Ensuring Licensed Property Success

How to Ensure Licensing Success Through Brand-Centric Design

It’s always exciting and challenging to work with any new consumer product brand or entertainment property, but for the owners of these brands, the learning curve can be a steep one. The first focus has to be on creating a unique brand and building equity from scratch, and that takes vision, determination and a strategic plan.

When the brand becomes even moderately successful, licensing is often viewed as desirable, since it has unlimited potential to maximize its power financially. Yet, the decision to license is not a simple one; nor is the process of preparing a property for licensing simple. There are many considerations. We have seen too many viable brands fail when they ventured into licensing, either due to entering into relationships with the wrong partners, by pursuing the wrong consumer product categories, by not having a consumer product style guide in place, or a combination of all of these things. Adding to these complexities, many property owners are jumping ahead to license brands that have yet to mature, which presents yet another challenge. Getting the licensing equation wrong will not only prove disappointing from a revenue generating perspective, it can actually do harm to the brand or property.

Before embarking on licensing ventures, brand owners should work with consultants who specialize in brand licensing design so that they can develop a unique visual and verbal language to fully leverage the property’s values and assets. It’s even more desirable to seek out design experts who have a narrow focus; who specialize in specific industries rather than being generalists, since they will have a higher level of insight and expertise.

With the creation of visual and verbal design assets, consumer product and packaging program style guides can be developed to assist and support licensees and to ensure consistency in the manner in which the brand is presented to the world for the licensor. This is a crucial step in the licensing process and it should not be omitted. If it is, licensees will be left to their own devices and ideas and the brand’s most important assets, the ones that matter most to its fans, will not be properly leveraged. Without a consistent face to the world; without presenting the attributes that bring the brand to life, the most successful property can appear dull and lifeless, leading to failure when licensed.

When this process is complete, the brand owner should be sure to align themselves with the right licensee partners – those who will develop consumer products that make sense for the brand; that will be avidly sought after by the property’s fans. It is best to go about this process in a selective manner rather than trying to sell licensing agreements to as many partners as possible.

Build brand equity through brand-centric design

Rather than adopting stylistic trends in the development of brand licensing design for a less mature property, a brand-centric approach is necessary to build equity. And, that’s our focus as design consultants. We simply can’t create the necessary impact for a brand or property otherwise.

By studying the most important visual and verbal assets associated with the brand from the fan’s perspective, we can leverage them in a consistent and targeted manner. This engenders immediate recognition and engagement between the licensed property and its fans in the development of consumer products and their packaging. It is crucial to understand that a brand being prepared for licensing must leverage its own unique attributes to speak in an emotive manner to the fan culture that surrounds it. I would also add that if current packaging is missing the mark for any maturing licensed property, it should be refreshed to deliver the brand in a more decisive manner, and to better appeal to its fans.

When a consumer product style guide is developed, it should be flexible enough to support products in a broad range of categories as new licensing agreements are made. The goal isn’t to squelch the creativity of licensees, but rather to support them as full partners. This ensures success for everyone: consumers, retailers, licensees and licensors. As the brand grows and establishes greater equity, we can then build upon the original licensing program design to reflect stylistic trends and evolving cultural cues to ensure its continued relevance for a fast-changing fan base.

A good example of this would be the style guide we developed for ZAFARI, a CG animated children’s television series created by David Dozoretz about a group of “misfit” animals who live in a secret valley at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro where they can live without the ridicule and bullying of “normal” animals and celebrate that which makes them unique.

We were engaged by the Denmark-based brand development company, Ink Group, to create the licensing program style guide for ZAFARI. However, before we embarked on its design, we looked inward at the brand itself to establish a creative strategy for this new property, which is all about the mixture of textures that make the characters of ZAFARI unique. Every design element in the program is infused with texture – whether incorporated into typography, embedded within graphic shapes, or presented in the form of the character art itself – to reinforce the “celebration of differences” message.

We created a broad range of design elements to support the licensing program, including badges, patterns, border treatments, type treatments and iconography, all of which leverage the same brand-centric visual aesthetic. Our design for the style guide itself introduces licensees to the world of ZAFARI through its unique messaging, and explains the proper approach to the visual aesthetic to ensure that all ZAFARI licensed product look cohesive at retail. Once this initial aesthetic becomes understood by consumers and the brand gains equity in the consumer product marketplace, trend-based licensing programs can be developed for the property.

Licensed product packaging should create a powerful brand experience

Because of its direct interface with consumers, we understand that package design is an important tool in helping to build recognition, trust and equity, even for brands that enjoy considerable heritage, but especially for those that are still on a trajectory of growth. For licensed brands, it is absolutely crucial to help them stand out from among a plethora of properties that are represented in the marketplace. If that isn’t currently happening, it’s important to refresh packaging to realign it with the property in a more effective manner for licensors, their licensees and retailer partners.

We know that equity building is the product of compelling consumer experiences. That’s why brands are so focused on creating and augmenting them. Package design represents the most tangible of brand expressions with which consumers have direct experience. Of course strong package design prompts the sale, but it goes much further than that. Experiences that are rich and emotive help to cement the relationship between fans and a licensed property. Given that, licensed product packaging program design must become a top priority for licensors who are trying to leverage the full power of their properties.

Design must be given a seat at the table because, in essence, we as designers become a valuable part of the licensor’s marketing team, adding value beyond licensing program design. Our work adds equity to the core of the brand itself.

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