I like to explain brand definition by relating brands to products. If you wonder about brand offerings, and are considering extending a brand read on and then ask yourself the hard question about whether extending the brand will help or hurt the brand.

Consider the Mustang car. It has enjoyed a long term success. Maybe not as successful in these difficult days for US car makers, but still a long serving, successful brand. It has been a sporty two door small but powerful car. A plaything for the driver.

Let’s say you were charged with creating added volume and you were in charge of the Mustang brand.  You would have to ask yourself  how can you increase sales. Let’s say your bonus depends on it.

Clearly the Mustang is a limited brand. In a world where the vast majority of passenger cars have four doors, the Mustang is playing in a small sub-set by having only two doors.

Think of the volume potential of being able to compete in the huge majority market that features four doors.

Why not introduce a “four-door-Mustang” to provide an option to the vast majority of buyers who are looking for a four door vehicle?

The answer is that the two-door nature of the Mustang is an inherent requirement of the brand’s sporty personality. Once it is a four door, practical car it is no longer a Mustang. And it undermines the two door version of the brand. Why? Because it becomes a practical sedan which is not consistent with a sporty, plaything.

Same would be true of other cars that owe their identity to being a two door, performance vehicle – like the Camaro.  Or to products or retailers where a product feature both limits and defines the brand.  Break the limit and you “undefine” the brand.

That’s what happened to the Thunderbird years ago. It started life as a two door luxury sporty vehicle. By the time it went to four doors it had lost its zest. It was no longer sporty; it was just another family car and eventually it died. When it was reborn a few years ago, it was reborn as a two door.

What I am saying is not that cars should be two doors only. But that there are some aspects of a brand that are inherent to its identity. That define it.

Once you cross those lines, the brand becomes diluted and starts to be eroded. It might be possible to increase sales by exploiting the brand into new areas, but be careful that the exploitation is not the undoing of the brand. Like a four door Mustang would be.

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