The Museum Line Of Extensions

Yes it really exists! Well all right, it exists if you approach it with the right attitude. I’m talking about the Tank Museum in Bovington on the south coast of England. A wonderful three-hall memorial to an invention that helped change the way wars have been fought in the past 95 years.

But approach the museum through the eyes of a marketer and you have laid out before you, in one building, a wonderfully three-dimensional tutorial on line extensions.

It all started with a pressing consumer need – how to cross a muddy, crater- filled No Man’s land without getting machine- gunned to bits. The answer was the tank – a bulletproof metal box with a huge gun stuck on it and a couple of moving tracks underneath.

Since this innovation in 1915, nothing much has changed. The Leopard (Europe’s current favourite) is still a manoeuvrable piece of protection with a bloody big bullyboy cannon at one end.

But as you walk around these silent leviathans of the battlefield, you’ll be struck by the ingenuity of the line extender. Tanks that float. Tanks that throw flames. Tanks that clear minefields. Big ones, small ones, upmarket ones, cheap ones.

And the successful ones seemed those prepared to sacrifice one benefit in order to strengthen another – focused. Like the German Tiger – strong on firepower and protection but weak on speed and distance. These successes were also much more than just product innovations. They developed their engineering ingenuity within an entire infrastructure change. So the formidable Russian T34 wasn’t just a great tank, it was a great tank designed to be made cheaply in vast numbers. Nowhere near as good as German equivalents but just so many more of them.

Two things really surprised me after walking around something like 200 vehicles. First how long it took engineers to catch up with an invention that a designer had imagined and drawn 400 years ago (Leonardo da Vinci). And secondly, once the initial innovation had been made, how incredibly narrow-minded clients have been – preferring to ask for tweaks to a lumbering, expensive piece of complicated metal, than try to make the thing redundant.

My museum visit learning’s from an Innovations perspective? First, believe in the designer’s knack of thinking by wondering and get ahead of the pack. Secondly if you are a challenger brand, realise that most brand owners stop thinking creatively once an initial innovation has been made. This could be your opportunity. Thirdly successful line extensions sacrifice a feature to win on another. And finally, innovation is much more than just a product tweak – great innovation comes from building a complete support infrastructure.