Every licensed brand has its own unique set of attributes that resonate with its fans. Therefore, each should be treated uniquely in how it they are represented visually within the consumer product marketplace. Instead of employing the same templated approach to the development of design assets for every licensed brand, we need to do immersive research to uncover exactly which visual cues differentiate a licensed brand from its competitors, then leverage them as the basis for its licensing program’s creative strategy. This careful consideration will ensure that the licensed brand has every possible advantage at retail.
Once this insight is gleaned and a creative strategy is established, how do we determine which design assets to develop for the brand’s licensing program? How do we know which design assets would be most suitable for the brand’s licensee partners to work with as they create their consumer products? To answer these questions, we need to first address the things that make a licensed brand successful in the marketplace.
Understanding the licensed brand’s consumer
The first key to brand licensing success is to know the licensed brand’s consumer well. Determine what kinds of licensed brand content they love to consume and where they go to consume it. Are they actively looking for new content from the brand owner, through third parties or through social media? Learn how the licensed brand fits into their lifestyle. Is the licensed brand one that they identify with wholeheartedly and make a point to include in their daily lives? Or, is it more peripheral, only finding its way into their lives in specific situations? Understand their shopping behaviors. Do they look for the brand whenever they’re at retail and purchase any licensed products they can find? Or, do they only purchase products bearing their favorite licensed brand in specific categories? Lastly, which competitive licensed brands do they purchase for themselves and for their families? Answering these questions will begin to reveal the types of consumer product categories that should be considered.
Choosing the most appropriate consumer product categories to pursue
For behemoth licensed brands, the marketplace is typically oversaturated with product in just about every category. But, how many of these categories actually make sense for the brand? We’ve all seen licensed brands partnering with consumer product brands that are poor fits –where the two brands are just not compatible. Or worse, we all know our share of consumer product brands that simply slap the licensed brand’s logo and key artwork onto their product and call it a day. How can consumers get excited about these products? In fact, WHY would they get excited about these products? And how could the consumer product manufacturer develop products that are more purposefully tied to the licensed brand… more dedicated and intentional… if the partnership is such a poor fit? But, let’s not be too quick to blame the licensee partner in this scenario. Sometimes the partnership is a poor fit because the licensed brand owner pursued the wrong consumer product category.
With this in mind, the licensed brand owner must be savvy and discerning with these decisions, and answer the following questions about each potential category:
- Will this new category appeal to consumers who are already aware of the brand and purchasing products bearing its license?
- Does it have the ability to capture the attention of consumers from a new target audience?
- Will it provide an opportunity to grow the licensed brand’s presence at retail without diluting the impact of the brand in its existing categories?
- Does the licensed brand bring something new to the table for consumers of products within the category being considered?
Allowing consumer product categories to drive design asset development
Many of the style guides we develop here at Design Force, Inc. are for high-profile entertainment brands. When we develop design assets for these brands, we’re almost always basing our design decisions on what would work best as a graphic composition for apparel – think: an action-oriented group of character poses tied together with graphic elements relevant to the property, then complemented with an editorial phrase that would resonate immediately with consumers. Of course, we also develop patterns, icons, and other design assets to complete the licensing program creative for these properties. However, the graphic composition tends to be the most popular asset among licensee partners due to the fact that almost all licensed entertainment brands can find success in the apparel and accessories categories. Let’s face it, fans love wearing just about anything emblazoned with artwork of their favorite lifestyle and entertainment brands.
Let’s say, for example, that research revealed the best opportunities for a licensed entertainment brand to be in hardline categories, where the typical design assets, such as composed graphics, icons and patterns, won’t be of any use to licensees. In this case, the licensing program’s creative should have a primary focus on character imagery, particularly action poses that would work great as action figures, figurines and other molded products. Along with action poses, it’s also beneficial to hardline licensees to include “turn-arounds” – artwork that provides front, back and profile views of the property’s characters – to ensure that character-based products are accurately depicted from every angle.
For licensed brands, whether entertainment-based or not, that are pursuing categories such as bedding, back-to-school or swimwear, it’s imperative that the licensing program creative include patterns that seamlessly repeat. Bedding, in particular, often has multiple components requiring repeat patterns. So, it would be best to develop patterns that work well together. For example, if it’s a character-based property, some patterns should be developed with characters while others are without. For back-to-school products, patterns may find their way onto pencil barrels, pencil cases, notebook covers and backpacks. And for swimwear, it’s helpful to offer certain patterns in a range of colors to appeal to different genders and to provide consumers with options based on personal taste.
Letting the brand itself play a role in design asset development
What if a licensed brand isn’t a character-based property and there are no editorial phrases associated with it? Maybe it’s a highly-recognizable video game brand or toy brand. Then it may be best to focus more on design assets such as patterns that portray the brand’s game screens or play pattern, or perhaps icons that highlight the equitable shapes that immediately call the brand to mind. Allowing the nature of the brand itself to dictate the types of design assets that should be developed for its licensing program is sometimes the most effective approach.
Treating the style guide as a versatile, ever-evolving tool
In the end, it’s all about providing licensee partners with the tools they need to develop well-conceived and well-executed consumer products that portray the licensed brand in the best way possible at retail. Therefore, there’s a benefit to treating a licensed brand’s core style guide as an open-ended vehicle for asset delivery. As new categories are pursued and new licensee partners are acquired, new design assets can be developed to accommodate them. Giving them what they need will give them the best opportunity to succeed. Remember, their success is your success.