A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away the marketing behemoth that is Star Wars was just beginning to find its feet. Originally costing $11 million to make, its adjusted value of $45 million today is still less than 20 percent of what’s being spent to create the ninth and final installment being released later this month.
Forty-two years and billions of dollars later, there’s no shortage of content marketing lessons that can be learned from this franchise. And since I have nothing better to do than obsess over it until the final installment is released in three weeks, here’s what I’ve come up with.
6 Content Marketing Lessons We Can Learn From Star Wars
1. Know Your Brand Inside And Out
JJ Abrams directed the seventh installment of Star Wars, and first of the newest trilogy, The Force Awakens. Even though he was a lifelong fan of the franchise (Abrams told a crowd at Comic Con that he asked his mom to make him a Jawa costume when he was 13), he still did a deep dive into the heart and soul of the franchise. It’s one thing to know all the characters, another to understand what fans see in them and still another to take that understanding to create something brand new that makes the same impact.
This is vital for brand success, especially if you’re relatively new to an account or changing up a content marketing plan that’s been hitting the same notes for an extended period of time. You need to understand the inner workings of both the brand, and the people it attracts, before you can move forward confidently in search of success.
This brings me to the second lesson:
2. Balance Authenticity With Innovation
Change is hard. Changing a franchise loved by millions (if not billions) of people around the world is nearly impossible. The key to a smooth transition and successful content marketing evolution is honoring the old, while introducing the new.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened in 2015, we were greeted with a slew of new characters who have become the leading cast of this latest trilogy. But to help give them context and fit them into the new picture, they were framed by a few familiar faces. In the first major conflict, heroes Rey and Finn escape in a ship viewers will immediately recognize as the classic Millennium Falcon and are shortly introduced to the older – but no less ruggedly handsome (or is it scruffy looking?) – Han Solo with trusted co-pilot Chewbacca. As the new trilogy progresses, we spend less time with these icons as the storytelling torch is passed to the new cast of characters.
You can take this same practice to heart with your content marketing strategy. If there are big changes on the horizon, keep a few easily recognizable components to make the transition a smooth one and keep your long-time audience comfortable while debuting the exciting new future.
3. Engage With Your Fans
To make the new Star Wars franchise a success, Lucasfilm (now owned by Disney) puts enormous value on engaging with fans, introducing activities both online and off. They employ a full-time head of fan relations, who leads a department responsible for replying to hand-written letters from young fans and carries out the social content marketing strategy across six platforms daily.
We’ve spent a lot of time covering why engagement is so vital to content marketing, but here’s a quick recap of our top suggestions to engage with your fans:
- Get To Know Your Community
Just like each new person you meet offline, your social media community is made up of a wide variety of people. Each of them have reasons for being drawn to your business –find out what they are and how you can cater your content to them.
- Ask Questions
People like to share opinions, especially online. Just make sure you keep a close eye on the dialogue to avoid creating a space where anyone might feel uncomfortable.
- Feature Community Members
Share something that a member of your community recently posted or accomplished. It could even be as simple as recognizing someone for a great question they posted to other community members. Find something specific about them and create a post around it. Shining a positive spotlight on one member will excite others about sharing the spotlight and will encourage them to post things you can share.
- Ask For Feedback
Ask your community what they want to see more of! Giving your audience what they want is a great way to boost engagement. Listening to what they don’t want is equally important, which brings me to our next content marketing lesson.
4. Learn From Past Mistakes
It’s an almost unanimous consensus among Star Wars fans that the prequels (Episodes I-III) missed the mark. Some say they relied too heavily on CGI, as opposed to the practical effects that help episodes IV-VI keep its good looks all these years. Others say they used cheap humor that catered to the youngest of potential fans, which got in the way of telling a strong story. The intersection of both these flaws resulted in the single character most disliked by all fans: Jar Jar Binks. The reaction to the bumbling, chattering Gungan in Phantom Menace was so severe that he was quietly relegated to a much smaller, almost silent role in Attack of the Clones, and a brief cameo in Revenge of the Sith.
While the latest trilogy certainly relies on its fair share of CGI, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi returned to the original roots of Star Wars and didn’t shy away from practical effects like a real BB-8 droid and dozens of alien characters.
With content marketing, it’s important to take risks and try new things in order to keep your audience engaged. But not all your risks will pay off, and when something does fall flat it’s important to acknowledge what happened, spend some time investigating why it happened and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
5. Great Stories Take Time
From Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977 to Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker in December of 2019, a remarkable 42 years have passed. These (soon to be) nine movies have spent over four decades shaping one of the most impactful pieces of pop culture of all time, spanning literal generations. In addition to the core trilogies, spin-off movies like Solo and Rogue One, as well as Disney’s newest streaming on-demand show The Mandalorian, have added detailed backgrounds that support and flesh out the universe and characters that inhabit it.
When it comes to promotion, Star Wars content marketing frequently involves dozens of moving pieces. Paid and organic social media content across multiple platforms, TV spots, trailers, interviews, toys and more all come together months in advance. These breadcrumbs lead fans down the path to record-breaking box office sales totaling more than $9 billion.
With content marketing for your own brand, there’s no need to rush. You can build up anticipation by releasing little pieces of a larger announcement over a matter of days, weeks or even months. Let your audience try to put these slices together as they speculate what your big reveal will be.
6. Don’t Be Afraid To Collaborate
It can be hard to feel like you’re giving up control over your own brand, but sometimes your audience comes up with something that’s just too good to pass over. For example, May 4 has been christened Star Wars Day since the infamous line from the film, “May the Force be with you,” sounds similar to, “May the fourth be with you.”
While Lucasfilm didn’t invent the idea, it has since embraced it, setting up a dedicated May 4 page on the Star Wars website and spending the day retweeting user-generated content around the hashtags #May4, #StarWarsDay and #MayTheFourthBeWithYou.
You can encourage your audience to submit their own user-generated content by announcing a contest or simply asking them to post photos or anecdotes about why they are a fan of your brand. Consider setting up Google alerts or use a branded hashtag to help you keep an eye out for organic user-generated content as well.