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Usha Chauhan discusses how brand owners can keep IP fresh, exciting and on-trend.
Usha, you have worked in the licensing sector for a number of businesses, focusing on the creative and product development side of things. How did you find your way into the industry?
I discovered the licensing industry by chance! Initially I trained as a Graphic Designer and landed my first job in the television industry, specifically within the marketing department of RDF Media – now known as Banijay.
During my time there I had the opportunity to support the licensing team by assisting in presentations, trade fairs, creating MARCOMS and developing style guides. No day was ever the same… Anyone who is, or has been, a designer will know you’re pulled in all directions expected to know all sorts of design!
Building on this experience, I transitioned to 20th Century Fox, where I focused exclusively on product development within the licensing realm. This role allowed me to delve deeper into the intricacies of licensing and further refine my skills.
Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of working for various licensors and agencies, which has provided me with a well-rounded perspective on the industry. One of the highlights of my journey has been the opportunity to work across diverse properties, including those within kids and family, entertainment, and more recently, heritage-related ventures.
The licensing world is fast moving and competitive. It must be a challenge for IP owners to keep on track and on trend design-wise. What advice do you have for IP owners to keep their designs relevant?
It’s crucial for IP owners to ensure that their designs are unique and aligned with the essence of their brand. By staying true to the brand’s core values and visual identity, IP owners can create designs that are instantly recognisable and distinct from competitors. This helps establish a strong brand presence in the market.
While it’s important to maintain brand consistency, it’s equally crucial to stay aware of current trends in the market. This doesn’t mean blindly following every trend, but rather selectively incorporating elements that complement the brand’s identity. Keeping an eye on emerging design trends and consumer preferences allows IP owners to infuse their designs with fresh and contemporary elements, ensuring they remain relevant to the target audience.
Conducting regular market research is also essential for IP owners to understand evolving consumer preferences, market dynamics, and competitor activities. By staying informed about what resonates with their target audience, IP owners can make informed decisions regarding design updates and enhancements. Market research provides valuable insights and helps ensure that design choices are aligned with market demands.
I’d also say that engaging with skilled designers and creative professionals can greatly contribute to keeping designs fresh and relevant. Collaborative partnerships can bring new perspectives, innovative ideas and expertise in design trends. Working with a diverse and talented team can help IP owners explore new design directions while staying true to their brand’s identity.
Terrific insights! Now, licensees come from lots of sectors and some are new to licensing. How would you brief a company that’s new to licensing?
Start by immersing the company in the brand’s values, guidelines, and assets. This onboarding process is crucial to familiarising the licensee with the brand’s identity and establish a shared understanding. Whether the licensee is experienced or new to licensing, providing a comprehensive overview of the brand sets the foundation for successful product development, range creation, or campaign execution.
Take the opportunity to personally engage with the company during the briefing process. This allows for direct interaction and facilitates effective communication. Meeting the clients face-to-face or through virtual means helps build rapport, trust, and a collaborative environment. It also provides an opportunity to address any questions or concerns they may have and establish a productive working relationship.
“Collaboration is key in the licensing industry.”
Maintain open lines of communication throughout the design process. Regularly check in with the licensee to address any design-related questions or challenges they may encounter. Offer feedback and guidance to keep them on track and aligned with the brand’s design expectations. Collaboration and a supportive relationship will help nurture a successful licensing partnership.
By following these steps, licensees new to licensing can receive a comprehensive briefing that sets clear design expectations, educates them on the brand and equips them with the necessary assets and guidelines to create compelling designs that accurately represent the brand’s identity and values.
Great stuff. Now, let’s talk style guides… What makes a good one?
The style guide should establish the brand’s tone of voice, which reflects its personality and communicates its values. This includes guidelines on language, messaging, and overall communication style. By defining the brand’s tone of voice, the style guide ensures consistency in how the brand is presented across various channels.
A successful style guide also delves into the brand’s visual identity, providing guidelines for logos, typography, colour palettes and graphic elements. It outlines how these elements should be used and combined to create a cohesive and recognisable visual representation of the brand. Consistency in visual identity strengthens brand recognition and reinforces the brand’s image in the minds of consumers.
Including application examples is also essential in a style guide. These examples demonstrate how the brand’s visual elements, tone of voice, and storytelling can be implemented across different mediums – such as packaging, advertising, digital platforms, and merchandise. Application examples provide practical guidance, inspire creativity, and help partners and stakeholders understand how to effectively apply the brand’s style to their own projects.
Do you have any advice and insight for design agencies in regards to their approach to licensing and brand owners?
A key aspect that I look for in a design agency is their ability to effectively convey the brand’s story through their designs. Design agencies should tap into the iconic nature of the brand and utilise it to sell the brand’s assets while engaging the viewers. By understanding the essence of the brand and infusing it into their designs, agencies can create a cohesive and immersive experience that resonates with the target audience.
Collaboration is key in the licensing industry, and design agencies should foster a collaborative approach when working with brand owners. Actively seek input from brand owners, listen to their vision, and incorporate their feedback throughout the design process. By establishing strong communication and a cooperative mindset, the agencies can develop a symbiotic relationship with brand owners, resulting in successful and impactful designs.
Before we wrap up, thinking back over your career, can you flag up two or three products and campaigns you are particularly proud of?
The Simpsons X Skinnydip campaign was one of the last projects I developed during my time at 20th Century Fox. It was a challenging endeavour, considering the number of parties involved in signing off on the project. I had to utilise my skills in project management, design, and development, while also securing key stakeholder approval. Despite the challenges, we successfully produced a fabulous and daring range for the collaboration, and the subsequent releases were equally impressive.
Another is the Football Loyalty Campaign at TCC. It posed unique challenges as we were still finalising the player signings while in the development phase – and last-minute trademark changes added further stress! However, all the hard work paid off, and we successfully launched two impactful campaigns that effectively engaged the target audience.
Another is the Somerset House Retail Space for the Beano: The Art of Breaking The Rules exhibition. I oversaw the design and development of the merchandise and retail space. From ideation to launch, this project was a full 360-degree campaign. Collaborating with numerous individuals, the hard work over several months culminated in a magical retail experience that complemented the exhibition perfectly. Seeing visitors walk through the exhibition and ultimately arriving at the store was incredibly rewarding.
Each holds a special place in my career journey, contributing to my professional growth and achievements.
Finally if you could pick one brand or character to work on that you haven’t worked on yet – what would it be and why ?
I would love the opportunity to work on Marvel. Marvel has had a significant impact on popular culture – and growing up with an elder brother who was a fan, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the captivating world of Marvel superheroes.
Working on Marvel would be an incredible experience because it offers a unique blend of creativity, nostalgia, and the potential for ground-breaking projects. Marvel’s broad fan base and global recognition also present exciting opportunities for collaboration, with diverse partners and exploring various mediums. The ability to engage with fans and create memorable experiences through this beloved brand would be an absolute thrill.
Usha, thanks again for this. Let’s tie-in again soon.
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