About Us

Steven Reece We operate a leading Consultancy and Services provider to the Toy and Games industries. Our business is 100% focused on delivering unparalleled insight and services to Toy companies globally. Our services range from consumer insight and board level Consultancy through to helping companies find the right factories, distributors and licenses.

The Big Play Day – A Big Success!

Posted in Uncategorized on 19 August 2012

The Big Play Day – report

So firstly, apologies for the ‘radio silence’ recently, August is a pretty quiet month in the European toy trade, so I’ve been joining everyone else on vacation…

…however, I did manage to organise and run my inaugral ‘The Big Play Day’ event. Toy companies with turnover in excess of $300m came along to test their existing products and new concepts with Kids.

Every toy consumer research I’ve conducted or viewed has yielded significant insight. This was no exception. Sometimes it’s a stunning revelation, more often it’s small tweaks that can make a huge difference to the product formula.

Special thanks to my friends at Toy News – the UK’s leading toy trade magazine – for sponsoring the event. If you’re one of the very few people in the industry not reading Toy News, then you can check it out here:  http://www.toynews-online.biz/

If you’d like to find out how consumer insight on toys can help your business, please feel free to drop me a line: steve.reece@vicientertainment.co.uk

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The Big Play Day – New Event, Weds. Aug 15th, Guildford, U.K.

Posted in Uncategorized on 31 July 2012

The Big Play Day

It’s time to announce a really exciting event that I’ve been working on for some time!

The Big Play Day brings together Toy companies with their end consumers – Kids!

The purpose of the day is to allow companies to get some ‘quick and dirty’ budget level consumer insight on their products which will:

  • Highlight key areas for product development tweaks.
  • Identify key selling features.
  • Unveil key communications messages for advertising.
  • Give feedback on how kids play.
  • Give a comparative reference versus competitor products.

Without wishing to over blow my own trumpet (!), I have two market research qualifications, including the Market Research Society Certificate (with Distinction), as well as having worked as Hasbro’s In house play tester some years back. And I’ll be there on the day to support attendees, as well as supplying a question template for those who haven’t done much consumer research before.

Now obviously this version of the The Big Play Day is in the UK, but for companies in North American, mainland Europe, or even anywhere else, you can still submit your products for testing…just get in touch for details of how we manage that. We will also be conducting The Big Play Day in the USA later this year, so watch this space for that…!

Anyway, if this all sounds interesting, check out this page for more details and to buy tickets:

http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3620244248c

P.S. We have a limited number of spaces, so if this is of interest, please book asap to avoid disappointment.

 

All the best

Steve

 

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Lego Friends – Generalisations Are Generally True…!

Posted in Uncategorized on 31 July 2012

Lego Friends Flying Off Shelves Causing Stock Shortages

I predicted earlier this year that the Lego Friends range, which very clearly targets Girls, would be a rip roaring success.

And lo and behold the range has sold so well in the UK that out of stocks have become a “high class problem” according to Lego UK M.D. Drew Brazer. For more details on this check out this article in Toy News: http://www.toynews-online.biz/news/36822/Lego-working-hard-to-meet-demand-for-Friends-toy-line 

So here’s the blunt truth – this product was always going to fly because Boys Toys and Girls Toys are as relevant today as distinctions as they ever have been. I’m not talking in terms of social niceties, the evolution of gender roles in society, equality or anything else like that. I am talking hard commerce, because that’s what pays the bills and wages of the people  who work in our industry.

The thing about generalisations is that they are generally true! Generally, but not exclusively speaking, pink appeals to girls not boys. Nurturing play patterns are more appealing to girls than boys in general, and girls are significantly less interested and less keen on boisterous or even violent play as a general rule.

For sure you could go and find kids who buck the stereotypes…we all know one. And I could write an academic thesis on WHY this is the case…but the reality is that it IS incontestably the case regardless of whether it’s caused by nature v nurture, societal stereotypes or anything else.

In this instance, Lego have again smashed the ball out of the park through fantastic portfolio gap analysis and Brand management. And you can be sure that if we have a successful Lego Friends in market today, we can expect further girl targeted Lego iterations in the next year or two, as well as sub-extensions of the Lego Friends Brand itself.

Nothing about the success of Lego Friends should surprise people who understand how kids see the world and how they play. Is this something you understand well enough to be successful?

I recently conducted several different market research projects, and each and every time the feedback from the vast majority of kids reinforced the standard gender stereotypes…

Anyway, I must move on from Lego loving, so my next few posts won’t mention them…unless they smash the ball out of the park yet again in the meantime!

All the best

Steve

P.S. I’m running an event called The Big Play Day on Weds. August 15th in Guildford, U.K. The Big Play Day brings brands and Toy people face to face with their end consumer to reduce launch failure risk and make products that better fulfil the needs and wants of Kids. For more details just click on the following link, spaces are limited so book early to avoid disappointment!

http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3620244248

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5 Reasons Why Online Virtual Worlds Are The Future Of Toys

Posted in Uncategorized on 27 July 2012

Kids Online Worlds And The Toy Industry

There is no escaping the paradigm shifting impact of kids online virtual worlds such as Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin and many others. We have moved from a model of TV advertising, TV programming, Movie events and to a lesser extent book publishing, to all of those PLUS child centric website Brands.

Here’s 5 Reasons why online virtual worlds are a big part of the way forward for toy companies:

1. Deeply immersive -  Let’s face it, TV programs and movies are passive viewing experiences. The child sits there, albeit often fully mentally engaged, and passively receives. With online worlds, Kids are deeply immersed and actively engaged, meaning a greater bond and deeper experience linked to the Brand in question.

2. Revenue generating – show me a Toy company making big bucks out of selling TV programing alone or selling Movie rights alone, and I’ll show you my most sceptical eyebrow raised expression! Most are investing at a loss to make profit on Toy sales. Whereas with online worlds, the medium itself is both effectively marketing and Brand building, while generating revenue.

3. Repeat usage – where there is a truly engaging, enjoyable and immersive experience,  kids will keep on coming back and sometimes spend hours online…compare that to a one off 90 minutes for a movie, or a daily 25 mins with TV.

4. Merchandising path now proven – some years back, while we knew millions of kids were online, we didn’t have undeniable proof that their online experience translated clearly into merchandising sales. Moshi Monsters smashed any uncertainty there out of the park!

5. For every Moshi Monsters or Club Penguin there are 10 up and comers out there planting seeds – like all success stories, there are plenty of up and comers lining up to be the next Moshi. I’m working with one Brand which I believe will be the next…but more on that in later posts! The reality is, that Moshi & Club Penguin are not one offs. This is a new Kids Brand paradigm which isn’t going away – so ignore it at your peril!

If you want to understand more about virtual worlds and the Toy business, or if you’re seeking strong Licenses based on online Kids Brands, feel free to get in touch – steve.reece@vicientertainment.co.uk

All the best

Steve

 

P.S. For a Free guide on Toy marketing and  newsletter subscriptions, just enter your details in the form on the top right of this page.

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Why Kids And Adults Love Lego So Much…

Posted in Uncategorized on 18 July 2012

The Lego Brand – Personal To Everyone?

When I conduct consumer research sessions, and ask kids and parents which Toys are their favourite, which ones they own, and which ones they want, it is stunning how often Lego is the answer to all 3 of those questions. None of which is that surprising I know, but the interesting part of what consumers tell me is that Lego is ‘perfect’ for them (each of them), despite the fact that normally you wouldn’t see such a diverse array of kids playing with the same Toys.

So what’s the trick then? In a word – stunning brand and portfolio management. The Lego brand is that rarity which has an incredibly strong identity while also allowing for a broad and deep brand stretch. There are very few other brands out there in the Toy industry with this ability to appeal to all kinds of different kids. Barbie for example is about as large, established and well managed Brand as you will find, yet it’s consumer target is narrower than Lego i.e. not many boys owning Barbie comparatively speaking.

Lego’s master brand is the platform on which they build and add on other affinities and target consumer sub groups. For instance, I had a consumer say to me that he loved Lego Ninjago because it was “just like Pokemon and Ben 10″. Lego Star Wars appeals to other kids, the apparently controversial Lego Friends clearly appeals to girls, Duplo for younger etc.

To see more on how Lego segment, this link goes to a very good visual communication of how broad their consumer segmentations go:

http://www.lego.com/en-us/products/default.aspx

The other massive strength Lego has from a brand and consumer point of view is parental approval, endorsement and even evangelism. Parents love Lego…because they perceive it as delivering a worthwhile play experience for their kids, and an aid to the development of their offspring. Parents who may not consider Star Wars figures, for instance, may well consider the Lego Star Wars range.

The other strong influencing factor here is heritage. I’ve written extensively on this elsewhere, as have nearly every other Toy industry blogger, but in terms of Lego, parents played with Lego as kids, and know and trust the brand. Moreover, they may have had arguments with their parents way back, when Lego’s use of Licensing and sub-branding wasn’t as prevalent, and see the current plethora of versions and co-brands as a great solution to buying kids ‘worthwhile’ Toys.

This isn’t the only article I’ve written on Lego, but there’s a reason for that – if you want a textbook example of magnificent Toy brand management on an existing brand then Lego is it…

All the best

Steve

 

P.S. To receive a Free Guide, and sign up for other Toy industry updates/analysis, please feel free to sign up using the box on the right hand side of this page.

 

 

 

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Q2 2012 Toy Company Results Pending…

Posted in Uncategorized on 15 July 2012

Mattel Q2 2012 Results. Hasbro Q2 2012 Results. Jakks Pacific Q2 2012 Results.

Mattel and Jakks Pacific are due to report their Q2 results on Tuesday, with Hasbro to follow the week after.

And frankly, I can’t remember a more potentially interesting round of corporate results.

Jakks Pacific will be revealing, among other things,  how Monsuno is going so far…Monsuno is a critical Strategic play for them, so Jakks watchers will await these results and the accompanying commentary with baited breath.

Hasbro’s Q2 results and earnings call are going to be very interesting due to the postponement of the G.I. Joe movie sequel from Q2 2012 into 2013. Presumably all the inventory will sit on Hasbro’s books and in their warehouses until the movie finally screens, which is not going to help their ratios! The analysts out there are no doubt going to have some searching questions to ask about all that, and of course it will be interesting to see what level of success Hasbro expect from the relaunch of a new higher tech App-ified Furby.

For Mattel, we should start to see significant impact from the HIT Entertainment acquisition, as well as a justification by management of why they are reportedly/allegedly looking to divest some of the smaller HIT Brands so soon after buying the portfolio.

So this is going to be an interesting week and a half for sure!

The other thing I noticed today when on one of my regular trawls of Toy retail today is just how much is going on in terms of Toy product this year. Although our industry is rarely quiet, the sheer volume and scale of product launches and product initiatives seems to be even greater than usual this year.

So while the overall market figures may still be heavily dragged by the prevailing economic winds, on a product level this is a very exciting time.

The next 2 months will see the hopes and goals of some Toy companies become solid realities, while others will fall by the wayside.

All this excitement certainly makes me glad to be in this crazy business!

 

All the best

Steve

 

P.S. For updates & insight on the Toy industry, and to get a Free Guide on how to avoid most common Toy industry mistakes, please click here:

http://toymarketingacademy.com/toptoycompanymistakes/ 

 

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Reece Rant – What’s Going On With Board Games Packaging…?

Posted in Uncategorized on 13 July 2012

Let’s keep the fun in Board Games packaging!

This Blog has a little publicised secret –  the ethos of this Blog is to ONLY positively comment on the industry. Even when looking at an issue or situation that seems less than ideal, the informal rule is not to write about something unless a positive slant can be found. If it’s all bad, then it doesn’t tend to feature here…

Here’s the thing though, every so often something really makes me cross, and not just cross angry, but cross and worried, because something happens which in my opinion is not for the good of the industry as a whole.

So I’ve decided to let rip with a rant this time. if this wasn’t what you expected (or wanted) from me, apologies, but I feel I just can’t let this one slide!

What has happened to board games packaging in the last few years? Board games have such a positive impact on kids, families and society as a whole…but that’s not the only reason they are played with. They are also (supposed to be) FUN.

For sure the Games category has been under immense threat from other forms of Gaming and gadgetry, but that isn’t a new trend, it’s been going on for 30 years or more.

The point is this – just because other forms of activity are ‘cooler’ or more aspirational/desirable, and just because the reason for people playing board games are often ‘worthy’ doesn’t mean people will buy Games which look dull.

Yet from a subjective point of view, Board Games packaging has got more and more serious and not FUN over the last decade or so, and that applies to the best selling board games as well as the lesser titles. And I just don’t understand why that is the case, or where it’s coming from.

My golden rule with packaging is that it doesn’t matter whether I ‘like it’, or whether ‘that colour doesn’t work for me’. The pack is a sales tool. It needs to communicate the right things to effectively sell the product – to make retailers list it, and make consumers take it off the shelves and buy it with their hard earned cash. So (as any Designer who ever worked with me will testify), I am very poorly placed to comment on design trends and aesthetics in general. However, if it doesn’t look FUN why will anyone buy it / play it?

I guess there may be a small sub section of the population out there who actually want to be miserable, and who want to play Games which make them more miserable, but surely they are a miniscule minority?

Why then are so many Games packs nowadays so boring and formal? When I see a board games pack that looks more like the front cover of a brochure for an accountants or a dentists, it  really frustrates me. I’m sure there are highly talented designers working on these games, but the direction so often seems wrong to me.

In fairness, Kids Games very definitely do focus on the fun, but just seems like Family and Adult Games are almost made to seem turgid in many instances nowadays.

The softening of sales in the Board Games category that we’ve seen in the last few years is I’m sure partly due to the global downturn, partly due to some key retailers going out of business and partly due to the lack of a major global gameshow hit, which has always been a major driver for the category historically. I’m also sure that App-ification has taken a piece of the action.

However, I can’t help wondering whether the results would have been any different if the packaging design style had been different, and focused on FUN.

There you go rant over, at which point I must insert the caveat that there are some Games and some companies out there getting this right, just not enough of them!

If you think I’m barking up the wrong tree, think I have it spot on, or think you can explain this better, please feel free to leave a comment below.

All the best

Steve

P.S.  Quick plug for my book – 55 Features To Top Selling Board Games, available via my webshop: www.stevenreece.com/shop or if you have a Kindle, you can get it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Mammons-Guide-Board-Games-ebook/dp/B007PJTZN2/ref=nosim?tag=wwwvicientert-20 

Interview with Mike Hirtle, Product Acquisition Expert

Posted in Uncategorized on 05 July 2012

Interview With Mike Hirtle of Paladin LLC

A very select few people make it to the very top of their fields, but Mike Hirtle is one of those people.

Mike has worked for Mattel, Fisher Price, Tyco, Seven Towns, and more recently as Head of Global Product Acquisition at Hasbro.

Having viewed c. 25,000 new toy and game concepts, Mike is very well placed to give his perspective on how the industry has changed, on how to make it as a professional inventor, and on the process of selecting Toy and Game products from inventor submissions.

I caught up with Mike recently, and recorded this podcast, in which Mike also discusses what his new company Paladin LLC is doing.

Just click here to listen:

http://www.stevenreece.com/Mike%20Hirtle%20%20final.mp3

If you find this interesting and useful, please feel free to spread the word on where to find the interview using your favoured form of social media!

All the best

Steve

P.S. For updates & insight on the Toy industry, and to get a Free Guide on how to avoid most common Toy industry mistakes, please click here:

http://toymarketingacademy.com/toptoycompanymistakes/

5 Steps To Reduce The Risk Of Toy Launch Failure…

Posted in Uncategorized on 29 June 2012

5 Tried And Tested Ways To Reduce The Risk Of Product Failure

The Toy industry is unusual, in that between two-thirds and three-quarters of products in market are new every year. The implications of that are that unlike some industries where the same product can sell for years or even occasionally decades, we are in a constant cycle of product development and launches.

Now to develop and execute a strong new range and accompanying advertising campaign costs anywhere from a few hundred thousand to millions dependent on market and scope. That’s not small change!

Moreover, even the larger corporates i.e. Mattel and Hasbro only have capacity to develop, sell and promote so may new products each year. There are only so many products a sales team can get listed, there is only so much retail space, there is only so much marketing budget, only so many people in development etcetera.

So the reality is that whatever products you do launch carry more risk than just the costs you invest, they are also your finite sales opportunity for that selling cycle. In short, your sales targets, profitability, staff bonuses, and even survival of your company depend on the results of your new product launches.

Yet as an industry, the prevailing approach seems to be ‘let’s chuck some stuff at the wall and see what sticks’. The gut feel of a group of Toy industry professionals, sometimes with high degrees of scrutiny and debate, and sometimes without, is taken as grounds on which to push ahead with product development. This ad hoc and subjective decision making process might deliver the goods some of the time, but frankly there are some very simple ways to reduce the risk:

1. Consumer Insight – I have personally witnessed $million mistakes due to failure to do some very basic validation and concept testing with the target consumer. The most common mistake I have seen is over complicated concepts that don’t meet the need for simplicity in the play of most children. The next most prevalent mistake is creating Toys around a concept that doesn’t make sense to kids of the target age. I once tested a TV ad which had been made at a cost of $200k, it totally failed because it used irony and teen humour to an audience of 6 year olds who utterly didn’t get it. The ad had to be binned and a new one developed at unecessary cost. Playtesting can be done very cheaply, and even more robust research should cost no more than $10k nowadays. It’s just plain ludicrous, as well as massively imprudent to not seek end consumer input throughout development!

2. Retail Input –  frankly retailers are not known for their ability to conceptualise. Many a strong idea has died by being presented to retailers to early in the development process. However, you can and should be seeking retail input before every development cycle. What is working for them, what isn’t, what are they looking for more of. if your buyers tell you what they want, and you develop it, you are clearly more likely to get listings, reducing the risk of launch failure greatly.

3. Sales driven Marketing – effective advertising to kids is normally very straightforward. Kids carry much less social baggage, so you don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles to motivate them, you just need to show them something that is fun and cool. Over complicated advertising to 5 year old kids is destined to fail. The old adage of K.I.S.S. applies i.e. Keep It Simple Stupid!

4.  Analyse What Came Before – most people analyse within their own frame of reference i.e. they remember launches they were involved in, they remember products they worked on and the lessons learned. However, generally speaking, we don’t tend to take as much notice of the learning of other people. if you are fortunate to work in a company where there are other people who have knowledge about the area you work on, seek it out! Do they have that one golden nugget of insight that will save your bacon?

5. Be Practical - manufacturing is the death of many fancy concepts. By the time your brainwave has been through the full manufacturing process and product is churned out of the far side for $2, you may not quite have the all singing, all dancing hero you envisioned. Be practical, and make hard calls on features and spec early in the process, as fire fighting when time gets tight will increase your risk of failure.

We’re fortunate to work in an industry where innovation and development is so central, but that doesn;t mean we can take success for granted, or that product launch failure is acceptable!

 

All the best

Steve

 

P.S. Have you downloaded the Free guide on the top right hand side of this page? Just input your details to get the Free guide and my regular newsletter.

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Winning Toy Licenses – 5 Tried And Tested Tactics…

Posted in Uncategorized on 26 June 2012

How To Win Toy Licenses – 5 Proven Tactics...

Licensing plays a major role in the Toy market. Whether it’s Toy companies licensing (mostly) Entertainment properties, or Toy Brand owners licensing out other categories on the Brands they own, there is no doubt that having hot licenses makes Toy (and Games) companies more attractive to retailers.

Moreover, it’s a proven fact that consumers will buy into products based on strong licenses. (This is especially the case in the North American Toy market, UK Toy market, Southern European Toy markets, and Australian Toy markets. Less the case in Germany, but anyway…!).

So Licensing products can really reduce our risk/chances of success on new product launches – as long as we manage our MG commitments prudently.

Which is all well and good, but one of the questions I get most often in my Consulting business is ‘How do we win the really big licenses?’

So to answer that question, here are 5 tried and tested tactics to secure hot Toy licenses:

1.  Show passion for the Brand – some of the more cynical of you reading this may feel tempted to roll your eyes at this point, as it’s often perceived that all Licensors care about is the size of the M.G. However, if you bear in mind the investment that has driven the Brand that you want to license, both financial investment and emotional in many cases, it becomes likely that when faced with two equal pitches, a licensor is likely to be swayed by someone who truly believes in their Brand. Unless you are a tremendous actor, it’s hard to fake this kind of passion, so if you don’t have it for a particular Brand, is there anyone else on your team who does? If so, why not let them lead the pitch?

2. Don’t just talk product, talk grand vision –  in the end, you have to develop some products, sell them and hope they sell through. Which is very straightforward and mundane really, and it’s also what most other companies pitching for the rights will be focused on. However, if you can create a vision beyond just cranking out a few more products, and get the licensor really enthused about your plans for the Brand, and the potential of your vision, then you instantly get a leg up in the pecking order.

3. Snipe behind the master Toy license –  there are a number of companies who follow this model religiously and have significant success with it. In essence, if you wait for a Master Toy licensee to sign up, they will tend to commit a significant M.G., a weighty development slate and of course often agree to a marketing commitment. For smaller companies whose model is not to go down the master licensee path, picking off what’s left can be lucrative for the following reasons:

a). The licensor’s M.G. expectations from the Toy category have often been largely met by the master licensee.

b). There is a strong opportunity to piggy back the massive sales drive the master licensee will put behind the Brand at retail.

c). There is a strong opportunity to piggy back the often weighty marketing spend the master licensee puts behind the Brand.

4. Multiple stakeholder pitches –  anyone who has ever pitched for a license has experienced the disappointment of convincing the commercial department within a Licensor’s company, only to fall foul of either a creative veto, a finance department veto or some other internal stakeholder. So why not make sure that any likely objectors are included in the pitch process…because it is so much easier to convince someone face to face than at arms length via the chinese whispers of indirect contact. This is really effective in my experience. Of the 200 or so licenses I’ve negotiated, I would say that this tactic has been the most effective. The reason being that there is always a reason why something might not work, or why someone might not like the concept that accompanies your pitch, but the closer you can get to any objectors, and the easier you can make it for your direct contact to sell the deal internally, the more easily you can address any concerns or stumbling blocks and address them!

5. Whose idea is it really –  when dealing with creative issues on a licensed product or range, always try to tease and lead the most important creative stakeholder to your preferred conclusion, in such a way as to make them articulate why that path is the right path. Because we all want to be consistent with the positions we’ve previously taken, so your chances of being the preferred partner, and having the preferred concept will go up massively if key stakeholders express a preference in your favour, based on a thought process they believe is theirs. This is not being sneaky, it’s just genuine persuasion.

Obviously there are many more steps to successfully win top toy licenses, but these 5 I have seen work very well in practise myself, so can openly recommend them knowing they are proven…

 

All the best

Steve

 

P.S. Surprisingly (!), I publish a report on ‘How To Win Top Toy Licenses’, which includes more tactics and more detail on how to secure strong licenses to grow your business. For details, please go to www.stevenreece.com/shop

P.P.S. If you are a licensor, I’ll be posting an article soon how you can get the most out of your licensees, and how to select them in the first place.

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