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Lessons for the future… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks for the silver linings in this week’s column.

It is hard to see any silver linings in the dark clouds that hang over us at the moment, but if you can I think it is important to keep looking for them. I think there are some to spot.

There is no doubt that business is tough and doing business tougher still, but I think I have found a silver lining this week. Like many people I am shopping online more at the moment and spending more time ‘looking out’ online. As a consequence I am being prompted more often about products that might interest me – naturally for a Licensing Lookout many of these are licensed ones.

Seemingly we are getting smarter at using social media and ecommerce to sell licensing. The lessons learnt today will stand the industry in good stead in the future. Consumer engagement and a sharper focus on those consumers should help licensing bounceback. Licensors who can connect with their consumers and deliver an audience will be attractive options for licensees and retailers.

So turning to some of the products I have spotted online, partwork company Eaglemoss has over recent years modified its business to embrace the collectables market and its Hero Collector business is a platform for limited edition and short series collections. This dovetails with the traditional longer run partwork series that Eaglemoss has always worked on. Seemingly Eaglemoss has used its knowledge and insights from the traditional partwork business to help drive the Hero Collector business forward. Partworks were always businesses that invested heavily in research and made a concerted effort to understand their consumers, with an emphasise on producing products they wanted.

The Harry Potter Knitting Kits collection fuses a strong licence with a significant niche hobby to create product.
The Harry Potter Knitting Kits collection fuses a strong licence with a significant niche hobby to create product.

The product offer that caught my eye this week was the Harry Potter Knitting Kits Collection. These are a series of Knitting Kits in a box selling for £16.99 – you can choose to knit a whole range of products including backpacks, slouch socks and mittens. And of course, scarves. I should say the Knit your own scarf kits are £19.99 – presumably you need more wool for a scarf!

This product collection is a great example of a company fusing a strong licence with a ‘significant niche’ hobby to create product.

Traditionally partwork companies dipped into hobbies and handicrafts, so Eaglemoss no doubt has a wealth of knowledge about hobbies like knitting. It can lean on this in the NPD process and in deciding which new products to bring to market. This is a good example of a company using consumer insight well in the context of the licensing market.

While Hero Collector and Eaglemoss have a lot of accumulated experience to lean on, there are also a new wave of licensees which have embraced the opportunity that ecommerce and digital marketing provides them to get started in licensing and, in turn, have recognised that licensing provides them with a strong point of difference.

Snugzy is a company with a strong point of difference.
Snugzy is a company with a strong point of difference.

Snugzy is a great example of this trend and type of business. Snugzy produces personalised shaped cushions where a consumer can be featured in a range of guises many of which are licensed – these include football clubs like Chelsea through to well known characters such as Wallace from Wallace & Gromit, Wonder Woman or Superman.

Snugzy has a range of sister companies, such as Super Socks, which offers a plethora of personalised products coupled with well known licensed brands. It has been able to grow rapidly by harnessing social media to sell its products and services. It supplements this by linking with licensors on specific campaigns. I have seen a lot of offers from it over the last few weeks and it is good to see that it hasn’t rested up after a busy Christmas. The products are great for gifting and suit licensing well. It is good to see new companies like this emerging. I know it has also engaged with bricks and mortar retail with ‘pop up’ shops, highlighting that there is a value in embracing different ways of working.

I have also noticed how heritage brands are embracing ecommerce through licensing. Of course museums and galleries have been locked down and as such revenue from gift shops, cafés and exhibitions has been lost.

Their own direct selling operations have become more important and are doing a great job of keeping the virtual show on the road. I know through my client The Ashmolean Museum that its retail shop has embraced ecommerce rapidly and is seeing strong sales as a result. Museums are making good use of their supporter databases to help push sales, but are also engaging with new consumers through digital marketing. Within this context licensees and licensing partners can also play an important role.

August Berg's Morris & Co watches and designs are simple but effective.
August Berg's Morris & Co watches and designs are simple but effective.

One offer I was sent this week was from watch company August Berg. It was promoting a range of Morris & Co watches. The watches and designs were very simple but effective featuring signature designs such as the Strawberry Thief. These were nicely presented as a collection and well marketed.

Morris & Co seems to be performing well in the licensing sector at the moment and is a good example of how heritage brands can thrive in the licensing market if pitched correctly. In this sector there is a real value in knowing your customer, but also from a rights holder point of view being prepared to seek out new partners who know their category.

Better targeting of offers and products to consumers is arguably a good trend for licensing and licensees. Hopefully some of the lessons learned recently will be built on. I suspect it will be more common to see licensing campaigns that are effectively ‘mixed economy’ ones combining physical retail, ecommerce and pop-up retailing with a focus on consumer engagement.

TOMY is using licensing to create new opportunities for its Toomies brand.
TOMY is using licensing to create new opportunities for its Toomies brand.

Finally, I was encouraged to see another silver lining this week. It would be easy for companies to run away from new products and new product launches at the moment so it is good to see companies like TOMY launching new ranges featuring licensing. TOMY announced a new licensing collaboration with Universal to introduce a line of preschool toys for its Toomies brand based on the Jurassic World franchise. It is a good sign to see launches like this and also a great case study of an established toy brand using licensing to create new opportunities.

This collaborative shared billing style of licensing will, I think, become more common in a range of sectors. It is as we know a common occurrence in apparel. The Toomies Jurassic World range looks strong and a great piece of NPD plugging into a strong franchise and a perennial theme. It is also something positive to point to.

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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