The most vital tool in the brand licensing arsenal is arguably the consumer product licensing program style guide. It serves not only as an asset and guidelines delivery system to ensure that all licensed products stay true to the essence and visual aesthetic of the licensed brand, but also as a tool that helps licensed brand owners establish partnerships with licensees within a broad range of consumer product categories.
Over the years, we’ve witnessed the dramatic shift in style guide design from the highly-immersive, printed and elaborately-die-cut masterpieces that commanded everyone’s attention to the much-less-impressive yet highly-efficient, more economical and easy-to-update and distribute style guide-as-PDF. We’ve also seen the size of the style guide and its contents evolve. Behemoths that used to include core assets and multiple trend-themed design asset collections have given way to more modest style guides with only a handful of core assets and smaller, seasonal, trend-oriented art packs or “capsules.” And, we’ve realized the value of including product inspiration as part of the style guide to help licensees understand how to leverage the licensing program’s design assets to create well-conceived and well-executed consumer products that perfectly align with the licensed brand’s personality.
So, where is the consumer product licensing program style guide heading? As consumer preferences and industry trends continuously evolve, a style guide’s design and its contents also need to adapt to meet the demands of the market. Here’s a look at what we’re already starting to see and what we might expect to see as staple attributes of the consumer product licensing program style guide in the near future.
Digital transformation and interactivity
The rise of digital platforms and e-commerce has had a significant impact on brand licensing. As consumers continue to engage with licensed brands through digital channels, style guides will adapt to include specific guidelines for digital applications. Depending upon the nature of the brand, this may include details on responsive design, social media assets, mobile app adaptations, and website and multiverse integrations.
Today’s style guides are also beginning to address the need for adaptable and scalable assets – particularly for brands with digital origins – allowing licensees to create content that seamlessly fits various screen sizes and formats. We may also begin to see the integration of guidelines and assets for augmented reality (AR) experiences become more common, as they have the potential to enhance consumer engagement and elevate the overall brand experience.
We’re also seeing the inclusion of interactive elements in style guide design, such as hyperlinks, videos, and embedded animations. These elements can effectively demonstrate brand usage, showcase product applications, and bring the brand to life in a dynamic way.
Inclusivity and diversity
In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on inclusivity and diversity in many industries, including brand licensing. Consumer product licensing program style guides are now reflecting this trend by incorporating guidelines for creating diverse representations of characters and models in licensed products.
By celebrating our differences in culture, ethnicity, gender, and abilities, style guides are encouraging licensees to be mindful of representation in their designs. Incorporating diverse characters, models, and scenarios in licensed brand imagery and design assets demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and allows licensees to appeal to a broader audience. Embracing diversity within a licensed brand’s style guide not only reflects modern values but also fosters a deeper connection with consumers who seek relatability and representation.
Sustainability and ethicality
As consumers become increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of their purchases, sustainability has emerged as a significant trend being addressed in consumer product licensing program style guides. Style guides are now beginning to encourage licensees to use eco-friendly materials, reduce packaging waste, and adopt environmentally responsible practices in product manufacturing.
We may even begin to see ethicality guidelines that address issues related to fair labor practices, ensuring that products are designed and manufactured under humane and socially responsible conditions. As we know, licensed brands that prioritize sustainability and ethicality not only meet today’s consumer expectations but also contribute to a positive brand image.
Customizable modules and Components
To accommodate the diverse needs of licensees, as well as individual and personal consumer preferences, many licensed brands are moving towards modular and component-based style guides. Instead of rigid, one-size-fits-all guidelines, these style guides provide building blocks that can be customized to suit individual products or target markets.
Style guides are now beginning to present design assets to licensees as a series of “parts” that can be assembled in a variety of ways in an effort to give licensees more creativity when developing their products. Licensees can now mix and match various design elements, color palettes, and typography options to create unique iterations of the licensed brand while still adhering to its core visual aesthetic. This flexibility allows licensees to cater to specific audiences, ensuring that the brand maintains its identity while resonating with different consumer segments.
Influencer and co-creation guidelines
As influencer marketing becomes an integral part of brand strategy, style guides are evolving to include guidelines for influencer collaborations and co-creation campaigns, giving both licensees and influencers clear direction on how to integrate the brand’s visual identity into their content while maintaining authenticity. These guidelines empower influencers to create content that seamlessly aligns with the licensed brand while expressing their unique personality and style.
Lastly, we may begin to see licensed brands adopting a more user-centric approach to style guide design, with the focus being on providing practical and user-friendly guidelines that cater to the needs of licensees and their creatives. Rather than simply serving as a delivery system for design assets, user-centric style guides would include clear instructions and FAQs that address common challenges and issues as they relate to the application of design assets to consumer products. By making the style guide more accessible and user-friendly, licensors foster a collaborative and positive relationship with licensees, leading to better brand representation and stronger partnerships.
These are the areas where we see consumer product licensing program style guides evolving to better address the ever-changing brand licensing industry. Now, we’d like to hear from you.
- What are some of the trends that you’re seeing in style guide design and the type of content they include? Do you feel that these trends are transient or that they’re here to stay?
- Have you noticed a change in the size of style guides and their content? If so, in what way have they changed?
- In terms of style guide content, what do you feel are “must haves” vs. “nice to have, if budget allows” in the current brand licensing landscape?