When most people think of Star Wars they think of lightsabers, men in shiny white armour and ridiculous merchandising deals – but what if I said B2B brands could pick up a thing or two from the successful franchise?
Tenuous link I know.
Like many other superfans I went to watch the new movie on opening night – I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet but I will say that it got me wondering about how a brand can reinvent itself and still stay relevant to old and young generations alike.
Over it’s 38 year history, Star Wars has grown so much equity that Disney recently coughed up 4 billion dollars to buy it’s proprietor – Lucasfilm. With waning interest and no new movies since 2005 you’d probably think that was madness. Apparently not. With a new trilogy of movies now kicked off, several spinoffs in the works, reams and reams of new novels, comicbooks, merchandise, conventions, computer games and big sponsorship deals – it’s likely the best buy-out the house of mouse has ever made.
So with all the renewed hype for a galaxy far, far away, what can us humble B2B marketers take away from it all?
1. Keep your brand message simple
Many cultured writers tend to write off Star Wars as crude storytelling or ‘philosophy for kids’ – but part of it’s enduring appeal has been in it’s simple mythology – the battle between good and evil. When you can really identify your brands ethos, by identifying and boiling it down to a truth that permeates with real people, everything else pretty much just falls into place.
2. Be consistent with the brand
The outstanding success of Star Wars in 1977 led to two equally brilliant sequels being made in 1980 and 1983, but not everything produced under the Star Wars banner has been met with the same critical acclaim. The Star Wars Holiday Special and other straight to VHS movie spinoffs are examples of content that Lucasfilm would rather forget. They’re so out of kilter with the three main theatrical releases that they’re laughable to watch and make you wonder what on earth the executives at Lucasfilm were thinking. As a B2B brand it’s really important to try and establish and maintain a standard in the product you supply and in the way you communicate your offerings, this is why it’s a great idea to start a brand guidelines document for your marketing team, your agencies and your suppliers to work from. Brand guideline documents can often be expensive to produce but are a worthwhile investment in the long run as they help to establish a more consistent, and professional brand.
3. Remember all of your audiences
When George Lucas revisited the franchise with his remastered theatrical releases in 1997, many fans were outraged at the changes he made. ‘Enhancements’ were added, classic scenes shortened and parts replaced that just didn’t feel like the Star Wars that fans had grown up with. The feeling continued with his prequel trilogy in 1999 – the vintage, worn-in aesthetic that had been so clearly established and felt by fans for two decades was suddenly replaced with shiny CGI sets and characters that felt so completely out of place, it drove a lot of lifelong fans away from the franchise. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you the prequels are overly complicated in plot and childish in character and script. B2B marketers should learn something from this, growing a brand is of course an organic process, as years go by the brand will naturally morph and grow more complicated as it moves into new markets and attracts new audiences. This can be an exciting time as a business – you’ll want to get a fancy new logo and a big rich website to show off your growth, but It is key to remember your existing clients as well new ones. It’s often better to ease them in with a brand refresh rather than just reinventing everything – unless of course there is a strong strategic reason for doing so.
4. Employ brand champions
One of the things JJ Abrams – Director of The Force Awakens has preached throughout the process of creating the new movie has been the return to practical visual effects, honouring the heritage of the franchise but also in aid of recapturing some of the original magic that made Star Wars what it is. A growing role in large global organisations is the Chief Creative Officer (CCO), somebody whose skill-sets allow them to identify and pin down the brands vision and make sure it permeates throughout everything the organisation does – not just in product but in processes too. The most obvious example is the late Steve Jobs with Apple, his mantra of simplicity runs through everything the company produces – growing a small home computing project into one of the biggest brands on Earth. Not all B2B brands can afford to employ a dedicated CCO, and some are more realistic in their growth aspirations – but that’s not to say you cannot add the responsibilities of a CCO to a marketing manager role, or create a dedicated team of brand champions from your current roster.
5. Embrace new technologies
If it wasn’t for Star Wars, we wouldn’t have other blockbusters like Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park or Terminator – surprisingly, we wouldn’t have Adobe Photoshop either. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is a leading visual effects technology company that was set up by George Lucas when creating the first Star Wars way back in 1975. Because the technology to create the effects he wanted for his movie weren’t available at the time, ILM basically invented them and thus modern film making (and design) as we know it. Fast forward to 2015 and in Disney Lucasfilm’s marketing push for The Force Awakens, they are releasing unique custom-made content with 360 videos for Facebook and immersive virtual reality apps with Google Cardboard.
Fair enough, most B2B brands don’t have anywhere near the marketing budget of Disney Lucasfilm but desire and aspiration can go a long way. If your brand can inspire employees and partners alike to embrace new processes, new technologies or just more progressive ways of thinking – it can keep you ahead of the competition. If anything it will get people talking about you.
6. Plant the seeds
The revenue generated from the Star Wars movies are literally a drop in the ocean compared with the millions of spinoffs, comic book and novel tie-ins, merchandising and sponsorship deals that have generated billions for the franchise over the years. You’ll find the Star Wars logo on literally everything from airliners to oranges.
With this in mind, it makes you wonder what your brand should do or say to stay relevant when it’s not launching its latest product line or service offering. It’s a good question. Should your brand want to stay in customer’s minds when they’re not in the market? Of course it should. Lucasfilm has years of experience with marketing pushes before releasing its’ milestone movies, and B2B brands shouldn’t think much differently. If you keep up market interest with teasers of what’s to come, what’s going on behind the scenes, what you can provide now and in the future to make their life and their business better, they should value you as more than just a supplier.