Tag Archives: Brand portfolio

Volvo Corporation attacks electric with the Polestar brand

The car category is already for some time in turmoil because of the change to electric. On top of that, in the conventional car category the Volvo brand is struggling because of changes in positioning. The owner of Volvo Corporation, Geely Holding has determined that Polestar will be the brand to compete in electric. Is it the right move?

The change to electric genuine for car owners and drivers as they need to change the way they think about driving and “refueling” cars. Consumers experience, therefore, electric cars as a different category. There are conventional cars, and then there are electric cars – both require a different way to interact with driving and moving you from A to B.

When something so impactful happens in any category, we will likely experience a change of brands. There will be brands that only focus on the “new” electric category. There will be existing brands trying to extend from conventional to the electric category. When a category changes so profound, some of the car brands of today will need to make space for the electric car brands of tomorrow.

The impact to the current brand owners has everything to do with whether the existing car brands can compete with electric cars – at least on a level to be on par with the perceived leader in the category. In other words, if you are in the market for an electric luxury SUV, then it is easy to go for the Tesla Model X because the perception is that it is the best in electric and in-car technology. The Mercedes-Benz EQC would come close, but it needs to deliver more to change the perception of Mercedes-Benz and that of the perceived leader Tesla.

Volvo is executing two different strategies to conquer the electric car category. First, the company is moving the brand Volvo from a conventional to an electric car brand. At the same time, Volvo Corporation is following a conquer strategy with their new brand Polestar. Polestar is a standalone brand to focuses on electric cars.

The Polestar brand is not new to Volvo. It used the brand in the past for Performance upgrades of their vehicles. The real Volvo enthusiasts will know the brand with the desired perception of performance, technical advancements, etc. Unless you are a Volvo enthusiast, the Polestar brand will be new. As a bonus, the Polestar name has a nice Nordic / Scandinavian ring to it. Volvo bought Polestar in 2015. In 2017 Volvo Cars and their owner Geely Holding announced that Polestar would become a standalone to focus on electric cars.

Applying the earlier discussed Flip-test would indicate that Geely Holding made the right call to bet on two horses.

When we apply the Flip-test:

Current: Volvo gasoline cars
Extension: Volvo electric cars

Flip it!

Current: Tesla electric cars
Extension: Tesla gasoline cars

Does it make sense? Perhaps not so much. Geely Holding does the right thing to compete in electric with the new brand Polestar while not giving up on Volvo. It would be a shame if the Volvo brand will not make the transition to electric in the minds of buyers. The success of making the transition will depend on the number of cars at different price points from new electric car brands.

Personally I am very happy to see Volvo to take action. The brand has been in turmoil for years. I have written about Volvo in the  Volvo Positioning series Part 1Part 2Part 3  and a Reflection why successful companies change their positioning.

Flip your brand

There are many logical reasons to line extend or stretch a brand. There could be an opportunity in a business domain close to your core business. In this case, extending the current brand into the new business area is often preferred over building a new brand, especially when budgets are tight. Perhaps the current core business is declining, and in order to survive, new business areas must be entered. Often the thinking is to save the brand in order to save the company.

Therefore, at some point most companies will think about stretching their brands. The assumption is that consumers can make the stretch too and will follow the brand into new areas, purchasing more along the way. “Consumers love our brand, so they will love our brand in the new product category too”. To prove this thinking, a healthy dose of consumer research is then conducted. And guess what? The consumers usually see an option for the brand to stretch! All good, so you think…

Unfortunately that is often not the case. In research situations, consumers are not actually buying the line-extended products. Rather, they are getting compensated to participate in the research. In reality, consumers do not always understand the extension and actually grab their wallets to make a purchase.

To find out if consumers will follow you and buy your brand in a new category, I suggest that you first try the “Line Extension Flip”. This test is a simple rule of thumb, and you don’t need any consumer research to do it. You just need a clear, open mind and lots of common sense.

First, think of your brand extended into the new target category. Then, imagine a brand already in the target category trying to extend into your current category. Finally, ask yourself, “Does this make sense?”.

I’ll try it with some examples:

Your current brand and category: Angry Birds mobile game
Your brand extended to the new category: Angry Birds children’s book
FLIP IT
An established brand in the new category: Pip and Posy children’s book
That brand extended to your current category: Pip and Posy mobile game
Does it make sense? Yes!

Current: Angry Birds mobile game
Extension: Angry Birds HDMI connector
FLIP IT
Current: BlueRigger HDMI connector
Extension: BlueRigger mobile game
Does it make sense? No!

Current: Fazer Blue chocolate bar
Extension: Fazer Blue chocolate drink
FLIP IT
Current: Oatly chocolate drink
Extension: Oatly chocolate bar
Does it make sense? Yes! (Cannot wait!)

Current: SOL cleaning services
Extension: SOL security services
FLIP IT
Current: Securitas security services
Extension: Securitas cleaning services
Does it make sense? No!

There are a couple of things to keep in mind before you start “Flipping”. First, only flip product brands. Remember, consumers buy products, not companies. Secondly, if the brand you want to extend is the current category leader, then it will have strong associations to that category in the consumer’s mind, and therefore you will find it is less likely to make the stretch. On the other hand, if your brand has no strong associations with anything in particular or has association with many things, it is more likely to be extendable. Finally, always Flip brands in the context of today’s market situation. Don’t use the Flip test to post-rationalise past decisions.

Now, try the Line Extension Flip test on your brand extension idea and let me know the outcome!

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta