There’s a lot at stake when prepping a brand for licensing. While it has the potential to become a valuable business opportunity for licensors and their partners, a licensing program should only be put in place when a brand is ready for it. Translation: the property has to have a solid fan base and enough strength in the marketplace to attract solid licensees who understand how to roll out the optimal mix of consumer products and how to merchandise.
Attracting and choosing the wrong licensing partners, even if they represent desirable categories of consumer products, (which frequently happens to brands that aren’t ready) can really harm a property. No brand owner wants to be represented by poorly-conceived consumer products and packaging at retail. A newly licensed entity has to be able to hold its own in a marketplace that’s burgeoning with brands. Even if they can get coveted shelf space in retail stores, underperforming properties are unceremoniously pulled out of assortments very quickly. The damage done can actually prevent reentry into the marketplace. And, of course, less than inspiring licensed products are unlikely to even get into top-notch retail stores in the first place. Lastly, and most importantly, the perception of fans could be irrevocably harmed if licensed products don’t measure up to the brand image created by a property. Think about that.
Making a major impact in the marketplace
So how can a brand build its presence and chemistry with its targeted fans to get to the point where licensing is not only feasible, but could make a major impact in the marketplace? We work with many licensed properties within the toy and entertainment industries and what’s true for them is true for all would-be licensors. Toy marketers, for example, like their counterparts within consumer product companies in every category, really have to position their brands with a media focus rather than product emphasis to gain sufficient attention and desirability. Well-strategized, consistently-delivered content on social media platforms creates brand awareness and engagement on a global scale.
It is essential for marketers to pinpoint the platforms to which their fans are gravitating so that they can focus their efforts on them. Smart brands invest in content creation on their web sites, as well, essentially developing their own media platforms. The quality of the content is more important than quantity because even the youngest of fans are sophisticated and discerning. Meaningful brand experience is the only thing that drives sales and growth in this era – not product marketing. That’s good news for small brands that have every opportunity to make it big if they are media savvy. But having a presence on social media platforms means little unless the content presented delivers emotionally satisfying experiences. And unless it’s formatted for mobile devices since that’s the predominant manner in which content is being consumed.
The rapid growth of Shopkins
Moose Brand’s superstar Shopkins property made Shoppies media stars and a household name via its YouTube web series of animated shorts. Shopkins stories engaged young fans and drove them into retail stores to purchase. The brand wisely tapped into kids’ enthusiasm for collecting, an activity in which they can share with their friends; swapping and hunting for elusive characters to add to growing collections. A steady stream of Shopkins continue to come to market featuring engaging, fresh content that ignites kids’ own imaginations. Yet, Shopkins represent mundane, everyday items found in grocery and retail stores, so what makes them so hot? The three C’s: they represent consumerism; they’re collectable and they deliver great content.
There is no doubt that WOM made Shopkins grow exponentially and that continued media exposure on YouTube and the brand web site – with engaging short webisodes – made the property an international sensation very quickly. The huge popularity prompted Shopkins brand owners to seek out licensing opportunities. Kidscreen Magazine’s Patrick Callan astutely pointed this out in an article titled: “Fast Forward”, which appeared in June 2016. ”Shopkins is arguably the poster child for YouTube-driven programs, where the IP launched on the platform and became a strong licensed brand at retail in fairly short order. The collectibles line from Australia’s Moose Toys launched in July 2014 and its sales have surpassed more than 250 million units at global retail. The mini grocery-themed toy brand also now has 155 licensees worldwide, 20 major categories covered and 11 licensing agents globally.”
Summarizing: to have a successful brand today; one that enhances its chances for licensing success, the focus has to be on creating emotionally satisfying experiences rather than selling product.
From media stars to licensing luminaries
The world’s leading toy brands are, in reality, media companies. LEGO, Mattel and Hasbro have developed strong fan bases for their many brands due to powerful storytelling that engages and delights their young audiences. The content that they create tells meaningful, emotive stories that are connecting for children and it is delivered in a manner which excites kids ‘own imaginations, subtly inviting them to weave their own stories around their favorite brands.
Whether we’re talking about Barbie, GI Joe, Transformers or LEGO playsets, what gives these brands meaning and context is the compelling content that surrounds each property. The sharing of backstories gives depth to these characters and their ongoing adventures only bring their young fans back for more. The richness of these brands enables their licensing program design teams to develop a library of brand-centric visual assets for consumer products and packaging that make a huge impact in retail environments. Which brings me to my next point.
Who should be driving licensing?
We are very aware of the problems that arise when licensees drive the look and feel of consumer products and packaging rather than licensors. Unfortunately, licensees who generally lack the expertise to create licensing program design are likely to omit crucial assets, visual and verbal, which ideally represent the property. It is unfortunate because brand fans won’t easily be able to pick out licensed products to which they would normally gravitate in retail stores. Low recognition equals low sales. Even for properties that are hot.
Licensing program design for consumer products and packaging should never be left to chance. We urge manufacturers who are venturing into licensing to take control of their properties in the marketplace, because it will actually help their licensees to be more successful in selling their products. By standardizing the manner in which licensed visual assets are deployed on consumer products, as well as putting packaging style guides in place, licensors actually demonstrate to their licensees that they are valued partners. When licensees succeed, so do brand owners. The goal of licensing programs should be to fully leverage the power of a property – to bring it to life and to essentially make it leap off the shelf.
How much leeway should licensees have with packaging?
We agree that some latitude should be given to licensees to accommodate consumer product packaging in wide ranging categories; but too much freedom leads to a lack of visual cohesiveness that is necessary to the success of every brand. The best approach that licensors can use is to reinforce with licensees that the style guide helps their products to align with other licensees’ products ensuring greater brand recognition and sell-through. The key is to set up the style guide in such a manner as to give licensees a range of options so that they can envision their products within specific packaging concepts. This is helpful and supportive rather than restrictive. Best of all, it’s really an invitation from licensor to licensees to support the brand vision.
Effective style guides include examples of how the brand’s visual and verbal assets might be implemented on products and product packaging. They take into account that products will be launched in many new categories with different packaging needs as new licensing deals are inked in the future. Style guides should allow licensees some leeway while ensuring that the brand’s key visual and verbal assets remain fully in place, putting the licensor firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to managing their properties.
Breaking out of the typical consumer product categories
The usual M.O. for toy brands is to work with licensees in predictable categories from apparel and fashion accessories to home décor. But smart marketers are extending their properties into new territory with fresh new licensing ideas that appeal to adults, capitalizing on the memories and fondness grown-ups have of favorite childhood brands.
Crayola famously worked with Clinique to create a wonderful line of lipsticks last year shaped like their iconic crayons. Now they’ve partnered with Sally Hansen to launch limited edition nail polishes under the licensees’ Insta-Dri sub-brand umbrella. Not only are the nail polishes featured in favorite Crayola colors; the packaging itself is reminiscent of crayons. The lid on each package mimics the top of Crayola crayons in shape and design with the iconic color squiggle wrap-around within a black box. The packaging looks simple but it is obvious that Crayola, as licensor, is driving its licensing program design and extending its brand in a smart manner. And it’s clear that Crayola is choosing its licensees carefully and that they are working well in tandem.
So if you have a small brand that needs exposure to gain visibility and desirability, think about creating compelling content via short webisodes like Shopkins does. Tell compelling stories that add richness and connectivity to the brand. When your property is ready, drive your licensing program in such a manner as to make your licensees partners in your brand vision. Or, if you have a heritage brand that’s typecast within a specific category, but you want to leverage its equity in a fresh manner via licensing, think like Crayola does; wisely setting up partnerships with quality product manufacturers with clout. Think outside of the box. Find categories that make sense for line extensions. No matter what, take ownership of the licensing design program to drive your business to new heights. How satisfying will that be – for you and for your licensing partners?