But whether the brand is a perfume, a rock band or Martha Stewart, the notion of having a brand is that its a simple way to extol the qualities of a product, the ideals of the company that makes it and how the product fits with who we want to be; this can be all tied up in a neat logo, or color, or smell. For example: "Apple makes cool computers; you will look cool on the subway with an iPod," or "Ikea is funky and affordable; it's an inexpensive way to make your apartment look nice and modern." Simple.
So how does this apply to companies that seem to develop new businesses and products with a seemingly unplanned and erratic zest? Or more specifically, how does it apply to easyGroup?
The easyGroup concept sprouted in 1995 with easyJet, a low-cost European airline started by self described serial entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou. EasyJet was a simple idea from which to hang the brand: a low cost airline, easy to self book, cheap enough to use frequently—a Herb Kelleher (of Southwest Airlines) type idea with the advantage of great European destinations. EasyJet made it easy to slip away for a cheeky long weekend in an exotic part of the world. As far the brand is concerned, easyJet was an easy-to-grasp concept.
Then the brand got a bit odd. It diversified and expanded; easyGroup grew into a huge range of products that don't necessarily make a good brand fit. Haji-Ioannou names Sir Richard Branson as a business role model and the wafer-thin trail of brand logic that connects easyGroup's companies is indeed reminiscent of Virgin's brand portfolio. The admitted influence gives us an insight to how this group has been assembled. There are a number of comparisons between easyGroup and Branson's Virgin Group. For example…
Notice a pattern?
- Both are service companies.
- Both have airlines.
- Both have dabbled in cinemas.
- Both have mobile phone brands.
- Both have run Internet cafés.
- Both have financial services companies.
- Both have their own credit cards.
- Both have online music stores.
None of easyGroup businesses are anything new; many seem to follow in the shadow of Richard Branson's lead, and they weren't even new when Branson entered them. Indeed while Virgin is a "me too" brand, easyGroup is an "and me as well" brand.
Lately however, we have some odd additions to the easyGroup brand portfolio. The discount service brand that delivers pizza, runs an airline and hires cars has now spawned easyWatch, inexpensive fashion watches competing with the likes of the image-conscious Swatch; easy4Men, a range of men's toiletries that will claim shelf space somewhere between Calvin Klein and Old Spice; and finally, easyCruise, a Mediterranean cruise line offering inexpensive cruises for younger travelers.
The comparisons with Virgin Group don't just stop at the broad portfolio and similarities of businesses, they both seem to lack a real sense of brand direction for their groups. There seems to be a compulsion to jump on the next train (no matter where its going) and sort out the brand issues later. Or in Virgin's case: not sort them out at all.
What does easyGroup actually mean to consumers? It delivers pizzas, has an online music store and runs a cinema in Milton Keynes. It must be a leisure and entertainment brand.
Well no, because it runs a low cost European airline, and runs cruises in the Mediterranean. So it must be a budget leisure operation.
Well, not really, because it has a mobile phone brand and sells financial services—oh, and also rents cars and sells men's toiletries.
The portfolio could be stronger if the brands took a more rationalized approach. Easy4Men will be recognized by consumers, but it could be far stronger if it didn't compete in men's minds with a company that dispenses aviation fuel and handles anchovies all day. EasyWatch would be perceived as valuable and more fashionable if it weren't made by the same brand that brings us financial services products and runs ocean-liners. In other words, the strength of each sub-brand is robbed by the diversity of the others.
It's not that it cannot be done. For a "how to" guide to managing a diverse brand portfolio look no further than the kids at Procter & Gamble. When P&G wants to sell potato chips, it doesn't call them "Olay Snacks" or "Clairol Bite-Size"; it calls them Pringles. The chip brand is effectively disassociated from soap, razor blades and furniture polish.
In fact, with an erratic scattering of products and services under the same consistent brand, easyGroup runs the risk of giving consumers the impression that "easy" doesn't really care about making really good products, just lots and lots of different products. After all, what could an airline that doesn't even serve in-flight meals possibly know about making really great pizza? If we extrapolate the selling points of easyJet, we assume that an easyPizza must be cheap and possibly require self-assembly.
EasyGroup's brand means low-cost products, no frills services, cost- and time-sensitive structures that offer value in exchange for some inconvenience. That's the irony—the easyGroup brand is not necessarily an easy one to deal with. In short, the brand simply offers to make everyday things less expensive by varying the business models—not glamorous or innovative, but honest.
The problem comes when this philosophy is stretched to bursting point over such a diverse range of products. Brands can stretch an awfully long way, provided that the brand remains true to its message. Finding the message among all the variety could prove to be easyGroup's biggest challenge.