More of a good thing: Extending your product line without inventing a brand new product

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Marc wrote recently about the motorized bicycle that is the latest addition to the Volkswagen product line and a way for the company to extend its brand into an adjacent market. And while innovation is often at the heart of new product development, it is worth pointing out that building a product line can be done without new invention. By varying peripheral product features, cosmetic details or packaging it is possible to use your existing technology and quickly expand your product line to reach new markets. Take Camelbak:

The company, an Arena customer, started making hands-free hydration systems for mountain bikers and motocross riders, “allowing them to drink without taking their hands off of the handlebars in technical terrain.” Since then “Camelbaks” have become popular for use while hiking, running, snowboarding and skiing in addition to cycling. They typically consist of a capped pouch of water with a long tube and bite valve, enclosed in some wearable form factor.

From this simple concept, Camelbak has built an incredible range of similar but specialized products: more than 90 hydration pack styles for recreational and military use. The company dominates the market through good use of technology (easy-to-use bite valve, rugged materials, easy opening and leakproof cap) and a willingness to customize its product for new sports or situations. Camelbak makes  a pack for refilling other packs (the Squadpak, 25L capacity) for use by a military unit, packs specifically designed for women, packs for use while skiing in sub-zero temperatures, packs for use under body armor and even a variety of “mini” packs (50 oz) for kids.

Another strategy is the purely cosmetic. Take Envirosax. These reusable shopping bags fold up into compact snap close packages. Envirosax has built its brand by offering a wide array of colors and graphics. Same bag design – different looks to appeal to different market segments.

You can also vary packaging and pricing. In addition to slight product differences, Superfeet uses color, pricing and packaging changes to sell its insoles to multiple market segments. The packaging and pricing for the product targeted at women differs from that aimed at athletes, “on their feet” professionals (doctors, nurses) or industrial workers. Inside the box you will find the same core product, with minor tweaks for the specific user segment.

These three companies have built on their primary product offering and diversified into adjacent markets without inventing a whole new product. Their strategy isn’t for everyone, but it might be worth considering whether your technology can be reused in new form factors or colors or marketed in a new way to appeal to other user groups. Who knows, variation on a theme might lead to your own empire.

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About the Author

Kathy Davies
Kathy teaches at Stanford University, where her students use Design Thinking to design cutting edge products and to reshape their lives, at Stanford and beyond. Kathy has worked with Arena ... Read More 

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