With the profusion of videos and photos of cats, dogs and exotic pets on the Internet, one would think the market for cute animal photos would be saturated. But photos in which the animal is clearly happy and the product designed around that image is innovative – combined with the latest technology such as virtual reality and 3-D designs – are more rare.
Photographer Myrna Huijing, owner of Studio Pets by Myrna – a five-person photo, design and licensing firm in Aalsmeer, The Netherlands – sensed she was onto something five years ago when reaction to her first project, a line of pet greeting cards, was very positive.
Read more: Studio Pets by Myrna
There is no denying the power of the brands in the Mars Retail Group (MRG) portfolio. Having gone through a major transformation several years ago and becoming responsible for managing the licensing division of Mars Inc., MRG has continued to break new ground as it strives to build on already existing consumer demand for its products.
“We’ve been fortunate to have such highly recognizable brands and characters that consumers of all ages connect with,” says John Capizzi, general manager of licensing for MRG.
Read more: Mars Retail Group
The John Deere tractor is more than just a piece of farm equipment – it’s an icon that has come to symbolize qualities like innovation, quality, hard work and durability. For the people who depend on their John Deere equipment for their livelihood, the brand’s familiar green and yellow color scheme is like the team colors of a beloved alma mater, and that’s a connection that the company’s global licensing operations take very seriously.
According to the Toy Global Licensing Manager Betsy Yenner, the John Deere brand is one that means something to millions of people, and that means anything bearing the brand has to live up to the same principles. “What it really comes down to is that it’s a brand that people trust,” Yenner says.
The John Deere brand, rated in the top 100 Best Global Brands in 2013 by Interbrand, has been involved in licensed products since 1946, when the first replica toy John Deere tractor was introduced by Ertl. The company started a division called John Deere Merchandise in the early 1970s that sourced John Deere-branded products such as bicycles, horseshoes and barbecue grills, which were sold through a special catalog. By the late 1970s and 1980s, John Deere was licensing products on a wider scale, with the company’s own executive team taking the time to approve all products.
In 1995, the company’s licensing efforts entered a new era after an outside research firm suggested John Deere could better protect and promote its trademark and brand through a more centralized Trademark Administration group.
This team was able to leverage licensed product activities thru improved processes and expanded management of various channels including selling not only to the Deere dealer channel but through other channels as well. Today, the company’s licensing division focuses on three core product areas: toys and children’s products, apparel and footwear, and lawn and garden products.
‘Team John Deere’
As the stewards of the John Deere brand, the members of the company’s licensing department don’t believe it is their responsibility to move the brand into new product categories or seek out new customers that have no connection to John Deere equipment. Apparel Global Licensing Manager Kellye Haskin says their purpose is to serve the brand and the people who feel most strongly associated with it.
“I think that our customers really do view us as ‘Team John Deere,’” she says. “They really want to wear our colors and they really want to see our trademark loud and proud.”
“We try to take it to a different plane where you have a more of an emotional connection,” Lawn, Garden & Garage Global Licensing Manager Dean Hamke says. “Our job is to create that emotional connection with the customer.”
That means that John Deere works with a relatively small number of licensees, with the vast majority of branded products coming from fewer than a dozen key licensees. Many of those licensees have been with Deere for more than 15 years, and Ertl in particular has been producing John Deere products consistently since its first toy tractor in 1945. “We long for things that have staying power,” Hamke says.
As such, Deere has a very specific set of guidelines it follows when selecting a licensee to work with. Yenner says the company seeks out licensees with “world-class processes” in place that ensure a high-quality product as well as products that will be safe for customers to use. “When we’re looking for a licensing partner, we’re looking for experts in their field,” she adds.
Location is Key
Understanding the retail channels the company’s licensed products typically are found in is another component of a successful licensee, and Hamke says it’s one that the company believes is essential. That’s especially true considering that John Deere’s brand can be found in retail outlets outside of the usual stores.
Along with the company’s network of tractor and equipment dealers across the country, John Deere-branded products also can be found in farm and ranch stores. Although this particular channel doesn’t receive much attention from retail industry groups, Hamke says it’s an important one for the company that helps it maintain its connection with its target market.
“We feel like it’s a growing channel and one that is very easy for us to work with,” he says.
Hamke says the company is very cognizant of its place in the market and doesn’t want to over-extend the brand. Expanding the brand into products and markets that don’t necessarily have that strong emotional connection to customers could damage it, and that connection is why John Deere remains a strong brand even in the face of the competition. For example, Yenner says, the entire toy industry has been down in recent years, but the John Deere brand has experienced double-digit growth during that same period.
John Deere plans to stay the course with its licensing efforts in the near future, with any growth or expansion of the brand carefully controlled so as not to risk losing the emotional connection it has with its many fans. Hamke says the company saw big success this year with a line of themed products at Build-A-Bear Workshop, and he sees opportunities for growth in the children’s apparel sector.
Regardless of where its opportunities in the future lie, Deere insists on a mutually beneficial relationship where we build strong connections with licensees to make products that reinforce the strong connections customers have with John Deere. “I’m only successful when the licensee is successful,” Hamke says.
Construction and mining sites are probably not considered by many to be the most colorful of locations. However, for more than 85 years, bright yellow has shone brilliantly amidst the sea of grays and browns commonly associated with these sites, thanks to Caterpillar.
This manufacturer’s Cat® brand of signature yellow dozers, backhoes, excavators and hundreds of other pieces of heavy equipment is so well-accepted in the industries it serves that the company has earned its spot as the world’s leading construction and mining equipment maker.
Read more: Caterpillar Inc.
When companies get a taste of success, they sometimes make the mistake of moving away from the strategies that brought them there. But that’s not the case at Rovio Entertainment Ltd., an entertainment media firm known for the “Angry Birds” character franchise.
Instead, Rovio has retained the collaborative mindset it had when it first started operations in 2003, Senior Vice President of Global Consumer Products & Licensing Naz Cuevas says. “We will always have a start-up mentality at any time,” she says. “You will see [our] managers [and] directors rolling up their sleeves and solving a problem.”
Read more: Rovio Entertainment Ltd.
Although the first SeaWorld theme park was established more than 50 years ago and the company has always branded itself on merchandise sold within the parks, the consumer licensing efforts of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment have begun to swell only in the past three years. Now with approximately 300 products from 30 licensees, the wave of the company’s future licensing efforts is likely to become a tsunami of branding.
Read more: SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment
Licensing for Europe is significantly different from licensing in other areas of the world. “What’s really different about Europe is it’s a much more complex market in the way that it consists of a large number of unique countries,” the Coca-Cola Co.’s Global Licensing Manager Marsha Schroeder points out. “Each country has their own language, as well as their own government and different terms for importing and exporting products. There are very specific retailers by country, and also there are some specific trends by country. For example, something that may work really well in the United Kingdom may not work well in France, and vice-versa.”
Read more: The Coca-Cola Co.
In the burgeoning weight-loss industry, diet and exercise fads frequently disappear before the pounds they were supposed to remove do. But among the leading diet and exercise brands, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” is in it for the long haul. The series, which is a production of Shine America, 25/7 Productions and 3 Ball Productions, begins its 15th season on Oct. 8.
“Suffice it to say, we’re not a fad,” declares Kim Niemi, senior vice president of NBCUniversal Television’s consumer products group. “We’re not going to jump onto the next bandwagon that’s coming in. Our philosophy hasn’t changed in 15 seasons, almost nine years. It’s consistent, and it’s tried and true. It takes dedication and commitment for people to stick to it, like anything in life. We have stayed very true to what we believe is the philosophy of this show with every partnership we’ve had. We’ve turned down licensees who didn’t meet our standards.”
Read more: The Biggest Loser
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