Spielwarenmesse: From toy supplier to brand manufacturer

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From toy supplier to brand manufacturer

from Christian Ulrich

It hardly can be overseen that there is a strong trend among toy producers to become owners of brands. Is this a natural tendency? Is it the logical next step in the development process of a toy manufacturer? The answer is a clear yes and no!

Certainly there are a lot of opportunities for mere producers. They do not need a complex marketing machine and therefore save a lot of costs. They can produce for several brands and thus generate a very wide distribution. So this might be a long-term option for a company. 

On the other hand, an OEM producer is very often reduced to a cost factor and has no influence on the way his products are presented on the market. This situation often leads to the desire to have a brand of one’s own which can be controlled from the product idea to the positioning in different markets.

A brand helps your company to differentiate itself from competitors. It enables you to build up a strong customer relationship. It offers better protection against crisis and substitution by private labels and supports listing decision of retailers.

If a brand has these clear advantages, then why are not all toy producers starting to go this way? Because it is not easy or more precisely it is rather tough. It takes time, money and – most important – a change of mind. And this is not all – you additionally need some luck because the brand building process partly  cannot be controlled by you. But what in life can be achieved without luck? 

Therefore do not be afraid of starting to work on your brands and make a first check of your company with the help of the following questions:

Do you really know what “brand” means?

You might consider this question being impertinent, but even marketing professionals sometimes have problems to find the right definition. The American Marketing Association defines “a brand as name, term, design, symbol or other feature that distinguishes one seller's products from those of others”.  

I prefer the comparison of brands to human beings. We all know a guy who lacks any specific characteristics. When you talk to him, you forget what he said very fast. When you should describe him, you have no idea how because there is no clear picture of him in your mind. And when you meet him on the street, you do not recognize him. 

Now think of somebody who really has charisma, e.g. a woman. When she talks to you, she makes you smile. When being asked what makes her special, you don’t know where to start because so much comes to your mind. And when you see her from behind in a big crowd of people, you immediately shout “hello” because the way she walks and her haircut are absolutely unique. 

Have you got the right perspective?

Which one? Of course, the customer’s perspective! He loves brands because they offer him orientation. In an over-informed world they support his decision-making process by reducing the needed information. In other words: when the customer buys a brand he feels better because he trusts the brand. Always have in mind: your customer never buys a product, he buys a feeling.

Does this sound logical? Yes, but trust is very hard to gain. It takes time and some positive experiences made by the customer with the product. In the good old days of marketing a high advertising pressure might have been sufficient to build up a brand. These days are gone. Again the comparison to social contacts might help: Creating a brand is like building up a friendship between the product and the customer (brand architects talk about 'creating brand followers')

Now think about the ingredients friendship needs. Some ideas:

  • INTEREST for your customer: you know about his demands, his shopping behavior and his preferred media
  • HONESTY: your company and your product are not pretending to be something you are not
  • DIALOGUE: friendship needs a two-way communication, regardless of which kind; 

Do you think your marketing is responsible for branding?

Yes? Go back to START. No? You are right. The marketing department might be the moving spirit, but will never be successful without the support of the whole company. There is hardly any sector within a company that is not contributing to  its public image. The statements of your CEO, the recruitment campaigns of your HR department, the working conditions in your production – they are all pieces for the puzzle in the consumer’s mind. Therefore be sure that the values which your brand is to represent are really communicated by your entire company.

About the author:

As a business studies graduate, Christian Ulrich started out as a consultant at Serviceplan for customers such as BMW, Head and Ray Ban, followed by stops within the industry as the head of advertising for investment funds at HypoVereinsbank as well as a global marketing head of the Fischer Group. Today, he is Consulting Director at “Die roten Reiter” as well as Marketing Director of Spielwarenmesse eG.


Author of this article:

Christian Ulrich, Spielwarenmesse eG

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