Managing The Brand Licensing Ecosystem

Robert StrandAugust 14, 20184 min

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. This test implies that a person can identify an unknown subject by observing that subject’s habitual characteristics. If something has all the characteristics of a thing, it is probably that thing.

So you have a logo, your corporate brand that stands for something – your brand reputation and relationship with your consumer. Once a licensed product is out of its packaging, and you put the product on, see the product from across the room or from across the street, will it be quickly identified as part of the brand’s ecosystem?

Incidentally, the phrase “if it looks like a duck…” was originally about a mechanical digesting duck. In 1783, a French automaton maker, Jacques de Vaucanson, fooled the world into thinking he’d replicated life. The mechanical duck was built to surprise audiences by quacking, moving it’s head to eat, seemingly digest, and then after a short time drop some fowl friends off at the lake. The truth is, it was a clockwork trick. The food went down a rubber tube into a stomach, whereupon a pre-stored mixture of actual canard crap was squeezed out of a bag.

Aligning Licensed Products With The Brand Ecosystem

Earlier in my career, I had the privilege to serve as VP Licensing for Rawlings, a leading sports equipment manufacturer. A company with great people and great pride in their product and brand. I specifically chose the sequence of product first, brand second as that is how the sporting goods industry works. At the time there was an air of skepticism about brand licensing, however without realizing it, their approval process was based on revenue first, how the logo looked and that’s about it. They weren’t holding licensed products to their own internal quality standards, as a result the reputation of their licensed products was poor.

After a brand licensing audit we realized that Rawlings’ core products provided something for athletes of all ages, abilities and affordability’s, however licensed products were limited to the good or better of mass. We had licensed baseball cleats for the person wearing a $14.99 to $59.99 baseball glove, but nothing for consumers using a baseball glove in the $79.99 through to the $500 Primo glove price range. We then defined the materials, textures, durability requirements, and product model-name collections. Licensees then developed better products. We added a new approval step for products core to the sport: let the “internal pros” wear and use the product. This drastically improved both the reputation of our licensed products and revenue. In the next year after the new guidelines were defined, we saw over a $500K spike in licensing royalty income.

When crafting guidelines for third-party activation, here is a quick checklist of things to cull together beyond proper visual logo usage guidelines:

  • Corporate Brand
    • Primary Logo & Secondary logo: how they are protected and where.
    • When and where does a licensee use BRAND™, BRAND®, BRAND©.
    • Are there interpretations for different consumers? For example a color palette may serve as a representation of the tone and manner to follow within different creative segments.
    • Forms of trade dress (e.g. Jeep seven slot grill, Adidas 3 stripes, NBA uniform designs)
  • Product Model Collection names and attributes:
    • Price / Value relationship
    • Historical, current, future
    • Color, materials and design inspiration
    • Technology and Attributes
      • Durable, light weight, efficient, material specifications & sources
    • Images, photography and concept design
      • Mainstream media exposure
      • Specific Models
      • Active sponsorships and marketing partnerships
    • Communications/phrases, slogans and marketing assets
    • Tone, manner and voice of your brand. Does your brand’s voice talk technical specifics or emotional benefits?

In short, your guidelines should be built to allow effective motion in one direction only, and therefore build something with greater ease.

Volkswagen offers a valuable example on the importance of getting this right. They licensed a refrigerator manufacturer, Gorenje; to make VW Bus inspired refrigerators. Given the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking to cut down on emissions from refrigerators, should we expect that VW includes in their brand activation guidelines their ‘defeat device’ – or software that can detect when it is being tested changing the performance accordingly to improve results? Remember, it’s all about your brand relationship and reputation.

Sink or swim. What you put in your licensing brand activation matters. Make your guidelines a living and breathing document and you will have healthy and sustainable licensing program afloat.

The Blake Project Can Help: We offer brand licensing workshops to help brand owners develop a strategy for licensing or refine an existing one. Another way we serve our  clients is through a Brand Licensing Audit which is an essential guide in considering, building and/or fine tuning a program. Further, we serve as expert witnesses in celebrity licensing and endorsement disputes. Please email us for more.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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