Brand Extensions vs. Sub Brands: A Closer Look
Quick housekeeping before we get started: we're now shipping The Beyond Beer Handbook every where in the world (we heard you all — I'm sorry for the delay).
Okay, let's discuss a common road block we encounter when helping breweries bring new products to market.
One of the more common problems we help breweries work through when launching a Beyond Beer product is determining how to position it within their portfolio itself.
And perhaps counter intuitively, deciding that you want some sort of connection (a pinch? a skosh?? a dash???) with your brewery’s parent brand can actually make this all more complicated.
You’d think that would make this easier, right?
Let’s take a look at the fine line between Brand Extensions and Sub Brands, and discuss when each strategy can make sense.
We're talking about the subtle shift between a Brand Extension and a Sub Brand, highlighted in green above. This can be confusing because the parent brand plays a prominent role in each case.
The key difference between a Brand Extension and a Sub Brand lies in how much effort, attention and detail is brought to that secondary product in relation to the parent brand.
With a Brand Extension, there is little-to-no effort put into developing a unique name, artwork or other branding elements related to the product itself. The entire focus is on the parent brand, and this product exists as a mere extension of your portfolio. You are simply using your brewery's brand on a non-beer category product.
By contrast, a Sub Brand will feature a fully developed name, logo or other branding cues in addition to those of the parent brand. The parent is still the main purchasing driver here, but other elements to bring more personality or clarity to the product are introduced.
The below images demonstrate Brand Extensions (Scofflaw Brewing Mimosa & Dogfish Head Distilling Co.) vs. Sub Brands (Rhinegeist Brewery's Cidergeist family).
And while we're on this topic, Cidergeist also uses a fun Brand Architecture tactic called "Linked Naming." This is a subliminal way of linking your parent and Sub Brand (e.g. McDonalds > McNugget > McMuffin > McCafe, etc.
Recent craft examples would include Bell's Two Hearted > Light Hearted and Cigar City's Jai Alia > Jai Low. Fun, right?
If you've determined you want some connection with the parent brand but are stuck on just how much connection there should be (e.g. a Brand Extension or a Sub Brand), a quick way to determine which is the right path is to consider the product's future growth opportunities beyond launch.
A common path for innovation we've seen with our clients goes like this:
Brewery launches a…
Seltzer (or canned cocktail) >
Lemonade Seltzer Line Extension >
Margarita Seltzer Line Extension >
Mimosa Seltzer Line Extension >
Variety Packs with all of the above
Each one of these follow-on extensions is a step further away from your core brand and all that it stands for (here's a podcast on positioning in case you want a refresher on this).
So if you launch that hard seltzer as a Brand Extension—e.g. XYZ Brewing Hard Seltzer—each subsequent Line Extension will also be leveraging your parent brand's equity (thus diluting what that parent brand stands for in your customers' minds).
Your brand strategy, competitive set and project context will determine whether or not this is an issue (though I’d contend that in most cases it is a big ask of your parent brand and can do more long term harm than good).
This is where a Sub Brand can shine.
Assuming this product makes sense within your broader positioning and messaging, creating a Sub Brand can give you just enough buffer to extend and scale this new product without further diluting your parent brand’s positioning through subsequent releases.
While branching out to seltzer isn’t too big of a stretch for a brewery these days, Left Field Brewery still wanted some separation between their parent brand and this new product.
Ultimately, they felt their new seltzer could (and should) still tie to the Left Field brand and occasion (a refreshing break during a baseball game).
I’m highlighting this brand because of the leeway it gives Left Field. It would’ve been easier, faster and cheaper to bring this seltzer to market as a Brand Extension (e.g. Left Field Hard Seltzer).
But with follow on flavor ideas and line extensions their team is already kicking around, that would’ve put much more pressure on the Left Field brand itself.
Over time, this continual march of extensions and new flavors (the name of the game when committing to creating RTDs and FMBs) would undercut Left Field's core positioning as Toronto's baseball brewery.
Is Left Field the baseball brewery brand or a Pink Lemonade Hard Seltzer brand?
Creating this Sub Brand (technically, a Sub/Endorsed Brand) gives Left Field just enough leeway to extend and grow the 7th Inning brand while still getting all the leverage and benefit from their parent brand.
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