Steve Reece is a leading Brand Management Consultant for the toy industry in the UK, working across Europe and beyond. Steve has an Honours Degree in European Politics, and holds the Market Research Society certificate with Distinction. After a period working in retail, Steve joined Hasbro’s market research department, before moving on to Brand Management for some of Hasbro’s top brands, and setting up toy distribution companies. Steve’s favorite toy as a kid was his soccer collectable cards, his favorite board game was and is Risk.
I’ve heard that statement many times in my career. Having often been given a global mandate to make a new product range huge in every market across the world, I often laboured uphill to make the point that the product itself needed changing from the outset to succeed in certain territories; it wasn’t me and my team failing to be good at selling!
Frustratingly, my seemingly overwhelming and compelling counter attack along the lines of “but scantily clad fashion dolls won’t sell in Taliban held Afghanistan," often fell on deaf ears!
Despite the globalization of brands and media, sometimes it just seems harder than it needs to be to make products work in multiple markets worldwide. The reality is though that there are some very significant cultural differences between markets, which can render even the largest of brands underexploited in many markets. This is even the case between the English speaking markets, where in theory there should be most convergence.
Even major corporations with massive marketing budgets and trade clout have found themselves unable to assail this culture gap on notable occasions – G.I. Joe, American Girl and Candyland are all massive brands in the US, but not had anywhere near the same impact in Europe. Why?
Well, Europeans don’t have General Infantrymen for a start, and historically at least, had Action Man where the US had G.I. Joe. American Girl seems so far to be very much an American phenomenon for obvious reasons. And whilst ‘Candy’ has meaning in the US, in the UK the reference would be ‘sweets’, in Australia ‘lollies’ and so on.
So aside from heritage brands, how do toy companies ensure they create product lines giving them the best chance of global distribution? Here are some top tips:
1. Start with global in mind – if you want your product / brand to go global, start with this end in mind, and think through your brand name in advance.
2. Develop new brands and products based on consumer play patterns vs. cultural phenomena – focusing on creating new products based on established play patterns will give you the best chance of having a global opportunity vs. following a cultural trend that may not be in effect in other markets.
3. Test the concept/brand names with your major target markets – before you go to your National Trademark register and start registering trademarks/committing resources to a particular direction, run it past the people you will later be expecting to sell it for you, to nip any problems in the bud.
4. Search online for comparable competitor product in major markets – the internet, as ever is our greatest tool in this instance. Don’t just search Google.com, search Google.co.uk, Google.de, Google.fr, Google.com.au etc.
5. Approach new markets with the mindset of “how can we best make this product/brand work in your market” – some markets/categories need more than just a language change on product. If you are working on an ‘editorial’ type product i.e. board games, craft kits etc., you will need to adapt for other markets.
In the end, perspective is important – roughly speaking, North America accounts for around one-quarter of global toy sales (depending on whose figures you believe); Europe accounts for a fragmented one-quarter, with Japan being next in line. So frankly, you may decide that the homogenous and easy to reach one-quarter of the potential market that the US represents is sufficient for your brand/product, but the global potential is worth three times as much again….