One of the hardest parts of building a successful brand is that you have to keep finding new ways to engage a wider audience while keeping existing customers on-board. Even a company’s most loyal fans can be turned off if they feel it has lost sight of its original authenticity.
For one of the examples of this, look no further than Star Wars. Few people would disagree that the three effects-heavy prequels released by LucasFilm in the early 2000s were a far cry from the original trilogy, which was as notable for being innovative as for the humanity it brought to the sci-fi genre.
The series’ creators had followed their own inspiration, but in the process had deviated too far from what viewers wanted. For the latest installments in the Star Wars saga, LucasFilm and its owner Disney took a much closer look at what fans both young and old expected and have now triumphed by exciting a whole new generation of people while appealing to their original fan-base.
What lessons does this teach us as marketers? Even though most companies don’t have the luxury of having a universally known brand whose customers are particularly loyal, the principles of success are the same for any business.
Here are three lessons from LucasFilm to help you grow your brand while keeping existing customers engaged:
Customers expect a high quality content that is also consistent throughout their relationship with a brand. To achieve this, LucasFilm has tasked its storyboarding team to develop storylines for all films to be released until 2022. This ensures consistency between its major releases and the many spin-offs planned, from the narrative that ties them together to each new character being introduced to viewers.
Consistency is key. It also hinges on brands aligning their marketing, sales and service teams towards common outcomes. If a customer feels your products don’t reflect your brand promise or gets conflicting guidance from your sales and service team, they will quickly lose faith.
“Consistency is key. It also hinges on brands aligning their marketing, sales and service teams towards common outcomes.”
LucasFilm also gives its fans countless opportunities to engage with the Star Wars universe outside of its films. They cleverly leave gaps in each movie’s storyline so fans can explore these through other content like video games, TV series (Clone Wars), novels (Aftermath) and virtual-reality experiences.
Modern sales is a multi-channel experience. Each face of your brand – including, your website, social handles and email adverts – is equally important in telling its story, and these all need to blend seamlessly into one consistent and engaging experience.
“Each face of your brand – including, your website, social handles and email adverts – is equally important in telling its story.”
The box office successes of the most recent Star Wars releases ($2 billion in the case of The Force Awakens, making it the third highest-grossing film of all time) shows Disney understands what fans want.
Customer understanding is the foundation of great experiences. Take online multiplayer game The Old Republic, for which LucasFilm created a whole new Star Wars mythology set thousands of years before the time of the movies. Aimed at adult fans, most of the major storylines in the game were familiar to its audience but there was some educating to be done. Rather than complementing the release with a huge amount of merchandise, LucasFilm first kept a close eye on how players were engaging with the game’s characters and used this information to shape its merchandising approach.
“Customer understanding is the foundation of great experiences.”
As Forrester Research puts it, we live in the age of the customer. Whether you’re the head of major film studio or the CMO of an international brand, your focus needs to be on tailoring content and campaigns to the unique characteristics of your audience. Similarly, it takes a deep understanding of what new customers desire if you want to engage them while also staying true to those who value your heritage.
These principles are simple on paper, but like the attack on the Deathstar, executing them and hitting your growth targets will require a great deal of planning, the right team, and of course a sprinkle of luck. Now man your ships, and may the force be with you.