Integrity, sustainability, honesty, omnichannel, and fun were the constants as the keynote leaders panel discussed building a post-pandemic retail and licensing strategy at BLE’s second day yesterday, 21 September.
Marianne James, Hasbro vice president EMEA and Asia Licensed Consumer Products, MDR Brand Management ceo Daniel Avener, Difuzed director of licensing Jeremy Orriss and Jalil Rahman, Liberty’s director of brand partnerships and licensing aired their expectations, hopes and fears for a post-Covid future as it relates to retail, while giving an insight into the long-term opportunities for licensing and where they will be placing their bets for the coming years.
Prompted by moderator Ben Roberts, License Global’s EMEA content director, Daniel kicked off the discussion, explaining: “Businesses have changed, their business models have pivoted, to stay alive, and I think that’s testament to the strategic entrepreneurialism that the industry really is known for.
“It’s also worth noting, if you look back in history, as everyone is obviously clearly worried about the future, if you keep investing in brands, if you keep investing in innovation, through an economic downturn, that consumers remain loyal to your brands, consumers still engage with your brand, you can become stronger.”
Marianne said Hasbro had responded to people’s needs by looking at the trends with family time, spending more time at home and playing games together, ensuring the fun element was still around, and Jeremy’s take was that consumers are looking for sustainability and value not just price – highlighting that value supermarket Aldi was among the winners at last week’s Licensing Awards – and pointing out that everyone now understands the whole chain is important, including transport and retailers, as “whatever we want that chain to do, it doesn’t work until we all work together”.
With the current environment so unpredictable, the panel agreed omnichannel retailing is important, although Dan said his company feels that it’s now extended to join with the metaverse so they are calling it the omniverse.
He added: “I think there will be a point in time where that connectivity is going to be super relevant. The omniverse will happen at some point and web three is going to happen, AI is going to affect purchasing. So, I think the universal approach and being prepared for that is super important.”
Jalil explained the iconic London department store had found a different way forward as many licensing partnerships were expiring in 2020 and “we decided not to renew them because we felt, if the world was shifted, we needed to shift too”.
With his role being to take Liberty out of its comfort zone, that led to new link-ups with Specsavers which “democratised access” to the Liberty brand, and Puma for sportswear as people were embracing outdoor sports with gyms closed, while still ensuring “the decisions we make are reflecting reality, and are connecting to communities that actually care about great design”.
Having said that, being a responsible business is now key, putting all their people in the company and supply chain first, Jalil was asked about how to act as leaders to strategise change in the industry: “First is an honest appraisal of what we’re making and what we’re doing – is it necessary, do we really need to make this, is it going to really add a good story to our brand. And if it doesn’t, we kill it off.
“The second is understanding culture, making sure that whatever we do is reflecting reality. And third is super simple, having a bit of integrity.
“But, if you really care about business and you have an ethical way of doing things, it makes everything easier. Most Liberty projects that have succeeded, is because people on the other side of the table have the same approach to business. They’re not trying to play games, they’re not trying to do one-upmanship, the old school way of trying to trick somebody into a crap deal. Having integrity is so important, every single day of your life, but especially in business.”
Agreeing with him, Marianne said: “Doing good is doing good business. So that ESG (environmental, social, and governance) strategy, the sustainability, these are brands with purpose, product with purpose. It’s key, I think it’s the expectation of our industry and consumers, and that’s something we’ve got to continue to work on.”
Marianne, Jeremy and Dan also said driving innovation, pivoting business models, rethinking them, and ensuring everyone understands the other’s, and consumers’, perspectives is good leadership, with Dan adding: “The only positive to come out of Covid is that it’s really made us stop, listen, understand your point, pivot and change, really thinking about what we’re trying to do. Is it authentic? Is there a real reason to do it? Is there a brand story? Look at the data, who are we targeting?”