Brand positioning tip #4: brand permission

In brand positioning tips 1-3, we discussed the 4 elements of good brand positioning: points of difference, points of parity, the competitive frame of reference, and the brand mantra. In this post, we are going to switch gears and talk about a subject called brand permission.

Do_Not_Enter_signWhen attempting to position your brand in a new competitive frame of reference (or, in non-marketing-ese, when you want to start selling stuff in a new market), consider whether your brand has earned permission to enter that market.

How do you know if you have permission? And who do you need permission from? Well, let’s look at a few examples.

Back in the early 1990s, Clorox underwent a failed experiment in extending the Clorox brand into detergent. There is a nice short writeup of it here. Why did the detergent product fail?

Clorox found there was an incredibly strong association in customers’ minds between the Clorox brand and bleach. No shocker there. And the bleach association came with a lot of baggage. People were worried that Clorox laundry detergent might fade or discolor clothes. The dishwasher detergent might take the finish off of dishes, and the liquid detergent would be hard on the skin.

Because of the strong Clorox association with bleach, there were certain markets that were off limits to the brand. If the company wanted to enter those markets, they’d either have create a new brand, or significantly change what the Clorox brand meant in their target customers’ mind.

That is no small feat. After all, people don’t think about your brand every day, so it might take years before they even notice the change you’ve made in what the brand means, if they ever do.

Remember many, many years ago (dating myself here…) when Wendy’s had a taco bar? If you said “no” that’s probably because it wasn’t very popular and didn’t last long, at least where I lived. Wendy’s had permission to be in the hamburger business, but they never quite earned permission from their customers to be in the taco business.

Kentucky Fried Chicken has been struggling with a brand permission issue for years– how do they extend the brand beyond fried chicken at a time when health concerns about fried food are rising? Would customers give them permission to enter markets beyond friend chicken? It turns out that, with good preparation and a long enough timeline, they would.

In the 90s, the company started using the brand KFC more prominently than Kentucky Fried Chicken. This created the foundation. And in April of this year they introduced a Kentucky Grilled Chicken brand.  Apparently it has been quite successful (after an intial Oprah-related fiasco) according to BrandWeek, now accounting for 40% of on-the-bone chicken sales in the quarter just reported a few weeks ago.

The lesson here? Don’t try to force your brand into a market before your customers are ready. Take the appropriate steps to transition your brand. Be patient and plan for this transition to take a long time.

Or use a new brand to enter the market if you must (this has its own challenges, which I’ll point out when I talk about the differences between a house of brands and a branded house).

Finally, consider whether you should even be entering the market in the first place. Perhaps there are good reasons why your customers don’t see you in that market. They might be trying to save you some pain:)

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


8 thoughts on “Brand positioning tip #4: brand permission

  1. Spot On!!!

    Posted by Shesgiri Ramarao | August 11, 2009, 5:24 pm
  2. Great article to reference for making desicions about expanding your brand

    Posted by Huntz | March 17, 2010, 1:23 pm
  3. I was searching through the Internet, what does “brand permission” means, and i found it! Thanks a lot! =)

    Posted by Dima | September 20, 2010, 12:14 pm


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