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Branding Lessons from a Boy Wizard
Okay, I admit it. I’m a fan of Harry Potter. Through seven best-selling books, eight movies, two follow-up related stores, and the latest play script iteration, I’ve been fascinated by the storyline, and totally envious of the imagination and storytelling genius of the author.
And whether you are a fan or not, you know by now that the last film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, broke box office records, as has the franchise. The domestic box office for all Harry Potter films was more than $7.7 billion, making it the 2nd highest grossing film series in worldwide receipts.
But there’s more to this story than movie magic and the storytelling wizardry that has sold over 400 million books worldwide. There are great branding lessons we can take away from the Harry Potter phenomenon. Here are a few.
- Great branding starts with a great product. Each book took its readers, young and old, into a fantastic world, with exciting and unexpected additions to the story in each new book. We were drawn into the “brand” by our fascination with the concept of wizards and muggles, the interplay of good and evil, and the supporting cast of characters. We developed an emotional bond with the three principal characters as well as the supporting cast that serves as a great lesson for marketers – it starts with the product. In a recent magazine interview, Chris Columbus, who directed the first two movies and cast the kids, summed it up this way “It comes down to one simple thing: seven brilliantly written books”.
- Stay true to your brand. How many times have you seen a movie after reading the book and been disappointed that they changed the storyline? Throughout this film series, each movie was taken directly from the book. There were no unexpected surprises to interfere with the development of the story. And I have to admit that before each movie was released, I re-read the book to be up-to-date with the storyline. In that same interview, Chris Columbus said “Jo wrote something that never needed to be fixed to be made into a movie, just interpreted”.
- Have a long term plan for success. The author, J.K. Rowling, has said in numerous interviews over the years that while she never dreamed of the wild success the books have garnered, she knew that the story would progress and grow to its ultimate climax with Harry defeating Lord Voldemort, and good triumphing over evil. During a prolonged gap between books five and six, she stated that she wanted to be sure she got the story right. There’s a great branding lesson in making sure that subsequent marketing efforts build on the brand premise and stay true to the brand’s personality. There’s also a lesson here about positioning your brand for long term success. Too many marketing managers have an 89-day focus based on the need to bolster quarterly earnings, and sacrifice the long term.
- Look for ways to extend the brand by continuing to surprise and delight the target audience. Harry Potter has become as entrenched in our pop culture psyche as Luke Skywalker, Batman and Superman, and there is certainly no shortage of toys and games. But I think I am most impressed with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal theme parks in Orlando and Los Angeles. The parks bring the story (and the brand) to life and allow readers and fans to experience the books. You can shop for a wand at Ollivander’s, enjoy a butter beer in Hogsmeade, ride with Harry on a dragon and tour Hogwart’s. Creating an opportunity to experience the brand first hand is great way for any brand to build loyalty.
- Look for ways to infuse new excitement into your brand. Now that the book series is over, don’t expect Harry Potter to disapparate. Ms. Rowling has unveiled pottermore.com, an interactive experience that promises to be “an online reading experience unlike any other”. The site offers exclusive insights, new stories, ebooks and even the ability for the user to be sorted into one of the four houses of Hogwarts.
- Don’t make changes that can confuse or disappoint your fans. Unfortunately, the latest addition to the series – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is another great story that is lost in the script format to many readers. Interviews with more than one young reader have expressed disappointment in not being able to “read it as a story”. They expected a novel, and got a play script, and one young reader I spoke to was so disappointed (and confused by the writing style) that he did not even finish the book. And this is a young man who at age 11 has read all of the other books, plus two other related books, at least 3 times. There is a great branding lesson here – don’t mess with a proven formula for success unless you are confident that you are not going to alienate important elements of your target audience.
Despite the recent “set back”, along the way we’ve witnessed a great example of how to build and manage a brand. There’s nothing magical about that. Or is there?
- Don Morgan
Don Morgan is Blog Editor and a past-president of PSAMA. He is Head Rainmaker at Raindance Consulting, a brand strategy and content marketing company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org/