This year, as never before, licensing brands continue to surprise consumers with unique products. In many ways, these licensed creations reflect the recent industry trends, displayed at Brand Licensing Europe 2018. One such trend has been toward personalization of licensing properties that brands develop to delight their audiences. We at Flowhaven are happy to see this trend mount, as we have long advocated that licensing brands should get right where their fan audiences are. There are numerous implications of getting closer to fans, including the need to understand their expectations and position a brand accordingly.
However, some players in the licensing industry still face challenges when attempting to expand. These challenges can be attributed to a brand’s inability to understand and approach its fandom. Simply said, brands forget to answer the ultimate expansion question, which is:
“Who are the people in our fandom and how do we keep them engaged, entertained, and happy?”
And this question is a tricky one to answer on the spot, as it requires understanding what makes a fandom. Fandom is often described as the state of having an avid attachment to someone or something. Fandoms can also be seen as communities of people, or fans, who share the same interest toward an object and hence connect emotionally. Typically, there is a difference between being an avid fan and just a fan. Fans are willing to invest time, money, and effort in their fandoms. Avid fans are just as willing to do the same, but they also get more out of their investment.
Fandoms incline people to feel similar to, or different from, other people. Recent studies have focused on understanding brand fandoms and the tactics different brands use to nurture theirs. One can no longer underestimate the power of fandoms in today’s media and entertainment industries (here is a recent proof). Licensing, in particular, serves as a tool that connects brands with their fandoms and helps establish a dialogue between them.
For this dialog to be engaging, brands design unique licensing products as the dialogue mean.
As Anita Castellar, CEO of FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management, a brand licensing pioneer, notes, this dialogue “occurs” in four ways. First, a brand provides fans with an opportunity to interact with it in a meaningful way via unique branded goods, services, or experiences, which convey the brand’s emotional value. Second, branded products unite fans, enabling them to express themselves and their desire to belong to a certain fan community (think about it, there is a reason why you wear that awesome T-Shirt from AC/DC gig on a casual Friday?). Third, for many brands, reaching their fans through licensed products is also an opportunity to remind the fan of their emotional connection with a brand that makes them a part of that brand’s fandom. Finally, by gathering fans (consumers) together and supporting their fandoms, brands can facilitate ambassadorship among their fans, thus promoting the brand as the object of a brand fandom.
But the real importance of nurturing brand fandoms lies on the surface. Brand loyalty is harder than ever to earn, which affect sales of brands, including licensing and merchandising profits. However, branded products will always be of significance to the true fans of a brand. According to Troika’s recent research, identity as a human need is one of the factors that shape fandoms. Avid brand fans tend to express who they are by "wearing" that brand. Often, this dedication shows in their eagerness to consume branded merchandise or other licensing products.
By focusing on its fandom, a brand shifts from transactional kind of relationship with fans to more a more genuine one.
However, for those brands who are just starting to grow their brand fandoms, there’s a long way to go. The first step in this strategic journey is understanding your fan audience and the reasons they love your brand. To determine this, you must recall the “basics” of your brand, i.e., its positioning and targeting strategies and differentiation points. Here’s a list of questions to answer in order to shape your licensing strategy around your brand's fandom:
Ultimately, making brands lovable by fans requires licensors to love their brands just as much as their brand fandoms do. To learn how to sell your brand, you have to be its biggest fan and it’s very own geek.
As mentioned, branded products will unlikely lose significance for communities of fans. For many avid fans, possessing branded products is a lot like wearing a wedding ring. By representing your brand, they express their true identities and their bond with the fandom and the brand. If your brand stands by the given promise and manifests this synergy in licensing, fans will always stick around.
Reference: You can reach Anita Castellar at Fangirl Consulting and Brand Management website.