Friday, May 15, 2009

Tide Turning?

Yesterday, while on another Web site, I saw a link for Tide Dry Cleaners. Of course, I had to investigate further. Not because I'm a Tide guy or connoisseur of dry cleaners. But because of the red flag that went up immediately in my mind about the potential implications for one of P&G's most powerful brands.

I'm building my Guts Branding practice around the premise that you should build your brand from the inside out, distilling it in a brand mission (to learn more about brand mission development, please refer to post, How New Brand Launch Rewrote the Record Books). But Guts has a deeper meaning. It also speaks to conviction and courage. As in, you must have the conviction to live and abide by the part of your brand mission that defines what you are and will be, and the courage to stand by the part that defines what you shouldn't be.

I don't understand P&G's move to open Tide Dry Cleaners. But I bet I know where it was hatched: A P&G conference or board room. I could be wrong but I'm guessing consumers weren't banging down doors, begging P&G to open Tide Dry Cleaners. But you can talk yourself into anything really. I can hear the execs behind this move, "Tide isn't really a detergent, it's about a superior cleaning experience. So, it makes sense that people will associate that with a dry cleaning."
This reminds me of Unilever's thinking a few years ago with it's Dove brand. The company took it's "beauty" image as license to extended the brand name to other segments, including hair care. It had initial success but soon saw sales decline. As the Godfather of brand, Al Ries, so often points out, line extensions rarely work because of the back end damage done to the core brand. Essentially, he says that image ultimately gets watered down, will lose its drawing power, and open the door for a more focused, powerful brand to take over the category. History tells us, he's rarely wrong.

While Dove's image might truly be about beauty, I surmise it's tethered to bar soap. I wonder if Tide's superior cleaning image is chained to laundry detergent? The image, I'm speaking about is the one that exists inside consumers' heads. While some dry cleaners provide laundry service, dry cleaning and laundry are two completely different things. I routinely have my suits, dress shirts and sweaters dry cleaned. The image that immediately pops into my head is of a "dry" process, not a wet one. Hence, the phrase, "dry cleaning." I imagine I'm not alone in these perceptions.

Will Tide dry cleaners succeed or fail? Only time will tell. Measuring success or failure is less about what happens "now" and more about what happens to the long-term image of the core brand from which the extension was made. I admit to limited knowledge of the dry cleaning needs of most consumers, and what aspects of it might be going unsatisfied. If the average dry cleaning consumer is anything like me, then good, timely service and the expectation that all my clothes will come back to me clean and intact are givens. So, then for me, it really comes down to location and price. The last time I checked, Tide's price points are at or near the top end of the detergent category. Will people driving by a Tide Dry Cleaners automatically perceive it to be a more expensive operation before ever giving it a chance?
My Guts feeling about this move is the same as I have with any brand that wants to extend. Take a step back and really look at the big picture. What are the long-term implications to the core brand image? I believe you are better off trying to deepen the experience of a powerful brand than spread it around. Volvo has been brilliant at this by constantly reinventing vehicle and people-related-to-auto safety. A powerful brand should be an inch wide and a mile deep.
And what message are you sending on the inside? You are better off feeding the expectation inside your organization that you build brands around unmet needs in a marketplace, not in the company portfolio.
Even if opportunity exists for a different dry cleaning experience, P&G could have launched a new brand under a different name much like Honda did with Acura, Gatorade did with Propel, and Gap Inc., did with Banana Republic and Old Navy. Or, maybe it should have contemplated a different market all together and opened up laundromats. That would seem like a better opportunity for people to actually experience and connect with Tide, the detergent brand.

With the proliferation of brand extensions permeating shelf space, getting your organization to hang your logo on a myriad of other products appears to be a much easier proposition to green light than getting permission from consumers. However, asking for forgiveness later can be a very, very costly proposition.

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