Pre-school opportunities and challenges

These are challenging times for many UK businesses, but pre-school licensing is more recession-proof than some other sectors.
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Most parents and carers shield their children from their financial problems, and if it proves impossible to do so, grandparents often step in and fill the gap. Nevertheless, competition in licensing is fierce and retail space has never been so costly.

Another key challenge is that pre-schoolers seem to be growing up faster and become media aware from a very young age. They have access to brands earlier than they have in the past and this is, in part, fuelling the phenomenon of Kids Getting Older Younger (KGOY). We see brands down-aging at an alarming rate and what might have originally been targeted at a seven year old fast becomes fair game for a four year old.

So how do successful properties stay ahead in publishing and how can we make the most of these opportunities?

There’s a simple answer: having the right products, the right price points, and the right promotions.

But what makes a brand right for the pre-school sector, bearing in mind that the age range of the consumer group is just a few years wide? Is it the brands with the best TV coverage and the biggest and best list of licensees that will dominate?

Of course these are important factors (sometimes critically so) but they are the reward for good brand development rather than the reason a brand flourishes in the first place.

Pre-schoolers don’t love brands. They love good stories, engaging characters, meaningful plots, arresting imagery and catchy tunes. They love to learn, to be amused, entertained, scared and excited. If a brand does all these things then there’s a chance it will capture their attention. But it’s a category with huge differences in children’s physical, cognitive and socio-emotional abilities. For example, a three year-old will confuse fantasy and reality, by four she might question it, and by five she’ll be closer to understanding it.

Children need to be able to relate to understand, and crucially they can’t absorb multiple themes at once. Delivering a brand effectively to pre-schoolers means making sure content is layered sufficiently to attract, challenge and entertain them at all levels of their development.

It also needs to be well targeted. Who are its users and choosers? Is the content, the vocabulary, the structure and the pacing appropriate for the age group? And has enough been done to win over the choosers, their parents? If not, then it can be very difficult to monetise the offer.

My list isn’t bullet-proof. Many perfectly good brands that should survive don’t. But if you look at the top-performing brands in the marketplace now, you’ll find good stories, well told, in Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, Mr. Men and the rest.

The challenge for licensors and licensees is to build longevity in a market that is rapidly changing. How do you embrace new technologies, new customers, new products and new partners – many of which represent short term costs – without losing sight of the core attributes that make the brand what it is?

The marketplace is a dynamic environment: new brands will come and existing brands will be nudged out. If your brand isn’t going to be one of the casualties of the survival of the fittest, you can never be complacent. Your consumers are with you for no more than three years, probably less, so if you don’t appeal to the next generation, your brand will be over before it’s really got going.

For Egmont, the answer to appealing to each new generation lies in research. Find out what excites your target group and constantly fine-tune, evolve and develop your offering to please them.

Look beyond your own industry to wider trends, and look beyond your own national boundaries to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon.

Above all, dare to experiment even during the tough times. Try out new products and new routes to market, and do not be afraid of failure. Use the lessons you learn to build better and stronger ideas for the future.

Children have always loved stories, and they always will. There’s an opportunity there for all of us.

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