Shortly after you’ve come up with the concept for the “Next Greatest Cannabis Beverage Brand” you should begin thinking even bigger. What are the next steps you should take to maximize the brand’s full potential? How can you “dig a moat” around your brand so customers don’t migrate elsewhere? Are there more uses/occasions for your brand other than just the initial concept?
Beverage brand extensions are a concept used by even the greatest and most venerable of brands. New versions of a brand can be used to recruit new consumers and increase the brand’s overall market share. Coca-Cola’s use of its flagship “Coke” brand is a great example. The Coke brand became, among numerous iterations, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Coke Zero, and lately Coca-Cola with Coffee. They also use their brand to sell many non-beverage items like collectibles and clothing.
Sure the large corporations can brand extend but how about smaller, newer brands with limited resources? Absolutely yes! And a great example is LIFEAID Beverage Company. They started out making a functional beverage in just a couple of formulas. Fast forward a decade and they are selling eleven ready-to-drink canned beverages for differing occasions like workout recovery, energy boost, and the popular “find your bliss” hemp blend. LIFEAID also sells drink powders (much cheaper to ship DTC!) and a wide variety of clothing.
Brand extensions work best when thought out carefully beforehand. You don’t want to begin the brand’s journey by unintentionally creating obstacles or unnecessary brand requirements which would limit your ability to offer your brand to consumers in a variety of different formats. For instance, a fresh juice brand made without preservatives and bottled in recycled glass would appear to be a legitimately wonderful product loaded with lots of health benefits and ecological credentials. But fresh juices have a short shelf life. They require refrigeration in shipping and storing. Distance from point of manufacture is a big factor. Glass is heavy. It shatters. It is expensive and there is limited co-packing capacity. And you can’t sell other versions of the brand because options like powders, drops, or edibles aren’t authentically “fresh.” The brand is a one-trick pony out of the box.
Even in these early days of the legal cannabis business, Farmington Research, which was founded by beverage professionals, has seen its clients plan and execute brand extensions. One client started out with a few “hemp shots” and moved quickly to create hemp powders based on the success of those formulations. They are already envisioning ready-to-drink canned beverages in the near future. Another client started with hemp powders and is extending the brand into cannabis powders with THC. A third client started with hemp drinks and is now using the same formulations in gummies and lollipops!
Beverage brand extensions can be big hits for brand owners (Bud Light outsells the original Budweiser) but the road to success is littered with many poorly conceived failures like lifesavers Soda. Anyone remember Frito Lay Lemonade? The poster child and frequent business school case study for poorly thought-out brand extensions is New Coke. Even the mighty must be cautious.
There is no guaranteed method for successfully creating a brand extension but a great many of the potential problems can be avoided by involving other people. I call this strategy the “History Major’s Revenge.” Learn from the mistakes of others. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Borrow good ideas unashamedly (as long as they are not patented!).
Practically this means you should not rely solely on the very bright but slightly over-enthusiastic people at your marketing firm. Get input from your suppliers including co-packers, flavor companies, and packaging companies. They’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly and want to see you do well. Your supplier’s helpfulness is not completely altruistic since they’d sincerely like you to be able to pay your bills! An underestimated resource is the feedback from your spouse, children and close friends. They are consumers and more likely to give you unfiltered, honest opinions than a high-dollar consultant. And finally, find an experienced mentor or two in the beverage industry. You’ll be surprised how much people are willing to share for no other reason than they benefited personally from mentoring earlier in their career.