We chat to The Social Store’s Ian Shepherd to find out more about the Hearts by Tiana brand.
Firstly, can you give us some background on Tiana?
Ian Shepherd, ceo, The Social Store: Tiana is the most popular girl on YouTube in the world (by total video views). She is a 10 year old YouTuber from Nottingham, UK. Her two YouTube channels have a combined audience of over 13 million subscribers and over three billion video views. She started on YouTube four years ago, mostly unboxing toys, and now her videos feature challenges and pranks.
How did you first become involved?
Most of my career has been spent working in the media industry, and for kids’ content providers including Cartoon Network and Disney. There has been a massive shift in kids viewing over the last few years. I’ve witnessed this first hand through my own children who are big fans of Tiana. I had previously met with Tiana’s manager through my Business of Influencers network, before discussing specific opportunities.
How did this then lead on to the Hearts by Tiana brand?
Prior to launching my company, The Social Store, I was head of business development for Disney’s Licensing & Retail team where I led their special projects. At Disney, I could see the huge growth in YouTubers, but felt that all of the branded products they sold were really poor. I knew that I could launch much better products, leveraging all of my connections and experience. Our company creates merchandise with a number of social media stars. As Tiana has become a little older and more opinionated about what she likes to wear, the demand for her merchandise has grown increasingly strong. We identified the potential for a range of clothing and products that Tiana herself would like, wear and use. I wanted to elevate this product above standard influencer merchandise and create a brand with depth and values. A lot of designs featured Hearts, inspired by Tiana’s own signature (which features a heart replacing the dot in the ‘I’) and Hearts By Tiana was born.
What are some of the brand’s characteristics?
Hearts By Tiana is the brand for every girl – with a broad appeal anywhere from 6-12 years of age. It’s all about authenticity, fun, being playful and ‘keeping it real’. Tiana’s content resonates with her fans because she can interact with her 13 million+ subscribers instantly and react to their needs, she only integrates/discusses product that she is genuinely passionate about, and fans not only engage with her but share their videos with others. From a product perspective, it’s almost the opposite to a traditional licensed franchise or property. We are not taking on-screen visual assets and pushing them into to product, we are creating assets that specifically work with product but are also harmonised to the new ‘property’.
Can you talk through some of the licensing deals that have already been secured and in which categories?
Tiana is 11 on Christmas Eve, and Hearts By Tiana is a tween property that is growing with her and her audience. The ambition has always been to licence it across all the major tween categories. The first time any licensee or retailer saw the Hearts By Tiana style guide was at BLE. Since then we have been totally overwhelmed with licensees and retailers that want to work with us. We have secured licensees in a number of the major categories and have had many advanced conversations. The plan is to launch with a big bang early next year.
Which categories are next on the target list?
We are open to all categories and would welcome approaches from licensees. Tiana also has a really strong audience in the US and we are keen to work with partners who can help open up that market for the Hearts By Tiana brand.
How are you looking to make sure that all partners/product are truthful to Tiana? For example, her fans are very dedicated and could probably spot a cash in!
The most important thing to ensure is that they are authentic, and Tiana would proudly use and wear them. We achieve this by asking Tiana about her likes and dislikes, favourite colours, etc. We also listen to customer suggestions – the unique nature of social media means that we can see what fans want in the comments section of videos. There is a lot of poor-quality products on the market and we are working to ensure that ours come from high quality suppliers, many of whom I’ve previously worked with at Disney.
How was BLE for you? Why did you decide to exhibit at the show? What was the reaction from licensees/retailers who you showed the brand to?
BLE was amazing! We only booked our stand six weeks before the show, but I was determined to present Hearts By Tiana to the industry. Two weeks prior to the show, we created a two-day pop-up shop at Bullring & Grand Central in Birmingham. The turnout was crazy, and more than 10,000 fans turned up, which really showed the demand for Tiana’s products. I knew that we had a very strong concept but wasn’t sure whether the licensees and retailers would see my vision. Thankfully many did, and we are really excited to be working with those at the forefront of the licensing industry.
Will you be taking the Hearts by Tiana brand to any of the toy/gift shows in 2019?
Tiana is transitioning from a child to a tween, and we don’t want Hearts By Tiana to be too toyetic. We will explore all opportunities that we feel are right for the brand.
Why are brands such as Hearts by Tiana so important for the growth of the overall licensing industry do you think?
Kids aren’t watching TV like they used to, daily viewing time has halved in the last ten years. And it’s because kids love watching their favourite YouTubers – they can relate to the content, and often say they think it’s for them because it’s created by kids. We know more kids in the UK watch Tiana than the top ten kids’ TV channels combined and the opening weekend box office of the biggest films. Kids would like products from their favourite stars, and licensing is a great approach to ensure high quality products and mass market distribution. Furthermore, from a creative perspective, we can move so fast with our brands. We have a very close relationship with Tiana’s parents who are very supportive and respond swiftly to ideas and suggestions. This means we can get new concepts moving very quickly. It’s exciting to move so fast and create trends in the industry.
What challenges come with creating a brand around a social medial influencer, as opposed to a traditional character brand, for example?
The most successful YouTubers have all grown their channels organically, by creating high quality content that their audiences love. There are no overnight successes or one hit wonders. Their channels are their businesses, and so they all know the rules of engagement. There aren’t any significant challenges, and their ability to move fast makes for much greater scope and flexibility versus a traditional character brand.
What would you most like to achieve with Hearts by Tiana in 2019?
We know that there are hundreds of thousands of kids wanting to join Tiana’s TT Squad (her loyal army of fans). We’d like to create a strong brand with great products that fans love at affordable prices and work with the best licensees and retailers to help us achieve this.
And longer term, how do you see the brand developing?
Looking forward we plan for the Hearts By Tiana brand to grow with Tiana and her audience. As she moves from Tween to Teen, the brand will evolve, always remaining relevant and on-trend.