With Covid-19 in the rear view mirror and supply chain disruptions beginning to ease, what lies ahead for ambitious businesses looking to take their operations to new heights? For many, successful growth lies in expanding existing operations into new vertical markets or geographies – but this often comes with the need for brand stretch.

If you’re unaware of brand stretch as a strategy, this involves taking existing products or services and extending them into new markets, regions or forging a new path for them entirely. We can see this most recently in the Web3 craze, in which brands that could be considered ‘traditional’ stalwarts brands eagerly expanded into areas such as the metaverse, NFTs and cryptocurrency.

For many brands chasing the next digital trend, it isn’t necessary to achieve that level of brand stretch – it requires careful consideration of what your product does and for whom, and what additional value this can unlock in a new market. Think communications companies tailoring handsets for guests in the hospitality industry, or offering more secure services for highly regulated industries. After that, you need a savvy PR agency with local or market-specific knowledge to put in place an effective, content-based campaign to establish and cement your brand’s presence.

For this week’s Level Pitcher blog, we’re throwing it back to 2020, where we first discussed brand sentiment and plans for a highly disrupted, uncertain world – and the critical role of PR and marketing to unlock successful brand stretch without paying hefty sums for ill-fitting campaigns.

After the initial shock of the COVID-19 crisis, the gradually unfolding uncertainty, and the long adjustment to the ‘new normal’, most organizations are now getting ready to plan for the future. Determination and quick thinking are required as businesses draw up their conclusions on how they – and their focus industries – have fared in the crisis. This determination could be the creative spark that will decide the future of many industry players.

Evaluating your place in the world

For some, the pandemic has served as a reassurance that they ‘hit the spot’. Look no further than contactless payment terminals, scan-and-go shopping devices or AR remote assistance tools – financial institutions, FMCG retailers and software developers may have never anticipated that these innovations will not only make their customers more efficient, but also keep them safe.

Flicking the switch – brand stretch out of necessity

Many businesses had no time for reflection before they spotted the immediate opportunity to help out in the crisis. In the U.S., many industrial organizations have now answered the federal government’s call to prioritize manufacture of equipment, technologies, tools and materials required to fight the pandemic, which in turn helped introduce them to new supply chains and industries.

Across the pond, in Europe, British brewers and distillers have ‘flicked the switch’ on production from alcohol to hand sanitizer and Italian fashion brands are ditching the glamor to throw healthcare workers a lifeline. These examples of ‘brand stretch’ have shone the light on companies that exhibited remarkable flexibility and understanding of their business to come to the aid of thousands.

Re-evaluate and diversify to create a solid footing

Not all organizations have been lucky enough to find themselves in a sector where their products or solutions are in high demand during the crisis.

In a recent blog we highlighted how leaders have dealt with the crisis, and among them, the great example of Scarab Solutions, global experts of crop pest and disease mapping. They have been using the time provided by the lockdown to cross the T’s and dot the I’s as they get ready to break into a new market and make their horticultural technology accessible for open-field agricultural food production.

If the pandemic has shown critical weaknesses in your industry outside of your control, think outside of the box like our agtech client. In the technology sector especially, organizations that have developed solutions for a certain vertical market can now venture outside of their niche and see where else their technology is applicable. Maybe your existing products are not social-distancing-friendly, require too much hands-on support or employ too little automation. As companies begin to engineer their solutions to improve the product for their existing market, they might realize that improvements in product design make it a great fit for a new sector.

Question – will the brand stretch?

There are a mass of papers on the difference between brand stretch and brand extension and the market is littered with companies that tried brand stretch and failed – from Colgate known for toothpaste trying to get into the food market (you eat and then clean your teeth just didn’t work) to ‘Twitter Peek’, a mobile device from the now social networking service provider that failed to run even its own software. There are of course huge successes from M&As such as Volkswagen that bought the cheap and cheerful Skoda car company and opted to keep the brands separate so as not to tarnish the Volkswagen reputation – but added enough of its German manufacturing brand to uplift the Skoda into a quirky and reliable car.

Will your brand stretch? Check it out!

It’s worth considering some research to check customer and prospect acceptance, and if your brand will stretch as you intend it to. Entering a new market requires plenty of knowledge that surveys can uncover and undertaking such a project need not be complicated or expensive. Research company RavenCSI is providing free services for organizations to help them quickly survey their post-COVID-19 landscape and opportunities.

Your brand has value: Use it as a springboard – launching needn’t cost a king’s ransom

Once a new market opportunity is identified and the solution is at hand, it’s time to tell the world about it. But while innovators themselves might have been flexible, their marcom agencies do not always follow suit. Traditional, big-name PR agencies focus on the BIG project launch with the corresponding BIG fee – €15,000 – 20,000 a month is not unusual, and that is before any meat gets put on the bone! Their ‘old school’ business model needs fees.

Demonstrating credibility in a new market is key, so businesses need to choose a nimble marcoms agency that has experience in stretching with the brand – be that for a new industry segment or a new geography. IBA operates a global outreach hub with a proven Pitch&Place methodology that gets results quick, establishes experts as thought leaders in new markets and maintains a pattern of communications activity that gets brands noticed regardless of market or country.

Instead of locking into a rigid press campaign with a ‘big-name, big-fee’ agency, IBA provides PR and marketing support in a way that is flexible to immediate business needs but keeps long-term goals and brand vision top of mind. Single source, quick to get off the ground and costed by the deliverables, not by the hour, means you only pay for what you see!

Industries are changing – but the world hasn’t stopped spinning

Necessities can breed opportunities. Take stock of company competences, think open-mindedly about the future and if the COVID-19 crisis has opened new capability gaps that your solutions can fill, IBA is here to help you capitalize on the new market opportunities by communicating your unique capabilities. Get in touch if you would like to find out more.

Jamie Kightley is Head of Client Services at IBA International.

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