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Artistory on the Trends Behind Modern Heritage Branding

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Artistory founders Yizan He and Natasha Dyson speak to License Global about the trends changing the heritage landscape and how to share stories with consumers through art.

License Global: What can you tell us about the foundations behind Artistory and how you founded the business?

Yizan He: In 2013, I founded Alfilo Brands – a licensing agency based in Shanghai working with Hollywood studios and TV properties such as BBC's “Sherlock Holmes.” But my ultimate goal was to build a global art and cultural IP licensing powerhouse. The opportunity arrived in 2016 after a brief, but exciting meeting with the British Museum at Licensing Expo Las Vegas. 

The British Museum has a 270-year history with over 8 million artifacts. These facts are mind-blowing, and I realized this was the right IP partner that has massive licensing potential on a global scale. That 30-minute meeting changed the course of my company. Three months later, we signed a multi-year exclusive master licensing agreement with The British Museum covering China. This is probably the first of such kind, with a world-class museum in the licensing industry.

With the support from the British Museum, together, we have developed a substantial licensing program for the British Museum in China with thousands of SKUs of licensed products launched. We also have collaborations with dozens of global consumer brands, multiple online stores on Alibaba and JD that welcome tens of millions of shoppers annually. We've rolled out the world's first experiential pop-up British Museum stores in shopping malls across different cities. Consumers love our products and stores, and the British Museum gained a few million followers. That was a gratifying experience. 

After our initial success with the British Museum, as founder and chief executive officer of Alfilo Brands, I led my team in the effort in developing many award-winning licensing programs for the world's top museums and art institutions, including the MET, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the V&A, and National Gallery in China.

Art and culture transcend national borders, and I have always wanted to build a truly global art and cultural licensing enterprise. This is why Natasha and I set up Artistory in 2021. Artistory focuses on key markets in the UK/EU and North America, and we've already signed National Palace Museum for our markets.  

LG: In a rapidly changing marketplace, what is the one trend that's most catching your attention right now?

Natasha Dyson: We see an increase in the importance of storytelling. Consumers have more and more choices every day on where to shop and what to buy. Brands need to engage with their consumers and drive loyalty and the best way to do this is through storytelling. Consumers are becoming more conscious and curious about the products they are purchasing, particularly the younger and digitally savvy audiences, and want to want to know that the brands they are buying into have similar values to them. 

Storytelling is a key part of brand building and it helps consumers develop deeper connections with brands. It has the potential to drive customer loyalty because the consumer loves what the brand does, what it stands for, and the stories they share.  

Nike has been using storytelling to connect with its audience for many years. Their marketing encourages people to dream and believe they can achieve the impossible. More and more brands are using storytelling, such as Apple, Gillette and Land Rover.  

Storytelling is central to human existence, and it's common to every known culture. Research shows that messages delivered as stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than just facts.  

LG: How is Artistory reacting to this trend?

ND: Storytelling is the future of marketing, and there are no better ingredients than art and culture, which transcend time and geographic barriers. When it comes to building successful licensing programs for our museum partners, stories play a vital role in the shopping experience and inspiration that every licensed product needs to deliver. 

We work closely with our museum partners’ curators to enhance the existing narratives for storytelling and marketing. Artistory assists our licensing partners to engage and delight audiences globally, inspiring them to learn more about our museum partners and their wonderful collections.  

Our individually themed style guides contain narratives about the relevant museum partner and the artifacts selected as inspiration for the designs. This narrative, plus additional content that we develop, can be used for marketing purposes by our licensing partners (brands, retailers and manufacturers) to engage with and retain their customers – storytelling through packaging, swing tickets, instore POS, short form videos and interactive experiences. 

LG: How is art, heritage, culture licensing more important today than ever before?

YH: There are many aspects that make art, heritage and cultural licensing important today. Let's start with the current situation, which has seen many of these organizations closed to the public and therefore down on revenue. Licensing income is a great way to subsidize that lost income.

Licensing is a great approach financially and a meaningful way to engage a much broader audience globally. 

The Artistory team has expertise in generating sustainable revenue for museums and cultural organizations. We deliver turn-key solutions that enable cultural organizations to leverage their own IP and kick start or improve revenue-generating licensing programs in various markets.  

LG: Where are you seeing the most activity in terms of categories and partnerships?

YH: We focus on four areas for our IP – museums, galleries, science centers and libraries. We've already added National Palace Museum (Taiwan) to our IP portfolio in April 2021 and plan to add three more IPs to our portfolio within 2021. An announcement will be made soon, as we are already wrapping up master license agreements with two of the world's top cultural organizations.

In terms of licensed product categories, we cover fashion, accessories, home goods and textile, gifts and stationery products, etc. In terms of B2B licensing, we've been working with global consumer brands such as L'Oréal, Twinning's, P&G and many fast-growing DTC brands such as Perfect Diary. Our retail partners include Alibaba, JD and Amazon.  

In addition to working with our museum partners to build long-term licensing programs, we also work with them to create immersive exhibitions. This is a particularly exciting development as it combines both storytelling and immersive experiences.

Some of the exhibitions will include artifacts or official replicas of artifacts, along with digital content and others will be fully digital experiences. We aim to create immersive and multi-sensory experiences for our visitors.   

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