3 New Strategic Directions In Brand Licensing

The brand licensing industry is widely known for is its fast-changing lifecycle. When traditional licensing tactics and strategies fade away, new trends instantly come into the industry. Inspired by the ever-changing consumer behavior, these trends unfold unique opportunities for the industry players, thus breaking the outdated rules. They also determine the directions in which brands develop their licensing strategies, which leads brands to design truly unprecedented products. In this article, we're describing the three most innovative strategic directions in brand licensing which brands follow to breath new life in their licensing campaigns in 2017.

Against The Flow

Today, it's common for brands to go against the flow in their attempts to embrace the changes in consumer behavior. This direction, also commonly known as counterculture, take the form of a strategy reverse to the mainstream. This strategic direction implies switching brand's targeting focus, particularly from masses to the niche. Countercultural brands target and aim to earn the trust of smaller niches first, nudging them to spread the message to the mass audience. By appealing to smaller groups first, brands allow word of mouth do its job. As a result, the early “niche” adopters help brands in building communities around their licensing programs. In today’s era of digitalisation, this happens rather quickly, and buzz marketing helps brands to develop at a faster pace.

Similarly, many brands that are familiar to the mass consumer today initially targeted more narrow niches. Like this, Angry Birds, PokemanGo, Minions alike weren't initially meant for the adult audience. The latter have become active consumers of merchandise products launched by these brands. More often than not, adults convert into brand’s consumers because those brands appeal to their kids.

There are many other paths brands can go in their attempts to “unfollow” the mainstream. Presently, consumer preferences change towards the alternative way of living, embracing such values as those of sharing economy, health & wellness, and sustainability. Winners are the brands that can adjust to the quick change and come up with new ideas of innovative licensing programs.

The Nostalgia Way

However surprising this may sound, nostalgia has always been one of the most significant emotion in the brand licensing industry. Many popular licensed properties have been maintaining their fame with the help of the nostalgia factor. Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob Squarepants is only one successful example.

Over the years, the nostalgia trend has also brought many of the long-forgotten properties to life. Just recently, in the light of its 30-th anniversary, the 1990-s iconic Groovy Chic has made a comeback to the retail stores in collaboration with DRi Licensing. Similarly, some brands that have modernized throughout their existence return to their old selves to gladden their most devoted fans. One instance is PacMan, whose team has designed a retro style guide representing the older designs of this property.

Furthermore, the world of merchandising has seen some of the long-forgotten properties unexpectedly return to the shelves ever again. As nostalgic entertainment characters have returned in the mid 2010-s, the world of merchandise couldn’t have left it without notice. In this way, the fans of Twin Peaks, both the old and the ones converted long after the end of the show’s second season, were happy to welcome the new licensing line with the launch of the series’ return.

Similarly, vintage properties are making a comeback.  Retro brands and branded properties are often known for their flexibility, proven value proposition, and established customer bases. SEGA, for instance, realized that one way to please their fans is by reviving some of the cult games. Hence, the company is preparing to bring the cult 90-s games of Sonic and Streets of Rage back to life shortly.

Towards New Experiences

Conventional brands extend into unique categories, meaning to create new experiences for its fans. One interesting instance is the extension of Hello Kitty and Moomin into pop-up and cafe categories. According to the Moomin’s licensing agent, the virtual experiences that brands create allow their fans “to step in and take part in the unique brand ambiance.”

As we explained in one of our previous articles, retail experiences are a trend on the rise today. To persuade their fans to buy licensed production at the retail point of sales, licensors collaborate closely with retailers. With the combined efforts, partners create the unique ambiance in stores to surprise visitors and make their shopping experience special. Thus, this new brick-and-mortar trend successfully competes with the growing popularity of e-commerce.

Another example of how licensors create extraordinary experiences for their customers are box services. The recipients that request such “mystery” boxes mostly are fans of certain brands looking to be surprised with exciting merchandise products. Often, the package is a subject of merchandising, alike in the case of Loot Crate’s Walking Dead-themed boxes designed in collaboration with AMC. Other examples of box service providers include Funko (deliver Marvel and Disney toys), Birchbox (makeup products) and KidBox (seasonal deliveries for kids).

In essence, the brand licensing industry has never been as dynamic as it is today. Similarly, the room for creativity has never before been as open as it is today. Accordingly, licensors have infinite options for strategic shifts and transformations. The general trends, such as development of technologies, internationalization and rise of new markets in the industry (such as Japan and South Korea), will continue to boost the indurtsy growth further.

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Timo Olkkola

Timo Olkkola

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