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Using brand to grow from niche to mass market

Niche is the positioning foundation upon which many businesses are built. Derived from the Latin word for “nest,” the approach can make a well-defined target market feel warm and fuzzy about a brand, in the process carving out an initial segment in which its products and services can thrive. For some brands, this method is enough to sustain the business and is where they should remain. For others, an opportunity exists to accelerate growth by transcending into a mass market approach.

A few recent examples of brands that have demonstrated success making the mass market leap include: athenahealth, which grew from a modest network of maternity clinics in 1997, to a leader in cloud-based billing and EMR services for physician practices and hospitals, surpassing the $1 billion annual revenue mark in 2016. Chobani, which expanded from Greek-American customers in Queens, New York to all of the United States, plus Australia, and Canada—$0 to $500 million in annual sales—in less than half a decade. And Tesla, from a couple thousand two-door roadsters catered to one percenters predominantly in the U.S. (2008), to their recently launched Model III sedan (2017), which collected more than 400,000 preorders globally—many on the very first night—totaling over $10 billion. 

From a business strategy perspective, some common approaches emerge for those that have undergone the transformation—among the most popular: pushing into new product categories (think Amazon), expanding audience (think Facebook), or broadening geographical focus (think Uber). But what about brand strategy? What role should it play in making the leap? And how can you ensure the brand highlights and reflects the business during periods of growth? To follow are three ways to ensure your brand is catalyzing the businesses’ push from niche to mass market, illustrated with examples that demonstrate their potential effectiveness.

Amplify your essence

Remain true to what your brand represents. As your company’s offerings grow, build upon existing strengths and perceptions rather than reinventing them.

Earlier this year, InterbrandHealth repositioned a Fortune-50 leader in the vision care space following its acquisition of a surgical vision technologies company. The move put the company into a new arena within vision, and married it with another brand very much known for the same meticulous attention to quality. The alignment between the two portfolios bolstered the company’s reputation as the high-quality choice, and in conjunction with its enterprise brand, elevated it to an advantaged position over the two players already competing in the dual vision care and surgical space.

Audit your identity

Following a significant change in strategic direction, your company’s brand identity should be evaluated. A refreshed look, feel, and way of talking may be needed to best capture and communicate everything the revamped brand represents.

In its evolution from a media company to a comprehensive health intelligence platform, a client of ours needed a fresh brand to communicate its full impact within healthcare. A new name and visual identity were developed to harmoniously reflect the enhanced vision of the business and its ever-expanding platform. The resulting brand expression both reinforced the brand’s new positioning within the healthcare ecosystem, and fueled credibility and understanding of the company’s new aspirations. Since the new brand was launched in January 2017, the company saw a substantial increase in its valuation, indicating the impact of the new strategy had been heard.

Assess your performance 

Allow in-market learning and brand research to guide course correction. After launch there may be an opportunity to further optimize your brand by identifying and capitalizing on consumer insights.

Even though sales in a specialty retail channel were outstanding, a client of ours in the fitness nutrition space wanted to broaden its user base. The company needed to transcend the bodybuilding niche to which they were appealing and shift perceptions of the role fitness plays in our lives. By assessing current perceptions of the brand and identifying potential target market growth opportunities, a key influential segment emerged that would allow them to make the jump. The new brand strategy was built around resonating with this target group to purposefully drive engagement with a broader audience as an outgrowth of their influence. Less than one year after getting established in the marketplace, they became the biggest brand in the specialty nutrition segment and saw more than a ten-fold increase in run rate.

So when’s the right time to make the leap? As a general guiding principle, act when the projected benefits presented by broadening your target market clearly outweigh any potential downside. Begin making this assessment by considering the following questions:

Key considerations

  • Will the move compromise the promise upon which your brand was built?
  • Can your strategy take current customers along for the ride, rather than risk turning them off?
  • Can you outperform any aspects of existing competitors’ offerings in the mass market?
  • Will you be sacrificing any competitive advantages or marginalizing your differentiation?
  • Might going mass market present opportunities for launches of adjacent products that will cater to the customer base being targeted? If so, what is their potential value?

Nurturing your brand throughout the mass market climb is essential to ensuring that this asset is working for you as hard as it can. From the foundation down through application, opportunities small and large exist for maximizing your brand’s impact and entrenching it as a core competency for your business.

Interested in learning about some other on-the-rise companies? Check out Interbrand’s Breakthrough Brands 2017 to see which brands are reshaping the market and growing businesses in entirely new ways.

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