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The Inside Man: Time for new words and approaches?

Simon Waters discusses how quality today is being redefined by the level of engagement and connection to the story, and by the data that supports it – and how this new way of thinking has never been more critical for licensing.

After last month’s Licensing Expo, I wrote a LinkedIn post about the need for our industry to introduce new words, approaches and models for licensing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it garnered a lot of attention and agreement – it turns out that many of us are thinking the same thing.

It’s easy to throw a post like that into the LinkedIn universe and then do a runner, but that would be just plain lazy. So, what did I mean by new words, approaches and models?

Not that long ago, most of us would talk about the consumer like an amorphous jelly; an entertainment hungry crowd, careening into cineplexes week after week without coming up for air, episodic TV launches that wrapped a handcuff around hundreds of thousands of kids at the same time every day, product launches that were shovelled into retail set-dates, and twice yearly production cadences that, oddly, had to be spring and fall with an 18-month lead time.

We peppered words like ‘Franchise’, ‘Evergreen’, ‘Unprecedented’, ‘Psychographics’, ‘IP’ and ‘Basket Spend’ into our decks, as if by saying them enough, they’d stick.

And then along came a content creator from somewhere we’d never heard of. They had an idea, a voice and a phone, and started talking to people, one-on-one, about whatever the heck they wanted to. Scrappy. Fallible. Weird. Clever. You name it. They even had the cheek to shoot their content with bad lighting! It was as if humanity was back around a fire pit after too many drinks, regaling stories of the best way to put on make-up, overcome addiction, or how their neighbour’s cat could play piano.

Humans spoke.

We’ve shared a cumulative 40 billion posts on Instagram to date. Adding 95m to that count every single day. We upload 720,000 hours of video to YouTube – every single day. And don’t get me started on TikTok, Snap or Pinterest (still pulling in 463m users). The volume is mind-blowing.

When I work with clients to help them build their worlds today, I’m redefining how to use and think of the word ‘franchise’. It feels strangely exclusionary now, as if being big, splashy and four-quadrant is the only way to win. When working with brands of every shape and size now, I’m helping them play a new tune – and showing them how to play that tune, for one.

Yes, that’s right. An audience of one.

Successful social media creators write and create as if they are speaking to one person. Content and creativity is no longer a process and discipline exclusively owned by animators, film makers and script writers shooting for the mass market. It’s the domain of anyone with an idea. Sure, it has to be an idea that people love, but that’s because quality is no longer a factor of the money on the screen. Quality today is being redefined by the level of engagement and connection to the story – and by the data that supports it.

For us in licensing, this new way of thinking has never been more critical. The very nature of our business model means we have to delegate a level of our magic so others can manage and run our stories. Even the most proactive of brand owners, is still largely at an arms-length relationship with its audience through a licensing deal.

Which is why I wrap up this month with a tip.

Find the partners who help you close that gap.

Partners that understand how to interpret and use the data.

Partners that breathe, nurture and speak to your audience as humans.

Partners that think of your brand through the eyes and ears of one, wonderful fan.

With a phone, an undying love for what you do and a dream for so much more.

And as for business models? All I can say is, it’s going to be direct.

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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