Is Brand Extension Possible? The Concept of the Umbrella Brand

by Sean D'Souza

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Imagine you had five kids.
Imagine they were all boys (oh, perish the thought!)
Imagine you called them John.

As in John, John 2, John 3, John 4, John 5.
We’re bordering on the ridiculous here, aren’t we? I mean this naming convention you’d never consider in a squillion years.

But what if you do have five products? Or five services?

What do you do then? How do you go about naming your products? Do you completely leave your brand name out of the entire product range?

And if you do, then what about the trust you’ve built in your brand. You’ve spent time and money, building a reputation out of your premier brand. Surely, there’s a way to brand extend.
Maybe, just a teenie-weenie loophole somewhere.

Um, there’s silly news. And good news.

Let’s tackle the good news first. The fact is, your brand needn’t be thrown out with the Thursday trash. Yes, there is a tiny, tiny loophole.

A loophole called the umbrella brand.
Take magazines like Men’s Health, Prevention, Runner’s World, Bicycling, Mountain Bike,Backpacker, Women’s Health, and Best Life.

What’s common between them? Yeah, they kind of fit loosely in a health and fitness category, but can you spot anything else in common?

Nope? Well, there’s a brand that encompasses all of these magazines.

It’s called Rodale Publishing
Yes indeed. Rodale publishes all of the above magazines. And just for good measure, it also publishes books like ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, The Abs Diet, The South Beach Diet, The Martha Rules and many, many more books that you see in fine (and not so fine) bookstores everywhere.

What you’ve just recognised is the concept of the umbrella brand

Namely that if your ‘family’ is growing, you’ll need to start pulling out some names out of a hat quickly. Not silly names that sound like John, John 2, John etc.

Each of your sub-brands can exist nicely under the umbrella brand.

And there’s a darned good reason why you need to keep these sub-brands with a different identity.

The first reason is because they do have individual identities. So why mish-mash the identities? It allows one brand to be serious. It allows the other brand to be freewheeling.

But let’s assume you are looking for a single tone across your sub-brands. Well, that’s no problem at all–but you’ll still need to separate the sub-brands because each sub-brand solves a different problem, and will have its own unique audience.

Example, Example: How we work with sub-brands at Psychotactics
The umbrella brand is Psychotactics. But look at the sub-brands:
Brain Audit, 5000bc, Website Masterclass, Applications of the Brain Audit, Protege Program and so on. No Psychotactical stuff runningĀ  through the brands, is there? But hey, what about the ‘Applications of the Brain Audit?’

Isn’t that a brand extension? Yes, it has the same last name like everyone in my family is called D’Souza. But the first name is different.

And that’s what makes the products as different as ‘Men’s Health’ and ‘Women’s Health.’ And why the sub-brands can exist side by side.

So if your business is raining services or products…get the ‘umbrella’ out.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth January 14, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Didn’t former boxer George Foreman name all five of his sons George? :-D

I like how you described brand extension using the Umbrella concept. I’ve seen examples of this but the clear way you explained it makes it seem like I can do it too. I’m ready too pull out my umbrella. :-)

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Elize January 15, 2010 at 3:45 am

I was just looking for a way to explain this exact concept to collegues who are considering a name for a new product and want to call it something very similar to an existing one – such good timing, thank you!

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Paul January 15, 2010 at 3:55 am

Pretty good Sean, one day you may reach my level of expertise :)

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Christina January 15, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I’m new to this, I have encountered it but it’s only now that I learned the term “Umbrella Brand”. Interesting, I will have to follow your blog from now on. There’s so much to learn.

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LoneWolf February 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I think that I’ve been doing this without even realizing it. I’ve set up several sites that target different niches and they all have a similar writing style and tone (since they’re all written by me). Each one has a different name, but I always write as LoneWolf.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of LoneWolf as my brand loosely for several months, but never considered that each site is also a brand or sub-brand.

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