About a year ago, I wrote an article about the downfall of the consumer product style guide as a highly-immersive, printed masterpiece that stopped us in our tracks and commanded our attention. In the glory days of the printed style guide, its purpose was to deliver brand assets to licensee partners in the most compelling and engaging manner possible. The article went on to explain that these cleverly-conceived, printed interpretations of consumer product style guides were replaced by the PDF format because they were too costly and time consuming to produce, as well as impossible to modify or update once printed and shipped. It also pointed out that the PDF format essentially homogenized the experience licensees had with licensed brands, and pushed for brand owners to be differentiating with their approach to style guide development, despite the new, mundane digital format.
All of what I stated a year ago is still relevant and should continue to be the basis of every brand owner’s design strategy. However, being differentiating and immersive with the experience isn’t enough. The role of today’s consumer product style guide has the potential to be stretched further and become much more effective in the hands of a brand’s licensing team. Here are two ways to transform a brand’s consumer product style guide into its most powerful sales tool.
First… establish an emotional connection
Keeping in mind the fact that every potential licensee is being bombarded with brands to consider as their next licensing partnership, it’s tough for brand owners to effectively break through the chaos and clutter. Therefore, it’s important to break frame to capture their attention. Once captured, it should be viewed as a valuable opportunity for the brand to be introduced to them in a unique way. And they had better be appealed to wisely.
Rather than being quick to jump straight into the style guide’s table of contents, why not leverage a handful of pages up front to tell the brand’s story? For example, if the brand is a children’s animated property, create beautiful compositions that feature key characters and distinctive scenes, incorporate editorial phrases and brand messaging, and convey the licensing program’s visual aesthetic. Take this opportunity to tastefully tout the brand’s successes by highlighting its network ratings and popularity among its target audience. List any awards it has won and notable testimonials it has been given. This “preface” to the style guide will become a highly influential sales tool when presented to potential licensee partners, making it tough for them to overlook the brand’s value.
When Denmark-based Ink Group engaged our team to develop the licensing program style guide for ZAFARI, a CG animated children’s television series about a group of “misfit” animals who live in a secret valley at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, we introduced potential licensee partners to the brand’s unique story through a series of up front teaser pages that featured its unique characters and lush backgrounds along with editorial such as ”It’s Time to Stand Out from the Crowd” and ”Without Differences, There Can Be No Beauty” to convey its ”celebration of differences” messaging. We also showcased the licensing program’s distinctive visual aesthetic, which is rooted in the use of a mixture of animal textures within the editorial typography. This approach creates a powerful brand statement that will resonate with potential licensees before they even get to the table of contents.
Then… apply the brand to their products
The inclusion of product application renderings as part of a brand’s consumer product style guide was once considered ”nice to have” if budget allowed. But they have since become integral assets to just about every licensing program. Typically shown across a range of products from a variety of different categories, their primary purpose is to convey the proper visual aesthetic to achieve as design elements are applied during the product development process. Over time, brand assurance teams also realized that product applications were a great way to show the versatility of design elements to licensee partners who were having a difficult time understanding that the ready-made assets contained within the guide could be dissected and repurposed to better suit their product development objectives.
Most importantly, however, brand owners have come to understand the most compelling reason to invest in a product applications section within their style guide: its ability to function as a highly-persuasive sales tool when pursuing new licensee partners. There’s truly no better way to influence a potential licensee’s decision-making than to show a licensing program’s brand assets applied to products from their specific category. Over the past year, every consumer product style guide we’ve developed included product applications. And the number of products being represented within these guides continues to increase.
A good example would be the broad range of product applications we developed for Outfit7’s Talking Tom and Friends 2D Mini style guide, which features the 2D illustrated interpretation of the property’s five main characters from their popular iOS game apps. The licensing program includes design elements developed against three distinctive trend styles Minimal, Pop Art and Coloring Book. Within the product applications section of the style guide, each trend style has its own page highlighting product concepts representing a variety of categories. Our strategy was to feature products from categories that are appropriate for each trend style and in alignment with the types of products manufactured by licensee partners that Outfit7 hopes to pursue. The product applications section concludes with a page showing the breakdown of a particular design elements components and how they could be reconfigured to better accommodate a product’s specific attributes. This approach to product application engages potential licensee partners, getting them excited about the property and proving that it’s a great fit for them. And it also highlights the versatility and limitless potential of the licensing program’s design assets, helping potential licensees envision how great their products will look in the marketplace.
If you’re still treating your brand’s consumer product style guide merely as an asset delivery system – essentially a vehicle to present your brand’s digital assets to your current licensees – you’re missing a valuable opportunity to engage and excite your potential partners and influence their decision to get on board with your brand. Don’t lose sight of the need to create a differentiating and immersive brand experience with the design of your brand’s style guide. But, be sure to also treat it as a multi-faceted tool, and it will become an integral, highly-influential part of the sales process as well.