If violating any of the laws of marketing was a punishable offense, a large portion of corporate America would be in jail.
By far the most violated law of marketing is the law of line extension. What’s even more diabolical is that line extension is a process that takes place continuously with almost no conscious effort on the part of the corporation. It’s like a closet or desk drawer that fills up with almost no effort on your part.
One day a company is tightly focused on a single product that is highly profitable. The next day the same company is spread thin over many products and is losing money.
Take IBM. Over the years, IBM has been a mainframe computer company that made a ton of money. Then they evolved into a company that had everything, midrange computers, personal computers, pen computers, workstations, software, networks, telephones, and of course professional services. They even tried to get in the home computer market with the PCjr.
Along the way, IBM spent millions on copiers (later sold to Kodak), Rolm (sold to Siemens), Satellite Business Systems (shut down), the Prodigy network (which evolved into an ESPN website and a Yahoo content portal), as well as software products including SAA, TopView, OfficeVision, and OS2.
In the early 2000s, IBM was close to collapsing under its own weight. It diversified, sold off, or closed down most of these product lines and focused on world wide professional services.
When a company becomes incredibly successful, it invariably plants the seeds for its future problems.
Take Microsoft, without a doubt the most successful company in the software field. Microsoft has been heard to say it intended to aggressively seek the dominant share in every major software applications category in the personal computer field with a goal to have as much as a 70 percent share in every major software category.
Microsoft Corp has continued on its quest in line extension with online products (MSN), games (Xbox), and smart phones and mobile devices (Windows Mobile). Even with challengers in all these categories, as of 2008, MSFT had a global annual revenue over $60B with nearly 90,000 employees in 105 countries. It develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of software products for computing devices.
However, there continues to be ominous signs of softness in Microsoft’s overall strategy.
Whom does that sound like – IBM? Microsoft is setting itself up for a collapse along the lines of IBM ten years earlier.
When you try to be all things to all people, you inevitably end up in trouble. “I’d rather be strong somewhere,” said one manager, “than weak everywhere.”
In a narrow sense, line extension involves taking the brand name of a successful product and putting it on a new product you plan to introduce.
It sounds so logical. But marketing is a battle of perception, not product.
There are as many ways to line extend as there are galaxies in the universe. And new ways get invented every day. In the long run and in the presence of serious competition, line extension almost never works.
In spite of evidence that line extensions don’t work, companies continue to pump them out. Here are some examples
Ivory soap. Ivory shampoo?
Life Savers candy. Life Savers gum?
Bic pens. Bic lighters?
Tanqueray gin. Tanqueray vodka?
USA Today. USA Today on TV?
Why does top management believe that line extension works, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? One reason is that while line extension is a loser in the long term, it can be a winner in the short term (previous article titled The Law of Perspective). Management is also blinded by an intense loyalty to the company or brand.
More is less. The more products, the more markets, the more alliances a company develops, the less money it makes. “Full-speed ahead in all directions” seems to be the call from the corporate office. When will companies learn that line extension ultimately leads to oblivion?
Less is more. If you want to be successful today, you have to narrow the focus in order to build a position in the prospect’s mind.
In the conventional view, a business strategy usually consists of developing an all-encompassing vision. In other words, what concept or idea is big enough to hold all of a company’s products and services on the market today as well as those that are planned for the future?
In the conventional view, strategy is a tent. You stake out a tent big enough so it can hold everything you might possible want to get into.
For many companies, line extension is the easy way out. Launching a new brand requires not only money, but also an idea or concept. For a new brand to succeed, it needs to be first in a new category (previous article titled The Law of Leadership). Or the new brand needs to be positioned as an alternative to the leader (previous article titled The Law of the Opposite). Companies that wait until a new market has developed often find these two leadership positions already preempted. So they fall back on the old reliable line extension approach.
The antidote for line extension is courage, a commodity in short supply.
It takes a while but many Internet Marketing entrepreneurs resist the pressure to extend the equity of their brand. As a result, they participate in Affiliate Marketing programs. They use various methods, tools, and follow a traffic formula to build relationships with their leads and customers. They build websites that create trust. They collect name and email addresses using an opt-in form on a Landing Page. They use email systems with both auto-responders and broadcast capabilities in order to send messages to their leads and customers. These email messages frequently send information, provide knowledge, and occasionally promote an offering. Many Internet Marketing entrepreneurs learn that leads and customers do not like to be sold to however they will browse and shop. Over an extended period of time, skilled Internet Marketers are able to use hypnotic writing skills, in their marketing campaigns, to get leads and customers to take the action they want. This is how they learn to add value and leverage the equity in their list and be successful in the world that includes the Law of Line Extension.
It looks easy but marketing is not a game for amateurs. Marketing is not a battle of products. It is all about the strategy you use to benefit from the Law of Line Extension as there is an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of their brand.