First, a note: I’m going to write about a lot of nerdy stuff, but then I’m going to make a pretty good point about how your company should approach content creation. Even if you’re not into nerdy stuff, it’ll be worth it. I promise.
It’s been a big week for Star Wars news. (I warned you.) The biggest story for mainstream news outlets is obviously the announcement that Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford will be joining Adam Driver, Andy Sirkis and others for Episode VII, the first of three sequels to the original trilogy. That’s the story that outlets like USA Today are running with.
There’s another story that’s more useful for our purposes here. In addition to announcing the cast for the new film, StarWars.com announced that the Expanded Universe isn’t canonical. (So so so nerdy. Sorry. Just two more paragraphs.)
The Expanded Universe, if you’re the sort of person I’m writing these parenthetical notes for, is basically everything Star Wars-related that isn’t one of the six big movies. That’s video games, comic books, TV Christmas specials, almost anything with that iconic Star Wars logo on it, really. By declaring that all of that stuff isn’t part of the official Star Wars canon – that it’s not a part of the real Star Wars story – Lucasfilm is basically hitting a giant reset button on 36,591 years of story that had grown around the story through these other measures.
There’s a good reason for Lucasfilm to declare that the EU isn’t canonical: it frees up J.J. Abrams and the rest of the people working on future films to take the story wherever they want. However, there was also a good reason for them to allow all that other content to be created – there was a market for it, and they made approximately a million billion dollars off of it. (That’s my guess, not an official number.)
You can’t really blame Lucasfilm for thinking it needed a bit of a reset, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from their example. Your organization doesn’t need to be thinking thirty years into the future with every blog post it publishes, but here are three things to keep in mind to make sure your content doesn’t need an Expanded Universe of its own.
“We’re Your Buyer Personas. We’re Here to Rescue You.”
It’s a borderline cliché but it’s worth repeating, especially when we’re talking about keeping your content on-message long-term: your buyer personas are everything. If you’ve got a strong idea about who you’re creating content for, that’s the best way to guard against making stuff that doesn’t match up with your company or your brand. If you’re making work that’s appealing to your ideal customer, chances are good it’s reflecting the image you’re trying to present.
If Lucasfilm made a mistake here, it’s that they lost sight of their ultimate buyer persona. While they were obviously happy to cash the checks of everyone who bought Expanded Universe materials, when push came to shove, the audience for the next batch of Star Wars movies won out over the superfans who’d been picking up everything that might reference a lightsaber.
“Use Your Voice, Luke.”
If you’re an organization that has a bunch of different people creating content for you, there’s a natural inclination to push everyone toward writing with the same voice. For some content, that’s not a bad idea (press releases, for example), but for blog posts and other content where the author’s voice is likely to work its way to the surface, it’s more advantageous to let them use that voice. Sure, having different voices makes your content feel more varied and often more readable, but it also gives you the opportunity to present more viewpoints and opinions. The Star Wars universe didn’t get messy when authors other than George Lucas entered the equation – it got messy when the work of all those authors needed to magically line up again.
By allowing your content creators to write with their own voice and their own byline, you give your organization room to present a variety of viewpoints and tackle a variety of topics, without being paralyzed by a fear of contradiction.
“I find your lack of faith understandable.”
There’s one thing Lucasfilm has really nailed about this change of position in regard to the Expanded Universe – they’ve been very upfront about it. We’re about 20 months away from the first film of the next Star Wars trilogy, which should be plenty of time for audiences to get used to the ideas that some of the stories they’d read in the Star Wars novels may not quite make sense anymore.
Imagine if they hadn’t been as transparent about this and people were forced to figure out the new continuities on their own. It’s the sort of thing that happens almost any time there’s a fictional universe established and audiences have pretty much decided how they’re going to deal with it: intense anger and very, very long comments.
Your organization might not have its own sub-Reddit, but you’ve hopefully got an audience who’s a little invested in what you’re doing. Any time there’s investment, there’s room to be disappointed, confused, angry, or disengaged. Of course, there’s just as much room to be delighted, surprised, pleased and a bunch of other fun words that can turn into higher engagement and possible sales down the road.
By being upfront about changes in your publishing schedule, the arrival and departure of content creators, and even the purpose and direction of your content, you let your audience feel like they’re ahead of the game, rather than struggling to keep from being left behind.
Developing a long-term strategy for your organization’s content is always the ideal. However, whether it’s because your organization has turned out six movies, a couple TV series, and countless videogames, comic books and novels or just because your usual blogger graduated college and left town, those strategies don’t always work out the way you need them to. By keeping your buyer personas at the front of everything you do, allowing your content creators to have a voice of their own, and being transparent about the times you’re making a course correction, you can keep your audience informed, engaged, and onboard with your content marketing – whether you’re selling software or protocol droids.
(Photo: David James/Lucasfilm via Reuters)