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It’s the thing we are asked for most often at Spark No. 9: Can you find new audiences for our established brand?

In most cases, the brand is an old-timer with a strong franchise. The core customers are 40+. Things are going fine, margins look great, but it’s getting harder to keep the top line increasing at the same rate.

In other cases, the brand appeals to a younger audience but is struggling to grow beyond a niche. Sometimes, the brand is looking to expand geographically.

We have a playbook for these situations. It works. Here’s why.

You're Doing Fine

First of all, brands don’t become established by doing the wrong thing. Big companies get big because they serve their best customers well.

Your greatest strength, however, is your greatest weakness, as Clayton Christensen and others have pointed out.

Think of how J. Crew became so locked in to its core customer (“the one looking for inoffensive workwear and preppy-inspired basics”) that they lost their magic in attracting new ones.
Or what about magazines, where the average reader is 49 years old?

What can you do? Alienate your core customers? Nope—that’s who’s paying the rent. But you need new audiences to grow. How do you find a strategy to do both? And how do you know it’s going to work?

You're Sitting on a Goldmine

When people talk about the match between a brand and its core customers, they often speak as if all of the core customers are the same or, at best, a collection of well-defined segments or personas.

On the other side of the relationship stands the brand: definable, proven, and immutable.

A happy stasis sets in: the brand sticks to its knitting, the core customers keep lining up, and the tidy match between them blots out any trouble that may be brewing.

The reality is that both customer and brand are messy. Every brand—even a young one—consists of a rich set of attributes—usually 20-30 important ones. Most brands tend to draw on just a few of them over and over again to build connections with core customers. When a few attributes work, it’s easy to forget the rest.

Consider disaggregating your brand into all of its attributes. Then group attributes in fresh ways to create new brand positioning. This process is almost always a huge a-ha. Suddenly, you'll see an opportunity to communicate your brand’s value in a whole new way.

It's not just brand. On the customer side, rigid definitions of personas and segments tend to narrow opportunities over time. If only your best targets are exposed to your brand, you miss the serendipitous connections that can occur when you cast the net wider.

Desperately Seeking Serendipity

How do you find those serendipitous connections? How do you prove that a new brand strategy will attract new audiences without alienating old ones?

Heat-test: real-world testing that matches brand and customer.

TL:DR Heat-testing uses ad platforms to identify the match between audience and brand strategy. It's not magic, but it is multivariate, so you learn a lot quickly. And it yields behavioral data that you can't find via conventional market research techniques.

Bonus: by using existing positioning as a control, you can quantify the potential net benefit or cost of a promising new brand strategy.

Why It Works

Why does this approach work? Because:

  1. It bridges old and new. There's hidden value in every brand. It's just hard to see. Rigorous deconstruction of a brand is a great way to unearth traits that may appeal to new audiences without scaring off the old ones.
  2. It’s tested in real life. When someone encounters an ad for your brand on their phone or desktop, they are responding to it as a matter of course. Forget surveys and focus groups–they're riddled with speculation. There’s no better predictor than behavior.
  3. It’s a roadmap. One of the most useful outputs from testing is seeing which new audiences are “near-in” and which are “further-out.” Near-in audiences are the gems that are just discovering your brand and are ready to join the party. Further-out audiences are interested, but they will require more cultivation.

Looking for a new audience? Let's chat!



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