Licensed brands achieve greatness by design. Clear strategy, consistent brand management, implementable tactics, as well as stellar design make superstars among a sea of licensed properties that often fail to live up to expectations.
Design is a crucial component of the marketing mix. It represents both art and science as it analyzes, interprets and gives visual expression to the brand and its core visual assets. Uncovering those visual assets associated most strongly with the licensed property; those that are indicative of the brand and elicit emotion among fan devotees, is the starting point. The unique brand story can then be captured and told through great design.
Develop a strong creative strategy and unique visual hook
By deconstructing the brand down to its DNA, its visual cues can be examined. The most dominant, emotive ones can be leveraged to establish the brand’s visual hook. The visual hook then becomes the backbone of a strong creative strategy. When its use is standardized within a style guide, the licensed brand then stands alone and stands apart from every other brand in the marketplace, licensed or not.
Licensed properties benefit hugely from a unique, highly differentiated visual hook that is consistently employed in the development of every design asset, every consumer touch point, and incorporated into every consumer product, regardless of its category. The key to success is to ensure that its usage is flexible so it adapts easily to evolving customer tastes and trends. In a recent issue of BOLT!, I cite a powerful example of how we established a visual hook for Hasbro’s Littlest Pet Shop brand’s licensing program.
Create a well-designed style guide with product applications that inspire
So how can a style guide showcase the flexibility and versatility of its visual hook? By demonstrating the clever ways that it can be incorporated into the licensing program’s design elements – compositions, badges, patterns, type treatments, iconography – or as part of illustrations, or even embedded into editorial. Then ensuring that the style guide include examples of product concepts – what we refer to as “product applications” or “product inspiration” – that properly and cleverly infuse the visual hook into their design in a variety of ways, while representing a broad range of consumer product categories. By doing so, licensees will see how limitless the possibilities are. Instead of feeling challenged by their product categories, they will become inspired, and find ways to effectively leverage the licensed property as they create their consumer products.
When developing product applications for the brand’s style guide, it’s important to avoid falling into the trap of simply placing the property logo and design elements onto products in a generic fashion. Product applications should be uniquely designed to work specifically with the licensed brand in a dedicated manner. If necessary, the licensing program’s design elements should be reconfigured and combined to create elevated product design that can only be associated with the licensed brand. The use of the brand’s color palette, materials that align with the property in both a visual and tactile manner, and the incorporation of interactive elements in unexpected ways all have the power to connect the brand story to consumers and elicit an emotion response.
All that can be done to assist licensees by providing them with inspiration and an indication of how to properly leverage the creative strategy and visual hook will maximize success for the licensed brand. Otherwise, the performance of the brand at retail will be completely contingent upon the design savvy of each individual licensee, which can vary dramatically.
Establish a “perfect fit” between licensed brand and licensee partners
Once the licensed brand’s creative strategy and visual hook have been established and leveraged in the creation of every design element and development of every consumer touch point, the onus is on the brand owner to ensure that every licensee partnership is a perfect fit for both parties. When brand owners grant a license to any consumer product manufacturer willing to enter into an agreement, with little or no consideration given to whether or not the type of product makes sense for the brand, product design is guaranteed to be less than ideal. It will be impossible for the licensee to create innovative, dedicated designs that are perfectly aligned with the property.
When poorly-designed licensed consumer products enter the marketplace, the value of the licensed brand becomes diluted. Today’s consumers are way too savvy to purchase a product simply because it has the logo and artwork of their favorite brand. The “perfect fit” must be immediately evident. If it’s not, sales, as well as the reputation of both the licensor and licensee, will surely suffer.
Generate excitement for the licensed brand among its fans
The beauty of establishing a well-conceived creative strategy and visual hook, infusing them in the development of the style guide and every consumer touch point, then pursuing the right licensee partnerships? The brand will always remain fresh and relevant to consumers. Product designs will always be consistent and true to the brand. And the brand will have the power to become iconic to legions of brand fans. Consumers will actively seek the brand out and they will continue to be surprised and delighted by the inventive ways in which the visual hook is used on licensed products.
Generating excitement around licensed properties, and keeping fans hungry for more – thats how great licensed products are created.