Who are you?

Think big. Really big. Because viewing your brand as not just a bar of soap or a hunk of frozen meat - but rather as a solution for a greater consumer need - can lead to growth.

Think big. Really big. Because viewing your brand as not just a bar of soap or a hunk of frozen meat – but rather as a solution for a greater consumer need – can lead to growth.

Ken Wong, assistant professor of marketing at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., believes all good companies are doing it. Leaders in recent years have included the Big Five banks, who realized that profit lies not in loans and deposits, but ‘wealth management,’ and telecommunications firms like Bell and Rogers who moved way beyond their original telephone/cable roots. Now the brand definitions of organizations as varied as Aeroplan, Maple Leaf Foods and President’s Choice are broadening significantly.

The latter, for instance, is no longer just about food. It’s about house and home needs, financial services and now mobile too. More specifically, it’s about convenience. In communicating its new telecom division on its Web site, www.presidentschoice.ca, the Loblaws-owned brand greets Canadians with: ‘Say hello to a simple, affordable alternative. Looking for an uncomplicated, reliable way to stay in touch? PC Mobile makes it so easy!’

Similarly, Toronto-based Maple Leaf Foods is now more than a meat manufacturer; it’s a meal-solutions firm. Over the last couple of years, it has introduced fully cooked meals, like pork roasts, a solid roster of microwaveable eats under the Schneiders brand (which it acquired in 2004), and most recently, Maple Leaf beef nuggets, ‘good for a go anywhere, anytime snack,’ according to the company Web site.

Maple Leaf’s sales for the first six months of 2005 increased 13% to $3.2 billion, primarily thanks to the purchase of Schneider Foods.

It’s all about trying to create a solution, explains Wong. ‘For a specific product, there’s only so much demand, but when tied to other requirements, it’s a whole different ball game.’ In other words, by focusing on new customer needs – for snacks and microwaveable meals or banking and cellphones – the likes of Maple Leaf Foods and President’s Choice are able to reach more consumers, and no longer only at dinner time.

Wong says there are a couple of reasons companies are going this route. One is obvious: ‘With mid-size companies, it’s how do I generate top-line growth, without sales promotions?… [Also] once you get into that mature stage of the product cycle, how do you think about what’s coming next?’

He adds that marketers also have to protect their brands from ‘discontinuous innovation,’ i.e., competition that seemingly comes out of nowhere. One obvious example is Amazon.com‘s revolution of the book-selling business.

‘If Barnes & Noble had asked: ‘What’s the best way to get books to people?’ as opposed to: ‘How can we improve our retail stores?’ it could have been them,’ notes Wong. ‘The only way to protect the brand is to think broadly…otherwise, either someone else will come up with a new way of satisfying customer requirements, or you will paint yourself into a corner.’

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, for one, hopes to enhance its customer base by aggressively extending its umbrella brand. And it’s largely because the Toronto-based enterprise, which owns both the Leafs and the Raptors, views itself not as a sports organization, but as an entertainment firm.

‘We see our organization as a collection of entertainment brands,’ says Tom Anselmi, EVP/COO, adding: ‘We run the business in a centralized fashion. [VP marketing] Beth [Robertson] runs a marketing group that has a stable of brands she’s responsible for. There are leverages and synergies.’ Which has opened up opportunities to take the brands into new arenas. In April, MLSE announced its plan to develop Maple Leaf Square, which it bills as a ‘premier entertainment destination’ that will sprout up in Toronto’s downtown core in 2009 near the Air Canada Centre.

Described as ‘the place to visit, play and stay for both Torontonians and tourists,’ the venue will include both a fine dining and high-tech sports-themed restaurant, a sports- and entertainment-themed boutique hotel, two condo towers, a music club, retail and more.

Driven by ‘our desire to grow our footprint and extend the brand physically, as well as virtually and promotionally,’ the square aims to make the Air Canada Centre more of a ‘destination,’ says Anselmi. ‘[We're] a sports and entertainment company by definition…so it fits.’

Aeroplan is also attempting to go further afield with its brand. The Montreal-based company is positioning itself as a loyalty rewards provider as opposed to a frequent flyer program.

It all started when Robert Milton, chairman, president and CEO of ACE Aviation Holdings, decided to move Aeroplan, as well as other divisions in the ACE family, to independent profitability. As a result, three-and-a-half years ago, a review of Aeroplan’s brand strategy was commissioned.

Over two years of scrutinizing, the firm found that, thanks to a deal with CIBC which saw the launch of an Aerogold card 12 years ago, ‘we had all these people who aren’t frequent flyers,’ says Paul Gilbert, Aeroplan’s VP marketing. ‘These people came to the research table and said they loved the program and loved the rewards, but often felt like ‘a member of a private golf club that can only play before 6 a.m.”

After looking long and hard at its overall business approach, recalls Gilbert, Aeroplan decided it made sense to expand its offerings. What this means is that Aeroplan can boost its customer base, although since it’s positioned as a premium brand versus its competitors – with many members in the $100,000-plus household range – it has to proceed carefully.

Still, says Gilbert: ‘There’s no question we can move comfortably into the higher end of the middle class and still be relevant. Now we’re going directly to market with a deliberate strategy to expand.’ Going forward, new member initiatives will largely be done through its partners, who include Esso, Bell and a slew of hotels and car rental companies, as well as CIBC. This is a group that Aeroplan also wants to augment, admits Gilbert.

And because research has shown that Canadians still affiliate the brand with travel-related rewards, its marketing campaigns closely connect Aeroplan with its portfolio partners to build awareness. But Gilbert says the main marketing thrust for the brand – which underwent an identity revamp last year – is to reinforce its high value proposition by touting that it can offer ‘rewards that help lead a richer, more fulfilling life.’

You can’t talk about eclipsing categories without talking about Dove. Faced with a declining soap bar segment, Unilever repositioned the brand so that it was all about ‘care.’ This enabled Dove to first enter the deodorant sector five years ago, says Toronto-based marketing director Mark Wakefield.

And it also opened the door for Dove’s hair care and face care lines in 2003, and just recently, a hand and body care collection. ‘The first thing was to think how this brand could, with its great equity, travel,’ says Wakefield. ‘Any brand is trying to see how it can transcend its category and looks for something that can unlock potential growth possibilities in other areas.

‘Dove could go across so many categories because it’s always stood for truth, honesty, being real and telling stories, as well as a functional level being about superior care.’

At first though, consumers still thought of the brand as the ‘soap with one-quarter moisturizing cream.’ That’s where Dove’s well-publicized Campaign for Real Beauty, which debuted two years ago, came in. ‘The big brand idea has allowed us to be a beauty brand across many categories. [Campaign for Real Beauty] expressed our point of view as a different brand.’

Wakefield says we can expect new product introductions, because as long as new incarnations help women ‘take great care,’ there are no limitations as to where Dove can go. As well, he points out, the Real Beauty campaign has enabled the brand to adopt fresh and impactful tactics to engage women, such as its recent documentary entitled Beauty Quest, which launched on W network. ‘We can widen our definition and we can look at various targets, in age and lifestyle,’ he says. ‘We have three great [marketing] ideas right now and are trying to decide which is the biggest and boldest [in allowing us to] continue to walk the talk.’

How’s Dove performing? Brand share in every category is up – Dove’s deodorant is growing in double digits, face care is outpacing the category and its body wash continues to lead. ‘In the case of Dove bar, we’re growing in a declining bar segment, so we’re actually pushing backward on that trend.’ In other words, the original product has benefited too.

Which is why even brand managers should look outside their product category for extension possibilities, says Wong, despite the fact that at most organizations such strategizing happens at the most senior levels, since it requires a five- to 10-year time span. ‘But careers are made on the ability to grow top and bottom line, so there’s good motivation for marketers to spend time thinking about this.’ And in a big way.