While entertainment and characters will always be a big driver, this year's show is clear evidence that licensing has become a major area of focus for corporate and consumer-brand marketers around the world. Blame it on DVR, Google, iTunes or any other disruptive technology that is making it more difficult to present marketing messages to consumers, but licensing is now being considered by a number of unlikely candidates.
Duraflame is using licensing for rather interesting purposes, moving beyond its core products: firelogs and charcoal. The product is not only seasonal, it is consumed after one use -- two major hurdles for ubiquitous awareness. That's why the brand is at the Expo, with agency Global Icons, exploring a wide range of licensed fireplace accessories and outdoor furniture, grills and fireplaces. The idea is to expand the brand beyond the winter months and prove to consumers that Duraflame can be trusted inside and outside their homes. Smart for business and even smarter for marketing.
Febreze is another brand that caught my attention this year. With its agency, Nancy Bailey & Associates, the brand is exploring a number of exciting brand extension categories, focused on promoting its distinct utility for the consumer: eliminating odor at the source. At this year's Expo, Febreze officially launched a line of odor-eliminating, organizational closet accessories (with licensee EZDO), which are retailing at Bed Bath & Beyond and soon Target. At first glance, home organization may seem like an odd category for a brand known mainly for spray and plug-in fragrances, but think about the many smells that can emanate from shoes and closets -- and then think of what brand you would trust with those odors. The idea suddenly seems like branding genius.
Corporate licensing isn't just for consumer package goods. An emerging trend at this year's Expo is corporate licensing for services. Travelocity is an excellent example. Exhibiting at the show for the first time, the commodity business is looking to build customer loyalty, differentiate itself from the competition, and expand beyond the web and into consumers' "real" lives. The brand is thus actively prospecting travel product and service licensees in the categories of mobile electronics, youth hostels, full-service organized tours and airport hot-spot lounges, among others. These brand extensions show the breadth and unique capability of licensing to provide consumers with a useful tool they can trust.
Don't just brand there -- do something
When licensing is used like this, it seems remarkably similar to the concepts of "brand utility," "marketing as a service" or "marketing with meaning" -- all of which are gaining attention in the marketing world. Is there any better example of marketing as a service than UPS offering consumers a GPS system (a category it is actively pursuing at this year's Expo), brought to you through the power of licensing?
In fact, it could be argued that licensing represents the ultimate form of marketing as service, since the licensed products (or services) are actually bought by the consumer in a retail setting. This is among the reasons the industry is gaining serious momentum with today's marketers.
More trends tomorrow ...
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Michael S. Stone is the president and chief executive officer of The Beanstalk Group, an Omnicom Group-owned licensing agency and brand consultancy.