Apple’s devices are a perfect place for smart brand extension

What do you do if your brand or product is looking a little long in the tooth? Hitch your wagon to Apple’s (s aapl) star, that’s what. Apple’s software platforms and hardware devices offer a great opportunity for brands to reinvent and extend themselves, but only if the approach is handled correctly.

One company that’s a perfect example of how to do Apple-based brand extension right is Wacom. The iPad, arguably, represents a considerable threat to their consumer drawing tablet business. The iPad can’t replicate the pressure sensitivity of Wacom pen tablets, of course, but for users that may otherwise have opted for Wacom’s entry-level Bamboo product, that may not be that much of an issue.

Rather than try to fight encroachment by Apple’s tablet, Wacom has embraced the device, releasing a Wacom-branded Bamboo Stylus for use with the iPad’s capacitive touchscreen. There’s also now a complementary app called Bamboo Paper that furthers the brand and acts as a marketing tool for the Bamboo Stylus.

A similar app called Moleskine is an example of how brands need to be really careful about how they represent themselves in the App Store. Moleskine is the maker of pocket paper notebooks and sketchbooks that take their design from the kind of notebooks used by people like Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway. The app is a digital notebook, but it dilutes the brand rather than serving it by not living up to the quality expectations customer associate with Moleskine.

The lesson is that if you aren’t willing to put any real time or effort into your brand extension, you’re better off not trying it at all. Unless, that is, you opt for something small, pretty and clever instead of something ambitious and useful. For brands that don’t need to worry about whether or not they need to rethink their business model down the road (as Wacom and Moleskine may have to do if consumer tablets catch on and continue adding features), a little goes a long way.

Such is the case for Vipp, whose iconic metal waste bin is a design classic. Vipp wisely recognized that the interests of Mac buyers are closely in line with their target customer base, and so released a tiny app that does just one thing: replaces the OS X trash can in the Dock with a Vipp pedal waste bin. It’s animated, installs and uninstalls with just a single click, and it looks great.

An Apple tie-in is a good way to build a brand, but putting an ugly product or one that doesn’t work well on hardware that excels in both categories will only hurt, not help. Instead, brands that take the time to come up with something clever or useful will be the ones that successfully reach out to the lucrative market segment made up of Apple customers.