Every great business leader dreams of leaving a lasting, multigenerational legacy and having their company outlast them. But let's face it. In today's world, you barely have time to blow your nose before the market moves on to something else. So how do you possibly stay relevant through all the noise?
Dr. Seuss has a clue. A wonderful clue. And like a big present, all shiny with bows, the brand will now give it to wonderful you.
(OK, I won't rewrite Green Eggs and Ham, but stay with me.)
One License, Two License, Red License, Blue License
Dr. Seuss Enterprises (DSE), which just celebrated what would have been Theodor Seuss Geisel's 115th birthday earlier this month, is still connecting with new audiences on a massive scale decades after Geisel's books and characters became a household sensation. Their key to continued relevancy, according to current President Susan Brandt, is to share their intellectual property through as many carefully designed licensed partnerships as possible.
The approach flies in the face of typical practice in most companies, which is to physically and legally guard content as if it were the queen's jewels.
But Brandt says that, by accessing the concepts and content in their archive and sharing it, partners can reinvent it in a myriad of ways so that those ideas don't fall by the wayside. Those strong partnerships, which the company sees as essential for the strength of the brand, have resulted in films, TV shows, exhibitions, merchandise (e.g., pajamas), digital merchandise and other business ventures.
Selected with care
But this isn't to say that the company pairs up with just anybody willy-nilly. The business adheres to clear direction Geisel set himself.
"Ted once said he never wanted to license his character to anyone who would 'round out the edges'--a guiding principle that drives continued success," says Brandt. "First, we don't license every product and every category we could. We are highly selective and develop relationships we know will be true to Ted's vision of inspiring learning, literacy and imagination--in fact, we pass on more proposals than we say yes to.
"Second, when we do decide to work together with a company, we approach the relationship as a true partnership. We brainstorm together, share artwork and plans and work with our partners to build mutually beneficial programs. This approach is so successful that some of our partnerships are over 20 years old."
Mark Siegel, Senior Vice President at apparel company MjC, understandably says that his team was attracted to DSE's vast library of creative content, and that DSE does a good job turning concepts approvals around quickly and sharing marketing insights. But they recognize that DSE's selectivity is also a strength, and that the storytelling tied into the DSE brand has enormous value that will always resonate.
"DSE has always kept its brand integrity intact by staying out of lower-tier retailers and has built successful specialty and department store programs to raise its profile," says Siegel. "[And the partnership experience] has taught us that civic-minded brands like DSE provide a wonderful opportunity to rediscover the joys of reading."
Chris Nelson, VP of Entertainment for Carnival Cruise Line, explains that the family-friendly nature of Dr. Seuss made their partnership an easy choice. But his team is incredibly aware of how passionate DSE is about their brand and the influence the brand has on the lives of children and their families. So while the partnership has definite benefits, Nelson also feels accountability.
"Dr. Seuss Enterprises is very selective of what companies they partner with," Nelson says, "and we take this responsibility very seriously and strive to create programming that not only enables our guests and their families to return home with a lifetime of wonderful memories, but at the same time respects, values and cherishes the legacy of Dr. Seuss."
So it's not just about throwing what you've built at the wall and, under the lure of continued profits, hoping it sticks in a full range of crevices.
It's about finding many partners who can work with your original ideas without warping or cheapening them, who recognize that what you're trying to do with those ideas goes beyond cute packaging and into human nature and need. Those partners can serve as a viable extension of your voice and bring whatever your message is into new platforms for new customers to hear. They understand that, while novelty has its place, real customer trust rests on familiarity and consistency, and that fresh availability, as a separate form of innovation, can negate the need to totally redraw the face of a brand.
Returning to you
And sometimes, creating something new has you go back, full circle, to your original roots.
DSE still enjoys an active partnership with Random House Children's Books, and together, they're working to publish even more Dr. Seuss titles that have the same beloved flavor as other favorites in the Seuss lineup.
"We have had great success with recent releases like What Pet Should I Get?, Dr. Seuss's 100 First Words, and other new book products published posthumously," says Barbara Marcus, President and Publisher for Random House. "The forthcoming Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum (on sale September 3, 2019) is another example of a title that will be released posthumously and is possible because of our strong working relationship with Dr. Seuss Enterprises."
So open up and loosen your grip. Let others embrace your ideas. As long as both parties are engaged with mutual respect, you'll likely do far more together than if you ran the race alone.