Many content creators overlook the revenue potential of making and selling merchandise based on their intellectual property. Early on, George Lucas built a substantial amount of his empire with Star Wars merchandise, a business move that was rather savvy for his time. Have you given much thought as to what merchandise can do for you?

Reasons for Making and Selling Merchandise

Merchandise is an amazing thing. All at once it can be a source of income, a push for word of mouth advertising for your show and a building block for your fan base. No other investment into your video project or channel can deliver like this. And, it’s important to think of merchandise as just that, an investment. One that you pay for with your time and effort — and often even money! Like any investment, branching out into making and selling merchandise for your show needs to be properly planned. You wouldn’t want to invest in a NASDAQ listed stock based on the letters your cat types out while walking across keyboard; likewise, when you create your merchandising plan, you should always keep in mind your primary goal for making and selling that merchandise.

Merchandising as a Revenue Stream

The making-money-on-YouTube myth has lured in many content creators only to smash their dreams of fame and fortune. Perhaps some of you are cynics or pragmatists and knew you’d never be able to get rid of your day jobs; however, many would be happy just to cover production costs of their shows. Some creators spend more time begging for money for their next web series than actually producing it. If this sounds like you, then making and selling merchandise could possibly help, if not solve, your production’s cash flow problem.

Merchandising for Advertising

I am always amazed at what people will buy with their hard earned dollars. Consider apparel that advertises a brand. I’m not talking about spending money on the latest Game Of Thrones, Star Wars, or Avengers t-shirts; these are guilty pleasures for any die hard fan. What I’m actually referring to is the Coca-Cola beach towels, Budweiser flip flops or that Red Bull hat. Wouldn’t you like people to spend money on your merchandise and advertise your brand? Of course, but you would need to have something for them to buy!

Jenna Marbles fans can purchase plush dogs inspired by her real-life dogs, Kermit and Marbles.

Merchandising to Build a Fan Base

Most loyal fans are supportive of the content they love. Creating merchandise for your show allows your fans to celebrate your work and surround themselves with reminders of your content. Game of Thrones is a great example. I have the books, a hat, a stuffed dragon, an action figure, two t-shirts and a game. When my cell phone rings, I always know it’s mine because it plays the Games of Thrones theme song. I am the epitome of a dedicated (if not rabid) Game of Thrones fan. One of my friends insists that, “the biggest fan is the one with the most stuff.” This is definitely true when I think of both myself and my friends who love Game of Thrones.

Considerations for Your Merchandising Plan

There are two major complaints I always hear from content creators who have run Kickstarter campaigns. The first one was storage issues for their incentives (t-shirts, hats, etc.) To get the best price breaks from traditional manufacturers, you often have to buy large quantities of an item.

If you live in a small apartment, merchandise can fill up your living space rather quickly. By using on-demand services, you can purchase items as customer orders come in and/or buy items in small quantities.

The second complaint from creators who use Kickstarter is the amount of time it takes to package and ship each individual item. For most of you, being a content creator will be more important than being a retailer. Fortunately, there are many one-stop on demand services that cover every aspect of merchandising, including order and credit card processing, manufacturing, shipping, returns and even customer service.

What to Sell

Hats and t-shirts are typically the first retail products that come to mind, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. You can only own so many Star Wars t-shirts, but who wouldn’t want to add a Chewbacca hoodie or pajamas to their collection? Creating merchandise that reflects your content can be a key factor for sales. If you browse manufacturing sites, you will get a good idea of the vast amount of customizable products that are readily available.

Where will you sell?

Most YouTube creators sell their merchandise primarily online. In addition to a website, they often sell on sites such as Etsy and Amazon. If you have your own online storefront, you’ll want to look for an on demand company that can seamlessly integrate with your site.

Miranda Sings sells her own line of merchandise on her personal website, allowing fans to support her directly.

Sometimes product “sales” might really be incentives for donating to your Patreon site or your Kickstarter campaign. Understanding the dynamics of your incentive fulfillment is very important. Will you be sending out one incentive every so often when you get a Patreon donation or will all incentives be sent out at the same time like when your Kickstarter campaign ends? This too can affect your manufacturing decisions especially when working with companies that offer steep discounts on bulk sales.

How will you advertise?

Your advertising strategy will obviously affect your sales. Just because you have a lot of fans following your YouTube channel doesn’t mean that they can read your mind, know what you sell and know where to purchase it. Use of advertising on YouTube makes the most sense and should be your primary push; pre and post ad rolls, graphics at the bottom of your frames, stationery card graphics and use of your description boxes are all options to consider when advertising your products to your fan base.

In movies, you’ll often see product placement or brand integration in the story line. This can be a visual depiction, narrative reference or even an auditory cue. The use of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the dining room scene in Taladega Nights immediately comes to mind. Using product placement and/or brand integration of your merchandise in your videos can help drive demand for your products.

Your channel’s social media community can also be a great platform for advertising your merchandise. Use of giveaways, contests and other promotions can help you break though all the online noise; you really want your fans to be able to notice new products when they release.

On Demand Manufacturing

There are a lot of companies that offer on demand manufacturing services. It’s important to find the company that meets your needs since not all on demand companies are created equal. In addition to attributes already discussed, you’ll want to consider high quality and consistent printing, good profit margins, exceptional customer service, great customer reviews and a quick payout to you. Many companies offer a free sample; you should always ask for this and take advantage of the opportunity when presented. You should also consider buying one item from that manufacturer to see what their order processing time is really like. This can also provide a great opportunity to test out their customer service and return policies. The biggest caveat with any on demand manufacturer involves your designs and your IP. Make sure the company you use allows you to retain all rights to your products and your designs.

Think about your customer demographics. What do your viewers like, what do they do and where do they shop? Does your manufacturer offer a wide enough variety? If your content appeals to a niche market, research where other creators in this genre sell their merch.

Twitch and YouTube personality Dr. Disrespect sells branded merch via the on-demand printing service DesignbyHumans.

It is truly amazing the vast variety of on demand printed merchandise. You have so much more sales potential when you can include a wide range of products such as hoodies, underwear, pajamas, bathrobes, socks, aprons, beach towels, dresses, leggings, mini skirts, baby onesies, tote bags, patches, wall tapestries, pillows and even your own fabric. You want your manufacturer to offer a wide selection of printable items so your customers will always have something new to buy. On demand manufacturers you may want to consider (in no particular order or preference) are Printful, Redbubble, DesignbyHumans (DBH) and teespring.

Some on demand companies use social media to promote your products. Others provide a home page and shopping cart system just for your products in addition to them being available for sale on their larger host site. Some companies are set up to seamlessly work with popular sales sites such as Etsy. Others ship to foreign countries or have offices in foreign countries for easier international shipping.

Final Thoughts

With recent changes in monetization, it’s difficult for many creators to see much income (if any) from YouTube. This can be very frustrating when you’re spending your time and money creating content without financial return. Selling your own line of merchandise may not make you rich, but it can cover some of your production expenses. Besides, it’s such a wonderful feeling when you see a fan repping your channel with some of your merchandise.

Get YouTuber.

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