Marketing + Licensing: BFFs In An ROI World

Marketing costs, licensing earns—at least, that used to be the conventional wisdom. Once upon a time, when I worked at Turner, the gorgeous promotional poster for a “Gone With the Wind” anniversary was considered a major marketing expense. When that same poster became a hot-selling consumer product, it was seen as a great licensing success.

But this is looking at marketing and licensing from the wrong end of the telescope, says Joshua Kislevitz, president of JLK Brand Licensing Group, who is collaborating on properties such as Little Airplane’s “Small Potatoes,” a new show just launched on Disney Junior, and Simon & Schuster’s best-selling girls book series, Dork Diaries. Instead of being seen as competing interests, marketing and licensing ideally work “like hand in glove,” Josh says. Josh’s belief: A well-marketed brand will have the greatest legs as a hot licensing property.

I first met Josh when he ran United Media’s U.S. licensing operations; we teamed up on a number of high-profile brands, including LEGO, the anniversary of “Dirty Dancing,” Raggedy Ann, and Peanuts. For me, it was refreshing to work with a licensing guy like Josh, who really “got” the value of marketing and P.R.—even before the licensing begins.

I recently caught up with Josh to see how he sees the two professions best working in this new digital age. Is the relationship now as seamless as a good wi-fi connection—or is it still as balky as old-school dial-up?

“Both marketing and licensing pros have embraced the idea that we must identify the ‘digital play’ in every brand opportunity to deliver an immersive brand experience,” says Josh. “But because we’re now in such a fast-paced environment—communicating directly with fans through all social media channels, where opportunities and miscues can be magnified a thousand-fold, in real time—licensing and marketing have to collaborate more closely, more creatively, and more consistently than ever.”

Every licensed product becomes a form of media, Josh says—“Plush is a 3-D greeting card”—broadcasting your brand’s image and attitude, and inviting feedback from a public that is only too happy to speak up.

So, who’s doing it right? There are plenty of traditional-to-digital examples, as well as brands that launched in the digital space, then created traditional licensed properties to satisfy hungry fans.

On the traditional side, Josh notes that the creator of Disney Junior’s “Small Potatoes,” a series for preschoolers, instinctively understood the social media implications from the get-go. In fact, a Facebook feature created for the brand—in which fans can send in a photo of themselves to be “Potatosized”—is attracting a second “primary” audience of young girls. “This has the potential to open up whole new licensing categories for the brand, including smartphone accessories, room décor, backpacks, and stationery,” Josh says.

And in the digital-to-traditional space? “I like ‘Angry Birds’,” says Josh, who has no ties to the brand. “The company started with a straightforward premise and has aggressively built a successful marketing and licensing program around it.”

In this case, however, the brand did it first digitally and then extended into traditional products. There are countless “Angry Birds” products in the market now, including apparel, toys, room decor, and much more. “It’s exciting to see brands born from emerging platforms,” Josh adds. “Expect to see more and more digital properties being well received by marketing and licensing partners.”

From my own marketing perspective, here are a few ways in which I think licensing and marketing efforts can dovetail to create greater success for a brand:

  • Create a social media tool kit for licensees. Licensors already provide a brand style guide to each new licensee, outlining how to use the brand’s art, where to put trademarks and copyrights, approved catchphrases, etc. Licensors should also include Facebook templates, approved digital artwork and video for YouTube, sample tweets, recommended links to other brand websites—in other words, an entire series of guidelines on how the brand should (and should not) be represented in social media.
  • Hold a social media workshop for licensees. Use the event as an opportunity to not only educate licensees about the brand’s social media strategies, but also to discover ways to cross promote among licensees and brainstorm ideas for digital marketing plans, such as celebrity-hosted Twitter parties or special blogger giveaways.
  • Integrate digital and traditional marketing wherever possible. I believe in 360-degree marketing to create an immersive brand experience. As one example, I recently coordinated a holiday Twitter party on behalf of a client’s brand, co-hosted by a celebrity and one of the brand’s characters. While the party was virtual, we gave it real-world oomph by giving away plush, books, Blu-rays and other licensed products as prizes, and by providing photos of the celebrity tweeting with the costumed character.

I’d love to hear about your experiences on the marketing/licensing front, and any tips you may have on how these formerly competing departments can join forces to create brand success. 

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