Jennifer Rice's post regarding comments made by Laura Ries on Weber's brand stretching created a veritable firestorm of debate. Laura's not a big fan of extension, and suggested that Weber should have created a new brand when going from charcoal barbeques to gas grills. Jennifer countered that Weber were right to extend into gas grills to avoid "extinction". Jennifer is right in my book. The massive cost of creating and maintaining new brands means they should be a last resort, not the first port of call as is the case in the Ries school of thinking.
A simple way of checking if a new brand is needed is to consider the degree of stretch from the current brand perception on 2 axes (see the image below from Brand Stretch). The first dimension is "functional stretch": how credible is it for consumers that the brand can offer this product?. The second dimension is emotional stretch, the difference in terms of personality of the new extension. Things that can drive a big stretch here include target audience (e.g. much younger) and value position (e.g. much more premium). Surely the stretch on both these dimensions for the Weber example is limited?
In cases like this when the stretch is small, then an "ownable descriptor" is the best bet. An example of this is Bacardi Limon flavoured rum. Only if the stretch on both dimensions is big should a sub-brand be used, as Bacardi did with Breezer for their ready-to-drink offering (more of the risks of this later...). A new brand should be considered only when brand stretch is so big that the elastic snaps.
And remember, as long as you have a great "sausage" (i.e. product), consumers are willing to accept a lot more stretch than many brand owners. And as long as the extension is building a big brand idea, the risk of brand dilution is limited.
5 minute Workout: if you're working on a brand extension, ask how big the stretch is on the funtional and emotional axes. Based on the result, are you using the optiumum branding approach?