Thanks to its enviable brand strength, the undisputed expert on record-breaking feats has spent the past few years ramping up its licensing activities. Not only is Guinness World Records the world’s leading expert on breaking records, it has one of the most recognizable brands on Earth. The company started 55 years ago in London after the managing director of the Guinness Brewery had a debate over what game bird was the fastest and decided to create a definitive book with answers to similar questions. The first edition of the book was bound in August 1955, immediately reflecting the promise of the concept when it became the number one best seller by that Christmas. 

“Today, we sell 3.5 million copies of the main book every year and translate it into 26 languages,” said Samantha Fay, SVP of global sales and marketing. “Our reach extends into more than 100 countries.”

At one time, the company produced more than 200 titles, but the company structure changed in 1977 and went back to one title. From there, Guinness World Records began building other divisions of the company, one of which is licensing. The company has been involved in licensing since the 1970s and has a long standing partnership with Bantam Books to publish a mass market, lower price point version of the annual Guinness World Records book in the US and Canada. 

In 2008, the company began focusing heavily on licensing operations, taking advantage of its brand strength. The company has licensing teams in London, New York, and Japan that are tasked with expanding the Guinness World Records brand into various product categories and establishing promotional and trademark partnerships with larger corporations.

“It has been a pretty interesting past two years as we’ve been developing this area of the business,” said Jennifer Gilmour, licensing manager for North America. “Our brand awareness is 98% worldwide, but we still have to figure out ways to capitalize on that and develop the business outside the annual book and standard record breaking into different product categories.”

Categorically speaking

Naturally, the initial area that made the most sense to focus on was publishing. Based on market research, young children ages seven to 14 are the key demographic for the annual book. The company approached publishers like Scholastic to find ways to produce titles that were smaller, easier to read, thematic, and have lower price points to get kids excited about the annual book.

“We’ve actually been in a relationship with Scholastic now for five years, and we’ve created themed readers, most of which are specific to pets and animals,” Gilmour said. “They’ve sold roughly 2 million copies of various books since the relationship started.”

In addition, Guinness World Records branched out into stationary, items like the Guinness World Records day-at-a-time and wall calendars produced by Trends International that will launch this August. Another publishing initiative is in the educational publication space with Carson-Dellosa, which is launching a line of Guinness World Records workbooks and reading kits next January that will focus on reading comprehension and math skills for grades three, four, and five. 

Another big publishing initiative is the Guinness World Records Gamers Edition focused solely on video game records. It is produced as part of a partnership with Brady Games, a division of DK Publishing known for the production of gaming strategy guides. 

Guinness World Records never had any intention of blanketing the retail sector with any and every product line it could think of. Instead, the company took a surgical approach and focusing on certain areas. Many products haven’t launched yet, but Gilmour said new product lines are on the way in the near future.

In fact, Guinness World Records is expanding into toys and games this year. One of its big partners is The Haywire Group, which is adding a new line of games and puzzles that was announced at the 2010 Toy Fair in New York City and will launch this fall. 

Beyond products

The company’s efforts aren’t limited to licensed products, however. Trademark licensing of the Guinness World Records name as part of external marketing campaigns is well underway, as is promotional licensing. 

“Promotionally, we have some good campaigns rolling out this fall,” said Gilmour. “We’d love to expand in that area because we think our content adds value to a lot of major corporations that need to target our key demographic.”

One significant upcoming Guinness World Records promotional licensing campaign is a kids’ meal promotion with Chick-fil-A that starts in July. The kids’ meal will involve weekly activity kits for children based on the Guinness World Records brand. 

On the trademark side, Guinness World Records has an edge over other licensing companies because corporations want to brag about it when they break a Guinness World Record. Working with those companies not only enhances the corporation’s brand, it enhances the Guinness World Records brand by reaffirming its status as the leading authority on record-breaking achievements. 

Many recognizable companies have entered into trademark licensing agreements with Guinness World Records. These include Panasonic, Samsung, Volkswagen, and Yamaha Snowmobiles.

“We continuously have companies coming to us about breaking records for event, marketing, and PR purposes, but they also see the inherent value of partnering with us post-record and letting the world know what they’ve done,” Gilmour said. 

The last few years have seen an upswing in Guinness World Records’ ability to capitalize on its strength as a licensing partner because it created the internal infrastructure necessary to support the effort. With Gilmour’s team in North America, Beatriz Fernandez’s team in London, and Erika Ogawa’s team in Tokyo, the company is adequately positioned to take advantage of the opportunities popping up all around the world. 

“Making that commitment by creating a focused division and creating three strong teams positioned globally allowed us to make licensing more than just a sideline to the book business,” said Fay. “Two years ago, the book business was 90% of our overall business, and it is now 80% of our business. Product diversification is very important to a company like ours.”

Now the company is figuring out new ways to grow and expand its already sizeable penetration of the global market. Fay said Guinness World Records is looking into launching a licensing division in Germany, and the company just launched the Guinness World Records Lite iPad app. In addition, the company is putting together a social media marketing campaign to support the book and licensed products. 

“We need to be on top of the way people are buying merchandise and consuming content, and we need to make sure we make both merchandise and content lively and available,” Gilmour said.

“Having licenses that adds value for our consumers is important as well,” added Fay. “We need work on projects that are relevant to Guinness World Records, and our challenge is to find the right partners and right licenses.”