What Is Brand Cannibalism?

If your school has two brands offering similar products that are competing for the same audience, one will get eaten by the other. This is called brand cannibalism.

Brand cannibalism happens on college campuses all the time. It usually occurs when a line extension is introduced. A line extension is when you add a product to an existing product line. The goal with a line extension is either to sell more products to existing customers—like when Apple added iPod Nano to its iPod line—or to create a new customer base—like when Coors introduced Coors Light to attract more female and diet-conscious consumers.

Line extensions can be good and they can be really, really bad. Apple’s line extension was good in that it sold more iPods because many of those who bought the regular iPod also bought the iPod Nano. Coors’ line extension, however, wasn’t so good. Customers stopped buying regular Coors and started buying Coors Light, a healthier and cheaper alternative. Regular Coors virtually disappeared, cannibalized by Coors Light.

Schools often introduce line extensions to increase enrollment. An example of a good college line extension is when a school adds an honors program to attract higher achieving students who wouldn’t normally attend the school. These students pay the same amount of tuition and raise the school’s academic profile, thus increasing the school’s brand equity.

So what does a bad line extension look like? Say your school adds an online degree program that’s geared to reach non-traditional students who wouldn’t otherwise attend your school, like working mothers. To reach this group, your school creates a program that caters to their needs, one that’s faster, cheaper and easier. The intention of the line extension seems good enough, but then you notice that the program is starting to attract traditional students who like the “faster, cheaper, easier” aspects of the program. Suddenly, enrollment in the traditional program begins to decline along with your revenues. What you’ve got now is brand cannibalism.

But this isn’t the only way brand cannibalism can happen. Using the same example, say the online program for working moms didn’t take students away from the traditional program, but traditional enrollment still declined. What normally happens in a case like this is that the time, money and effort you spent toward raising awareness of your online program begins to form an impression that your school is an online degree mill that caters to working mothers. And what self-respecting teen or honors student wants to go to a school like that? Once again, brand cannibalism.

Before your school introduces a new product line, make sure it’s a good line extension and not a bad, brand-cannibalizing stinker. (445 Words)

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