What’s new about what your customers already know?

Most brands get launch. They understand how to make a splash for a product on a day. But what do you do between splashes? How do you keep front-of-mind? And more importantly, how do you stop the inevitable awareness fade as the ripples from your big splash die away? If you’re Walt Disney, you start introducing shorts between your new features, just to keep up awareness of your most popular and lucrative characters. And you do so knowing that such a cue will reactivate interest and re-kick merchandise sales.

Cross-referencing in order to cross-sell. Nothing new in that – except that here it’s happening at a launch. When Disney releases Cars 2 later this month, audiences will be reintroduced to the key characters from Toy Story in a six-minute short. As Albie Hecht observes in this article in BusinessWeek, “It’s a way to extend the characters and the brand without its fans waiting two or three years for a new movie.”

There’s a lesson here.

It’s tempting for brands to think of their products as separate offerings within an overall branding portfolio. They co-ordinate launches to work alongside one another. But what Disney’s strategy shows is how simple and cost-effective it is to provide customers with added-value experiences based on other brands in the stable that they already know and to use these to maintain relevance and top-of-mind between launches without cannibalising on new offers. All Disney have essentially done is take a format that everyone knows – the movie short – and to elaborate it into an enter-mercial (my new term for a short-movie length commercial that entertains).

Just as interesting is where this development might point other brands.

Increasingly, my sense is that brands will need to look at running longer storylines; stories that they interweave throughout their portfolios at varying degrees of emphasis and that they reintroduce to customers at opportune moments. Cross-referencing and in-jokes pull people in, get them engaged and generate a very real sense of inclusion that heightens the experience. The secret, as Disney have seen, is to make the ‘guest appearance’ significant enough for people to notice without it overshadowing the main event. Six minutes is long enough to do that.

I perceive such appearances as powerful by-the-way opportunities – with the major advantage of course being that they already come pre-packed with familiarity, loyalty and intrigue. New can be exciting. But sometimes, learning what’s new about something customers think they already know can be mighty effective.

Perhaps the new question as you plan your next brand launch is ‘what can we leverage?’

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