offer an alternative, less-expensive car to people who couldn't afford a Cadillac or didn't want a large vehicle. A smaller, cheaper Cadillac Cimarron. Isn't that the opposite of "expensive"? The subbrand was short-lived and probably not even remembered by most of you reading this.
Waterford branded themselves as an equisitely crafted, very expensive fine lead-crystal manufacturer. To own Waterford crystal was a mark of your class and opulence.
Then Waterford wanted to offer lower-cost crystal to the middle-class who couldn't afford to buy fine lead-crystal glasses (this was targetting the wrong market in direct violation of Immutable Law of Marketing 13!) Immediately, Waterford crystal lost its lustre of "exclusivity" and "elite only" ownership. In the USA, Waterford never recovered their popularity or allure.
There is one subbrand which Ries uses an example and which actually worked--for the subbrand, not the original brand.
In the 1980s, Donna Karan was a designer of haut coutre, luxury clothing designs that were attainable only on the runways of Milan, Paris and the high fashion circuit. By the mid-90s, she wanted to reach the average consumer who could not afford high-fashion designer clothes but wanted to feel as though they could.
Same problem as Waterford, right? DKNY was borne and unlike Waterford, the less-expensive, DKNY subbrand available in all popular department stores became very popular among the middle-classes. Even the upper classes began wearing DKNY as everyday wear.
In Karan's case, as I said, the subbrand campaign to be "opposite" the main brand was so successful, DKNY persists today--and is strong--while Donna Karan's original line was sold off to the luxury-product conglomerate handling high-end fashion, LVMH, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy. This was very smart of Donna Karan. Rather than losing both markets, Karan salvaged the lower-end DKNY brand and has grown it by focusing on it exclusively.
In fact, slowly but surely, she has crept the DKNY Brand up the price brackets and infused a certain flair of high-end fashion panache. Click here to see her 2012 fall lines and you'll see what I mean. Not your average department store bargains while also not quite haut coutre. Karan created a new category--her own--and she is the leader in it.
Why Subbranding Does Not Work
The number one reason is that subbranding violates the immutable laws of marketing. I'm not just saying that to use buzz words. Ries was not just saying that to validate his own terminology. The reality is, you cannot launch your own system of marketing in conflict with what the customers perceive. Perception is everything--whether you like it or not.
By deliberately making a subbrand "opposite" your main brand, you are basically competing against yourself. You might as well, close shop and not waste the marketing dollars trying to put yourself out of business.
The essence of a brand, recall, is the idea or attribute which you can own in the minds of the consumers and, as a result, influence their purchasing decisions. If you have established yourself to be "A" and then launch subbrand "Aa," you cannot expect "A" to remain a strong, clearly-defined concept anymore. In other words, you have destroyed your "position" in your prospect's mind.
Because branding succeeds or fails in the mind of the consumer, you must use the concepts inside their minds, not create your own or dilute one you previously established. The new definition of what you just managed to get them to accept will lose all meaning. Worse, the tendency toward the "over-simplified mind" will cause the customer to toss out all of your branding efforts and you'll have to start from scratch.
Cadillac recovered from their misstep by refocusing on being the high-end, American-made luxury car they were originally.
Waterford never recovered their lost market. They're not out of business. As Immutable Law of Marketing Law 7 (Law of the Ladder) points out, there will always be a small market for "low-interest" (high-cost, not bought in high-frequency or large quantity) products. However, Waterford's name is no longer common among the middle- and lower-classes as something to which to aspire to own. In fact, the Waterford brand might not even be known to the middle- and lower-classes as something still available today. It might well be thought of as a thing of the past, like a Ford Model T car.
DKNY recovered by abandoning the high-end line and focusing on the new brand.
Subbranding an Indie Author
So how, you might wonder, does any of this apply to Indie Authors and the publishing industry? We've talked about the Law of Line Extension--and the evils thereof--in both Immutable Law of Marketing Law 12 and Immutable Law of Branding Law 10. For an Indie Author, the concept of subbranding is the same as extending our Author Brand into a new genre instead of spawning a new Brand Name (pen name) under which to do business in the new genre. Subbranding in the Indie Publishing business definitely would be like competing against yourself. You might even end up virtually repositioning yourself--as though you were the competition. Don't do it. Follow the advice of Immutable Law of Marketing Law 12 and Immutable Law of Branding Law 10. Stay focused.
Tomorrow's Tuesday Tip will be another entry in the miniseries on Amazon/Shelfari's Book Extras. Hope to see you then. Thanks for stopping by!