Al Ries writes a great article in Advertising Age on maintaining category leadership by focusing what a brand represents. When it comes to brand extensions product roadmapping can have big consequences for a brand. He describes two examples where brand extensions are not working, Burger King and Sears, where both companies have not achieved the growth they are seeking by extending the products each company sells. And Al Ries describes one example where a company does not have a brand extension strategy, Five Guys, the fastest growing fast-food chain in the US; the chain wasn’t the fastest growing just because President Obama visited a store, as Al Ries describes, but Five Guys focus their menu on a few items and stick to the menu.
I was thinking that while this is a marketing story, the brand extension decisions have big consequences for R&D, a brand extension means more products, and more projects for R&D as a result, given that many R&D departments already have many projects to manage, when conducting a product roadmapping exercise, not deciding to extend the brand allows the R&D team to focus on fewer innovations.
Part of Apple’s success comes from focusing on a few products. For Apple that translates into focusing their efforts into R&D projects that they know will work, and being able to complete those projects successfully.
Extending a brand category maybe a brand or marketing decision, but that decision has consequences for R&D departments; they have to manage more projects, even if they outsource to product development companies. Part of the role of R&D leaders is to describe the consequences of that decision, working with business managers to see if the rewards are obtainable from the expected results. That project portfolio management role is a team collaboration, but important in helping to achieve a company’s business strategy. R&D leaders can help support the decision to extend a brand, with an R&D product roadmapping process.