This post was originally published shortly before the release of The Force Awakens.
It’s the ultimate rebranding.
The impossible task of re-imagining a film franchise that holds an almost spiritual place in the imaginations of so many people. From the baby boomers who saw the possibilities of cinema redefined by the original trilogy, to Generations X, Y and whatever we’re calling the new mob (Gen Z probably? I’m not in charge of that department) whose childhoods have been defined by the story of Anakin Skywalker and his path from podracing slave child to asthmatic sith overlord and back again, in no particular order.
This week was the most revealing yet for The Force Awakens, the first Disney-driven movie as the steady march toward the latest Star Wars reboot draws to its crescendo this Christmas.
As always, there are lessons to be learned for anyone considering rebranding in any form of business and any size. It’s a tough job and it’s not to be undertaken lightly, but if you are going to do it, you could do worse than to follow the example set by JJ Abrams and Disney over recent months. Here are five things to consider as you plan your rebrand.
Know what your customers like about your brand…
If you’re fortunate enough to have been through a rebrand before, pay very close attention to what worked and what didn’t. (I’m looking at you Jah Jah.) What Abrams has hopefully worked out, courtesy of the prequel trilogy, is that ‘we the people’ want lightsabre battles, big spaceships, Darths (Sideous, Maul or Vader) and R2-D2 saving the day. ‘We the people’ do not want gratuitous CGI, drawn out love stories and Ewan McGregor. When you’re looking at freshening your brand, you need to be sure you know what it is that the people who like you actually like. You can only find this out by asking them and listening to their feedback. Everyone involved in making Attack of the Clones had plenty of time to reflect on the merits of Mr Binks and, as a result, he made an appearance brief enough to make a point. Our voices had been heard. Don’t learn from your mistakes if you can learn from your research.
Be unashamed in your pursuit of the new…
The Phantom Menace was angrily decried from the purest fringes of the Star Wars universe, but the results were unequivocal. It is the 17th highest grossing film of all time and the highest ranking of the Star Wars movies by some distance. Revenge of the Sith clocks in at forty. It’s my prediction that The Force Awakens will replace Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time. ‘The new’ will soon become ‘the norm.’ People are intimidated by change and you’ll see and feel the cold feet everywhere as you push a new brand. But keep pushing all the same; critics will be all around you and they will be critical. That’s what they do. What they struggle to embrace today, they will defend tomorrow with their last breath.
Be imaginative in the media you use…
Planning a press release? That’s OK, but think about other things you could do to get your message out there. The first Force trailer was accompanied by collector cards released on social media. They were throwbacks to the original theatrical release. The latest teaser was accompanied by costumes and props for the media to photograph and describe.
When you’re announcing your new brand, make sure you think outside the boundaries of local and industry media. If your new brand really is different, you need to find methods to promote it that are as unique as your product or service.
Don’t put all your cards on the table in the first round. Star Wars uses teasers for a reason. They are also notoriously tight lipped about all elements of plot and most of the characters and specifics, but they give you just enough to drive you crazy in speculative conversation. Who is this Kylo Ren? What’s happened in the time elapsed since Jedi? How is there a chrome stormtrooper? How is there a black stormtrooper? Where have Han and Chewbacca been? Who’s the girl? (Seriously, who’s the girl?)
They have released only enough to keep us guessing. Just because you don’t have the same scale of audience as the Skywalker crew, doesn’t mean you can’t adopt the same principals. Tease your customers with pre releases. Get their interest, otherwise you will simply announce the new identity and go back to work. You won’t spend much time in your customer’s mind. Get their interest while you still have something to hold back and can peak their curiosity.
Use the rebranding to build real value…
Last week’s teaser added $2bn to the value of the Disney Corporation. That’s not bad for two minutes of unexplained, half-edited footage posted to YouTube. But eighty-eight million people watched it in twenty-four hours and by Friday, the share price was higher than Jabba the Hut’s cholesterol.
Again, you can’t enjoy this degree of populism. These won’t be your numbers but the principal applies nonetheless. You should be thinking about using the rebrand to bring in business and convert it to revenue. Rebranding should more than pay for itself, it should kick start new business and renewed interest from existing customers. Put yourself in your customer’s consciousness and convert the interest into revenue.
Overall, a rebranding is a daunting prospect. Everyone sees the risks and fears the backlash, but the potential that a rebranding holds for you is unquestionable.
Rebrands are a lot easier when you look back on them. Believe in what you’re doing and your ability to make it work, no matter what the doubting voices say.
Richard Spragg is the CEO of Hirebrand, a global leader in marketing strategy for employers and staffing companies. Follow him on Twitter at richard_spragg, or call him on (713) 876 6045.