28 October 2010
Establishing a Character Property online
This article outlines the opportunities offered by the web and the new rules of marketing and PR to maximise the potential for establishing a character property through online media channels. The specific focus of the article is to give companies who might consider developing a character property to promote their brand, or an artist who might have a brilliant character idea, some idea of the opportunities, challenges and potential that have been unlocked by new technologies.
Characters are successfully used to increase the profile of products and services in a highly competitive market. Products carrying character license brands sell. They draw attention through instant recognition, increase acceptance through association with the character license's brand values and increase the perceived value based on the character's profile. They work brilliantly in all kinds of viral marketing applications from viral videos to viral games and user-generated-content tools.
Characters are therefore good at attracting attention, ensuring viral spread, retaining attention and generating revenue. A character can therefore be utilised in two key ways:
- As a tool to attract substantial attention to a company’s products or services
- As a source of revenue in its own right as a character property.
- Royalties from licensing in the United States in 2008 were $5.7 billion.
- Character licensing continues to be the largest category in the industry, accounting for 46% of the market.
- According to industry sources, the global market for mobile entertainment will be worth a stunning $42.8 billion by 2010.
These figures are a strong indicator of the effectiveness of characters to capture and retain attention that leads to sales.
If a character is to be used as something more than just a static brand identity, a key consideration is: how do you ensure the character offers a return on investment? There are two ways of calculating this ROI:
- Increased product sales or service agreements generated by the character.
- Direct revenue generated by the character.
- Traditionally the route to get a return on investment from a character property was to first develop it for television or film and only after it had been financed, fully developed and produced and then broadcast did it go into the retail market where it became commercially viable. Another route was to grow the character property by going directly to retail with a specific product, e.g. card designs, and then slowly expand the character brand into other licensed products.
- The TV and retail bottlenecks reduce the number of products that can be brought to market, severely limiting the potential economic return from creativity.
- There is a long lead time before revenue can be generated. The cost involved severely restricts the number of developers, and therefore characters with potential to generate revenue, from attempting entry to the market.
- TV and retail’s aversion to risk restricts creativity and niche market characters.
- The full commercial value of character properties are never realised because of the ‘TV tie-in’. A ‘design-led’ property has commercial value far beyond TV air time.
New media technologies lift the restrictions imposed by the traditional model by offering unprecedented opportunities to get characters in front of new audiences and opening lucrative revenue streams. These technologies offer to:
- Remove the barriers to entry. Anyone can set up a website, upload their stories, images, video and audio.
- Open up the distribution network so there are no bottlenecks preventing ideas from reaching an audience. Anyone can upload content to massive distribution networks such as YouTube and link into vast social networks like Twitter and Facebook to generate awareness.
- Introduce unconstrained commercialisation opportunities. Anyone can set up an e-store, sell through outlets such as e-Bay or print merchandise through various sites such as SpreadShirt and DeviantArt.
There are big challenges though:
- The web offers a huge audience but it also contains a huge amount of information competing for attention. For a character to draw sufficient attention within this deluge of information is not always easy.
- Even if a character does manage to draw attention, it is still a challenge to convert them to fans and eventually to consumers.
A unified strategy
The key to making a character an online success, regardless if it is used as a marketing and promotion tool or as a licensed property in its own right, is to use different online strategies in a unified approach, making sure each format does what it is best at and that each enhances the overall success of the project. There are three objectives:
- Draw attention
- Retain attention
- Convert visitors to consumers
Each one of these three basic objectives offers a wide range of possibilities. To work out which strategy to follow, which format or combination of media formats to employ, and how and where to distribute the content depends entirely on what the character represents and is expected to do.
Some of the options available to draw attention, establish fame, retain attention, build loyalty and generate revenue are:
- User generated content tools
- Social Media Networks
- Ad Campaigns
- News releases
The character’s back-story - the creative idea behind the character - is the all important determining factor of how the character should be grown, which media formats will work best and what strategies to employ to get the character famous. If the character is to be primarily used as a vehicle for driving traffic to a company website then the back-story needs to be carefully considered to make sure it fits the company’s brand message.
So here is the process in a nutshell:
- Make sure you know what you want to achieve. Is it to draw traffic, generate revenue, both or something else?
- Make sure you have a brilliant idea. This is not the character. It is the central idea, in one sentence, behind everything the character project will stand for. This is the single most critical factor to get right in the whole project.
- Select the appropriate media formats in which the character and stories will come to life. Decide how they will attract attention, how they will ensure viral spread, where people will go to once the character have captured their attention, the way in which you will maintain the momentum and grow a loyal fan base, and most importantly, how you will generate a return on investment.
- Execute the idea content professionally. Everything from the back-story and the character’s look and feel to the stories, news articles and business plan must be professionally executed.
- Roll out the campaign. Listen to the audience, respond to feedback, adapt, adjust, learn and grow the project organically. Make your character’s fans are part of the project. And above all, have fun.