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Branding: Positioning for Extinction?

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I just came across Laura Reis’ post about why Weber should limit their brand name to charcoal grills (excluding gas) and I just have to disagree.

Laura says:

Trying to cover all the new emerging categories with one brand name will weaken your brand in the mind of the consumer as new brands are launched by specialists. Keep Weber as a “charcoal” brand, period. And launch the gas grills with a new brand name. Maybe even a new name for the portable gas grills…

After you build a leading iconic brand, the last thing you want to do is undermine it with a line extension that goes against the core belief of the brand… You build brands by being first. Weber was the first covered-kettle grill.

OK… so following that logic, the railroads were actually smart to think of themselves as being in the railroad business instead of the transportation business. And IBM was definitely wrong in putting the IBM name on PCs and services when mainframes became obsolete. And McDonald’s was wrong to add salads to its menu because it goes against their “hamburger” positioning. Following this logic, there is no reason to launch line extensions and new products under the same brand name, regardless of changes in the market. Hmmm.

I guess I see things a bit differently. When you position your brand on what you do (charcoal, hamburgers, computers), it can only lead to extinction. Rather, base your positioning on how you do it (ie. a higher-level benefit), which allows you more flexibility over time. Google’s brand position isn’t search, it’s organizing the world’s information. Nike isn’t shoes, it’s passion. McDonald’s isn’t hamburgers, it’s convenience.

And back to Weber. A quick search shows that while the grill industry is flat, shipments of charcoal grills are down 32% while gas grills are up 83%. The article states:

“Right now, grillers and barbecuers are looking for more convenience, more safety and more versatility. Because they are easier to use, LP gas grills have shown steady growth in sales over the past few years. Most grill owners (55%) say their next purchase will be a gas grill as opposed to 29% who plan to buy charcoal grills.”

So in a nutshell, Laura is suggesting that the Weber brand should just die out with charcoal grills.

The Weber brand is far bigger than charcoal. A more flexible position that’s loaded with emotional attachment is tied to backyards and barbeques. As Laura noted, Weber’s been around since 1952; there are a lot of collective backyard memories tied to Weber. That’s where the brand equity lies… not in a lifeless piece of charcoal.

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Jennifer Rice is the founder of Mantra Brand Communication. She has extensive experience in brand/marketing strategy, market/customer research, integrated marketing communications and channel support.

Jennifer also writes theWhat’s Your Brand Mantra? blog which offers musings on branding, marketing and the ecology of business.

Branding: Positioning for Extinction?
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