Brand owners who become interested in licensing often ask the question: What kind of ROI can I expect if I invest in a style guide for my licensed brand? The answer lies in understanding the unique nature of licensing and the implications of merchandising consumer products across many categories within retail environments. Firstly, it’s almost impossible to attract some of the most desirable licensing partners without having a style guide in place; they simply will not enter into an agreement without this level of support. For licensees who do invest in a property that doesn’t have a style guide in place, many will suffer from disappointing sales and a poor return on their investments. Having said that, a style guide’s purpose isn’t to generate revenue for a licensed brand. And I’ll explain why.
Why every licensed brand should have a style guide in place
A licensing program style guide demands that research be conducted to uncover the key visual assets that differentiate one property from all others. Research corroborates which assets represent the property best in the eyes of its fans. Many brand owners want to license their properties to increase their visibility and sales potential, but too many go to market lacking an expertly-developed creative strategy. Typically, their licensing programs consist of the property logo and a handful of other design assets that the licensor believes the property embodies. Licensees are left to their own devices, using these design assets in whatever manner they think best. As a result, there is no visual consistency in the way in which the property is represented, so it is reduced to becoming part of the visual noise at retail, lost in an over-merchandised marketplace. This is the reason why so many licensing programs fail.
Consider: how can consumers, in a visually over-stimulating retail environment, be expected to focus on the licensed property, when the property itself isn’t focused?
Just as with every consumer product brand, the onus is on the brand owner and their design partners to mine the licensed brand’s equitable visual assets in order to develop an “ownable” creative strategy – a unique aesthetic that distinguishes it from every other licensed brand while being void of anything trend-oriented. The goal should be to determine which of the property’s assets have the ability to function as common “visual threads” that can tie the brand’s entire licensing program together by being infused into all key art, badges, patterns, border treatments, iconography and any other design elements associated with the property. This approach to creative strategy development will establish a distinctive look for the property’s “core” licensing program.
An effective licensing program style guide can then be developed to standardize all visual assets and design elements to assist licensees in the creation of consumer products and packaging that represent the property in a consistent, deliberate manner. This is a valuable marketing tool because it puts licensors in control of how their brands are represented at retail. This benefits licensees because all consumer products bearing the licensed brand will have a cohesive look at retail, ensuring visibility and immediate recognition among its fans.
Adding value by creating product applications and capitalizing on trends
Rather than merely featuring the property’s design elements, a style guide should illustrate the most effective use of these assets by showing examples of consumer products – often referred to as product applications or product inspiration – representing the likeliest of categories. These consumer product examples will help the licensed brand in two very important ways: they will ensure that licensees understand how to adopt the proper visual aesthetic when developing their products; and it help potential licensees envision how great their products will look with the licensed brand’s visual assets applied, thus encouraging new licensee partnerships. As a result, the style guide becomes a powerful sales tool.
I dig a bit deeper into creative strategy and product application development in the October 2021 and December 2021 issues of BOLT!
Once a “core” look is established for the licensed brand, subsequent style guides should be developed to provide licensors with an opportunity to capitalize on trends, ensuring that their properties will remain fresh and relevant to consumers. Even the most successful creative strategies need to keep abreast of developing trends; otherwise the property’s design elements will become stale. As new trends are uncovered, design elements should be revisited and redesigned then released as periodic updates to the style guide.
What kind of ROI can you expect?
A style guide demonstrates to licensees that they are valued partners and assures them that their products and packaging will align with that of every other licensee’s products regardless of category, leading to greater brand recognition and sell-through. By including product applications that incorporate the property’s design elements and by developing subsequent style guides that capitalize on trends, licensee partners are certain to develop great products. Therefore, investing in a licensing program style guide creates value by leading to growth in brand equity, new licensee partnerships and a marketplace filled with products that will resonate with consumers.