Monopoly Money

Former Hasbro head of Europe and now boss of consultancy firm Step-Up, Simon Gardner, continues his series of business advisories with his seven-point plan for upping your game in the toy market?
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Monopoly, the game of making the right deals, owning the best properties and investing in the most profitable assets. It’s a roller coaster experience, of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat’.

Is this a pretty accurate description of life in the toy business, as well as the description of the game play of Hasbro’s classic, Monopoly?

As each year in this industry begins we start afresh (having hopefully survived the rigours of another Christmas) and are faced with some tough, but almost universal questions no matter what part of the industry we are in.

* What are this year’s winners going to be?
* How do I make sensible choices given the array of possibilities?
* What do I invest big in and what do I put on the back burner?
* Am I going to get another year out of this property/brand or item, or has it had its day?
* How do I make my offering unique and more competitive to get some sort of advantage?
* Is there a better deal out there? Can I negotiate a new angle?

We are inclined to approach these questions with a mixture of facts, feelings, prejudices, wild expectations, reliable and unreliable memories of past performance. And as an industry we are often the masters of believing our own bullshit.

So I thought it would be useful this month to look at some more objective principles and guidelines that might help us better assess the answers to these sorts of questions.

SEVEN WINNING WAYS TO UP YOUR GAME IN THE TOY BUSINESS

How do we select the winners?
Clearly there is no simple answer, but maybe by ensuring that enough of the following boxes are ticked, it will increase our average hit rate.

Does the property have heritage?
Does it appeal to both kids and have an echo with parents?

Does the property or brand have a compelling point of difference and/or stand out amongst all the clutter?
Has this property got some similar break-frame characteristics to a previous success story?

Who are the parties and/or partners involved?
Do they have track record and credibility?

Is there enough ‘surround sound’?

Are there enough key partners involved (master toy licence, computer games licence, ongoing and quality entertainment placement, publishing deal, clothing deal, food and/or fast food deal)?

Does the property connect with a simple universal truth that enables kids to ‘get it’ easily?
A useful tip when considering decisions and choices of one property vs another is to build a sounding board network. We all fall into the danger of relying too heavily on our own hunches and experiences.
It is great to build a wider network of informants ... ‘kitchen research’ as we often call it can be very dangerous, but actually if an eclectic enough group is tapped into, it can be very useful.

How might we assess whether a property has legs or has had its day?

The owners of great ongoing brands in our industry typically bring a fresh twist and/or innovation to the brand each year. We need to consider if there is enough of a new angle to maintain momentum and interest.

Someone once said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing and expecting something different to happen”. To maintain brands we need to make something different happen.

We need to get more creative about building more varied points of difference. We started down this road several years ago as an industry, but now seem to be only able to differentiate ourselves by price or exclusive product.

Maybe we can build more differentiation into our offering by combining more of these dimensions into what we have on offer?

Ask yourself the question, do you have enough data to support your decision, or are you relying too heavily on a hunch? Ask yourself if you have some comparable data from a similar property or product that you can use to benchmark and track. Nine times out of ten the data doesn’t lie.

Lastly, we need to get better at pursuing win/win solutions.
So often we are inclined to pursue issues and opportunities with a view that there has got to be a better deal out there for me. This usually leads to negotiations that don’t make the best deals.

After experiencing many, many different deals – good, bad and ugly – I am convinced that our best approach is win/win. Starting from the perspective that says ‘what can I give you, that gives you value and advantage, in exchange for something that gives me value and advantage?’

I can think of a recent example where a stand-off negotiation that had lasted several years broke through into major new possibilities and advantages for both parties when the negotiation was re-expressed as, ‘how can we provide one another with something of meaningful value?’

It all sounds a bit easy, but in my experience it is rarely the starting point of our discussions.

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