Continuing our team spotlights, sharing more of our company insight, experience and knowledge; we grabbed some time with Lauren Stephenson, running Account Management at Fabacus.
Hi Lauren, great to sit down with you, looking forward to chatting all things licensing and Fabacus. Firstly, can you tell the readers a bit about yourself and your background?
I started my journey at the sports brand PUMA, first in London in 2012 and 2013 and then in Germany in 2014 at their HQ in Germany – they were fast paced and data-driven as a business and it was my first taste of the world of retail and branding. I worked within the Sports Marketing team and the Retail Europe Team, which encompasses their DTC channels, both physical stores and eCommerce. I’d say I probably took for granted what having visibility of your products looked like.
I then transitioned into the world of licensing when I joined the licensing agency TLC after I graduated. I’d worked with collaboration partners and licensed goods at PUMA but hadn’t had direct exposure in the wider world of licensing and its nuances, particularly how it works from a Licensor perspective and the product visibility, or lack of, they had.
This experience was very interesting to realize how difficult it was in the world of licensing for a licensor to be able to pull together a complete product list of what exists on the marketplace with their IP. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
That said, licensors still have the same expectations: what’s selling, where it’s selling, but the feedback of that data is so delayed; it is very reactive, and it was never in real time.
During my time at TLC, Li & Fung acquired the business and created Global Brands Group and so we transitioned into CAA-GBG, representing brands including Formula 1, Coca Cola, Jennifer Lopez. I focused on emerging markets, which took me to live and work in the UAE.
The UAE is a relatively young market, very experience-driven, and brand penetration is high. Tourism and experiential-retail are hugely important for the Middle Eastern market, extending licensing to location-based activities and experiences was, and still is, huge. The use of Ecommerce was rising, and it was clear the licensing industry to also become more data-driven, in line with the way the retail industry was going. I have also been interested in the world of digital and technology and I wanted to move to tech side, aiding this movement and the benefits of data-driven decision making, so when the opportunity arose to join Fabacus in 2019 when the Xelacore product was coming to market I was something I wanted to be part of.
I was still able to use my network, experience, and knowledge but I was also eager to learn more about software engineering and its transformative role within the licensing industry. Retail, for example, has shifted enormously in the last 15 years, and with licensing being fuelled by retail, this is an exciting time for licensing to innovate and standardize.
Speaking of that 15-year shift, what are the major changes you’ve play out over seen this year specifically within licensing and retail?
From a retail perspective, I’d say the already existing shift was clearly offline to online – however it was previously generation led. Covid forced this to accelerate to all generations, as no one had a choice.
It wasn’t only a pivot for businesses, but for consumers too. I do wonder if they would’ve been left behind with the natural changes, which would’ve happened slower, but instead it has meant that all audiences around the world have evolved online and to retail via ecommerce.
With this being the case, as well as being a great opportunity, it also poses challenges for brands… e-comm isn’t just for one generation or ‘one audience’ type now – it’s for everyone. This has meant brands really need to know their consumers for targeted marketing, there has never been such a critical need to really know more about consumer, what they want, what they engage with, how you can best service them and ensure your business, products and campaigns are as strategic as possible.
Consumer marketing strategies are having to be thought through more than ever before which starts at the source of the brand, and then trickles through to products and how the IP and messaging is relayed. Now, this is so tough for licensors when you’re not even directly making the products and having any interaction at a point of sale.
Do consumers even realize when buying that something is licensed? Even if they do, they have the same expectations from the brand they know and love; they expect the same quality, the same experience, whether it’s a vertical brand experience or a licensed one.
This is why the Reach campaigns we implement at Fabacus are very exciting; this technology allows licensors to reach their fans directly, regardless of product or retail channel.
Amazing, so with all this excitement and possibility, what’s a typical day at Fabacus like, for you?
Every day is different but consistently I love how much everyone cares, there is a strong feeling of passion and purpose here.
Everyone has the same shared vision which I think can be really rare – it is a great environment to work in when all your colleagues are as ambitious in reaching the same common goal, and not just for us, we really aim to impact an entire industry.
In speaking to our clients, it is great to get that support and validation every day that what we are doing and working towards will evolve a dated industry and help businesses, their bottom lines and ways of working, day to day.
I wonder where do you see the industry in the next 5 years? What key changes do you think they’ll be?
I’m seeing Licensors looking at longer term partnerships and real brand experiences which allow them to build a lifetime relationship with their consumers.
I think fad, celebrity endorsements and short-term trends aren’t going to be as prominent. For example, something like branded facemasks as a new revenue stream – it worked short term, but looking at this long term, do brands really want a reminder about their connection with Covid? As much as they can work, I don’t believe those strategies hold much long-term value for consumer engagement. Also nowadays slapping a celebrity on the front of a brand’s website or product line is not a guarantee for success anymore. There must be a meaning behind it, something authentic that makes sense.
Another key shift we’re seeing is the combination of physical, digital, and experiential experiences in one – holistic brand campaigns for consumers to enjoy branded experiences in every format.
Digital has accelerated possibilities but there is also a nostalgia for physical experiences. Ultimately you can’t escape the way the world is going and there is a whole generation of digital natives with new ideas and norms, so the blend I believe it going to be prevalent.
I also wonder if brands may diversify their offerings through different collections or experiences for different generations – we’ve all gone through such a collective experience, and I do think there’s opportunity for brands to capitalize on keeping loyal consumers throughout a lifetime with different offerings. Look at Marks & Spencer for example, they are focussing on a range of different ambassadors to cater for different audience segments, as well as having different product offerings – like bringing on Nobody’s Child for a younger consumer to widen their reach and appeal.
You spoke a lot on digital acceleration and brand-experiences so thinking of the future, within the licensing space specifically, how do you think technology like Xelacore can play a role?
The knowledge. When you boil it down, Fabacus enables licensors to make strategic decisions by providing them with great product intel.
Licensing is in a future-focused industry – licensees are conceptualising, licensors are innovating, creating new partnerships, entering new categories, alongside their core brand and existing brand equity. The protection, which is an output of the catalogues we create for brands, gives licensors more control and insight of their consumer product programs and their consumers – we’re propelling them forward into the future that they’re already conceptualizing.
As part of aiding them on this future journey, if you could change one thing about how Licensees and Licensors currently work, what would it be?
For me, if we could change the mindset, that would be a huge achievement. The industry is traditional, and change can be daunting.
Thanks so much Lauren, really great to speak with you and share your knowledge and expertise.
To hear more from her or to get touch with any questions for Lauren or the team, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org