I want to follow up on Peter’s great post about Google and its march toward brand dilution with its latest venture, a local/online delivery service. You might scratch your head and ask why are they doing this, but remember this is the same company that is also developing autonomous, self-driving cars so that we can devote our full attention to its search engine while we’re on the road.
What Google is doing, diversifying outside its core brand, is a path that many large, successful companies have taken when they have a lot of money and think they should be everything to everyone. Does anyone remember when Pierre Cardin was a huge haute-couture clothing brand that most people couldn’t afford to own? They served the wealthiest of the wealthy who wanted people to know they had made it by the clothes they wore. Then, in its need to grab more and more market share, Cardin began licensing out its brand in diverse product categories that didn’t match its couture image; eventually the company lost its core customers who no longer stood out from the crowd. Today, Cardin’s counterparts, Gucci and Prada, are also on a similar path as their brands are now worn by teenagers and working women everywhere. They no longer have the cache they once had. On the other hand, Hermes, known for its $10,000 handbags and scarves, is still a bastion for the super-rich and so far it hasn’t let greed overcome its mission to serve its exclusive customers. It’s brand has remained intact.
One company that has succeeded in extending its brand across diverse platforms is Virgin
, Richard Branson’s global conglomerate. It has successfully tackled entertainment, travel, and space; but even Virgin fumbled when it tried Virgin cola, Virgin jeans, and Virgin vodka. The truth is you can’t have it all, even if you are Richard Branson.
So what’s the solution? After all, if your company is successful, it has to continue to find new and more exciting ways to grow and serve its customers. If you don’t, you’ll lose momentum, and customers will begin to look elsewhere. However, at the same time you’re rapidly growing your brand, it is grabbing lots of attention—all eyes are on you and your next move. Look what happened when Steve Jobs passed away. Apple’s customers are still holding their breath, worried that their beloved brand will change. And look at how we’re all watching Google to see if its new venture fails or succeeds in adding yet another way that Google is part of everyone’s life. The smallest glitch in its new business will receive a ton of negative press from the “I told you so” crowd; but if it’s successful, it will garner massive amounts of positive press and that will spur the company to take on ever more divergent opportunities. Managing your brand is a real balancing act.
If you want a great brand, you have to take care of it. If you’re lucky enough to build a brand that achieves momentum, don’t forget that it’s your core customers who got you there and who are driving that growth. Stay close to the customers who define your brand; they will tell you when you need to diversify and where to take your brand.