The Inside Man: Ten good reasons

New regular columnist, Simon Waters, discusses how brand building is a commercial art form and why we should think about licensing as a growth accelerator for business.

For those of you young enough to remember Jason Donovan’s seminal 1989 album of the same title as this column, I salute you. Your 80’s soap opera pop-culture radar is very well-tuned.

As someone who worked in the music industry in London early in his career, I look back at that business as almost unrecognisable since the heady days of physical media, despite today’s resurgence of vinyl. Technology came along back then, flipped the boat over and only had enough room on the lifeboats for a few.

Yet artistic vision survived. Scratch that – it now thrives. As tough as technology has been on artistic and creative compensation, it’s also revolutionised and democratised the creative process.

As we move through 2024, I think it’s time we started to think about licensing with a similar disruptive lens and the same, thriving, artistic and creative vision for our brands. Brand-building is a commercial art form unto itself.

Licensing is often confused with being the endgame of the brand-building process. Much like streaming is to music though, licensing is simply the delivery mechanism for deep consumer engagement and brand growth.

It’s a business model. And it’s why I love licensing.

If you have a brand, licensing is your business model canvas of commercial and creative possibilities.

With this canvas in mind, here are 10 prompts to think about licensing as your growth accelerator as you paint your strategic plans in 2024:

  1. As a way to bring in free cash and bolster EBITDA multiples, especially if you’re up for sale. We say this to our PE partners all the time.
  2. As a way to deliver low-risk, low-cost innovation for new products without the overhead. Ask yourself, what new consumer segments you could enter?
  3. As a way to reach more diverse audiences without a significant marketing investment. Why not partner with someone who already has that audience in their camp?
  4. As a way to enter new channels of retail distribution. You can keep your focus on your key account core, but don’t expect them to be around forever. Look at TRU.
  5. As a way to test new verticals that aren’t your core competency. At Hasbro, we didn’t make the first Transformers movie ourselves, we partnered with experts. Look at it now.
  6. As a way to make your fans deliriously happy. With a young kid who’d spend her entire inheritance on anything K-Pop, I know the power of the fan economy.
  7. As a way to enter international markets without the overhead. You’re doing a bang-up job at home, why not licence your blue-print and land on new shores?
  8. As a way to expand your touchpoints and underpin your brand positioning. Old schoolers might think of positioning as marketing-speak. I think of it as gold.
  9. As a way to build low-cost acquisition funnels. I get bombarded with marketers telling me how to lower my cost of acquisition. They don’t know I can do that with licensing.
  10. And finally, as a way to deliver low-cost, authentic earned media. I’m a brand storyteller. All brands must tell a story. If you get the right licensee, they’ll put a megaphone on your story and blast it to the moon and back.


There you go. Ten Good Reasons to put money in the bank and grow your brand to pole position with consumers. Now, maybe I should send a message to Jason Donovan to see if he wants to do a franchise re-boot?

Simon Waters runs World Builder, a licensing and content brand accelerator, and is the founder of The Licensing Insiders, a connected collective of senior licensing executives who deliver incremental revenue and brand growth for their clients without the overhead of in-house or agency teams.

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