Licensing Expo: The Bright Lights of YouTube Help Brands Shine

In Opening Keynote, YouTube Star Bethany Mota Discusses Authenticity and Building Connections with Followers

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As we all know (unless you have been hiding under a rock), brands can now be developed almost overnight, thanks to the internet. And this year's Licensing Expo in Las Vegas started off like none other had before.

Monday afternoon, Licensing Expo held the inaugural Digital Media Licensing Summit as part of its Licensing University curriculum. The Digital Media Licensing Summit brought together some of our industry's brightest minds for an exploration of the ways in which consumers -- especially young consumers -- are influenced by new digital media brands and personalities. Participants included digital stars Andrea Brooks, Amanda Steele and Hannah Hart, as well as Jim Fielding from "AwesomenessTV."

A key theme that emerged during this conversation was that a younger generation of creative influencers is increasingly embracing newer and more visual social media channels -- such as Instagram and Snapchat -- to engage with their audiences. It's worth noting that while there doesn't seem to be a secret sauce for picking winners and losers in the digital universe, I believe YouTube's Malik Ducard said it best during his opening day remarks when he described the most successful YouTubers as "master storytellers" who are committed to maintaining authenticity with their fan base. This authenticity engenders a melding between personality and brand. Interestingly, from a licensing perspective, this same authenticity rings true when it comes to brand building.

On Tuesday, YouTube personality Bethany Mota delivered the Day One keynote address. For those not already among her millions of YouTube, Instagram and Twitter followers, Mota is a highly recognizable digital influencer who has built a successful fashion business partnering with Aeropostale. Before an attentive crowd, she shared her experience and relayed just how her program, as well as her brand, has evolved.

Mota's success illustrates a new way of thinking that is currently shaping our industry -- developing an authentic and interactive relationship with your audience. Mota underscored how she is always engaged with her audience and listening to their feedback. By virtue of this interaction, her audience feels a sense of connection to her and her personality -- and by extension, her clothing line.

Mota brought her viewers, whom she often referred to as friends in a community, along for the ride as she developed her first clothing line for Aeropostale. As a result, when the clothing line launched, her viewers felt as though they were a part of it and shared the experience with her in real-time. These personal relationships that can be cultivated through digital platforms such as YouTube truly demonstrate the power of social media and the connection YouTube creators can have with their viewers.

All of this new digital thinking can be found on the expo floor as well, in various capacities. For example, I stopped in for a visit with YouTube, which is making its Licensing Expo debut. The focus at the YouTube booth was actually on educational content such as "Little Baby Bum," which targets preschoolers. Another Licensing Expo first-timer is Amazon Studios, which has been promoting its original slate of preschool properties in its booth on the expo floor, including its Emmy award winning "Tumble Leaf" series. Amazon has more of a central focus on delivering premium original content to its members, while YouTube predominately distributes user-generated content. However, the strategy is very much the same: leveraging online streaming video to engage audiences.

While the excitement around these new programs and possibilities is palpable, the discussions happening this week at the Licensing Expo will hopefully encourage the industry as a whole to begin asking the deeper questions. Smart brand marketers must do more than just follow the shiniest, brightest stars, as many will disappear quickly. With the market so new, licensees need to determine which metrics are most important to measure while in the exploration phase.

Bethany Mota's appearance this afternoon is an indication that the industry has embraced the star power of young digital entrepreneurs. Clearly, Mota reaches a critical mass of consumers who view her as a trustworthy icon, and her brand carries weight. The question is: How can we be sure we're harnessing that power in the best way possible? While we continue to venture into this new licensing frontier, the learnings that are shared this week will help shape the way forward.

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