Thursday, October 2, 2008

Life's a journey. So is building a brand. Accidents happen!

Some time back I saw a few Samsonite outdoor hoardings advertising their range of shoes. These ads made me curious and when I visited malls I made it a point to visit Samsonite outlets. The shoes were impressive to say the least. However, that they are from Samsonite the brand made me a little uneasy. Tough to imagine a situation when I would say that I'm wearing Samsonites!

Brand extensions can often prove dangerous. I was just going through some articles to understand what made the company think of launching shoes under the Samsonite brand. And this is what the president, Samsonite South Asia, said in an article: “We are diversifying from a luggage to a lifestyle brand and may look at an entry into travel-related categories like eyewear, perfumeries and watches in future. The company is hoping the strategy would help it reduce its reliance on the luggage business."

What's happened at Samsonite is that they've confused 'company' with the 'brand'. The company can diversify into other categories but not necessarily the brand. Out here it seems that the brand and the company are considered the same. Look at the statements again:

We are diversifying from a luggage to a lifestyle brand and may look at an entry into travel-related categories like eyewear, perfumeries and watches in future. The company is hoping the strategy would help it reduce its reliance on the luggage business.

Samsonite is a brand and it happens to be the name of the company as well. However, for the consumer, Samsonite means high quality leather bags and suitcases. Now if the company says Samsonite means travel, does the consumer say Samsonite is 'travel'? No way! Travel is an act, an abstract concept. Or, does the consumer think Samsonite means travel-related accessories? Does the existing strongly-entrenched perception of Samsonite play no role? Does the consumer understand that the company wants to reduce its reliance on the luggage business? No way! The only thing that he remembers is that Samsonite stands for high quality leather bags and suitcases and that's why he buys Samsonite.

Also, the power of the brand has been undermined because the marketing think-tank has given into certain concepts like 'lifestyle'. Let me explain this further. What is 'lifestyle'? When you buy a Samsonite bag, do you say to yourself that you've bought a lifestyle brand? Does the consumer understand 'lifestyle brand'? Lifestyle, whatever it means, is a term internal to the marketing think-tank not to the consumer. His interpretation and use of the term 'lifestyle' is quite different. If Samsonite becomes a lifestyle brand, for the consumer it means almost nothing.

If Samsonite introduces products like shoes, eyewear, perfumeries and watches under the pretext that the brand stands for 'travel' and 'lifestyle', and spends heavily on letting the consumers know that Samsonite is 'travel' and Samsonite is bags, suitcases, shoes, eyewear, etc. etc. then it might succeed in confusing the consumer in addition to eroding the brand's current position.

Building a brand is a journey. Journeys could be fatal, when you drive thinking you own the vehicle and you own the terrain. Beware, accident-prone zone!