Star Wars, an idea that is now thirty years old, gives brands much to learn in how they consider their future in a digital, conversation driven world.
Star Wars is a platform. A story told over 25 years, six movies, a cartoon series, innumerable video games, plastic toys, and a sea of licensed novels.
The genius of George Lucas is the way in which this platform he established allows others to imagine and build upon his original ideas. Everyone knows that the force exists--and roughly what it can do. Everyone knows that faster than light travel is possible. Everyone knows there is the "Empire" and the "Rebel Alliance," and everyone knows that Leia is Luke's sister. In a Star Wars Universe, the force would never disappear in the same way that Luke would never sleep with Leia.
This platform establishes the basis of canon. A set of rules and principles that guide what happens in the Star Wars universe, and which innumerable authors, fans and others have built on over time. When an action is felt to stray from canon, it sparks furious online debate in the search for an answer.
Most brands could only wish to have a platform this powerful, but it is exactly what they should be striving for.
As consumers increasingly take your brand message and shape it in the way they wish-- through blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook fan pages, and more, your challenge is not to seek to control these interactions, but to create the kind of platform that allows you to influence them.
Like George Lucas, you need to consider the universe of your brand--its physics, its planets, its characters and the stories that have already been told. With this in hand, you then need to consider the telling of new stories which are consistent.
For two examples--one of success, the other of failure--take BMW and Buick. Here are two storied car brands. Buick over 100 years old, BMW over 90.
Over that time, BMW has built a powerful shared storytelling platform as the "ultimate driving machine". Creating stories of performance and success that not only run through the entire BMW universe of cars, dealers, customer service and marketing, but which powerfully act as a jumping off point for all consumers to imagine themselves in. For BMW, Leia is most definitely Luke's sister.
Buick, by contrast have created no clear platform, no clear canon. Where BMW represents a symbol of success, Buick has defaulted to being a car for the old (average purchaser age 62). The problem is that in the Buick universe, nobody knows what Luke's relationship is to Leia, or whether the force exists, or even where they put the lightsabers.
The point in this is simple--if you don't create a platform of canon from which your brand tells stories, don't be surprised when your consumers do the unexpected. They're simply doing what you've already done--breaking the rules, because there don't appear to be any.
So remember, for your brand to succeed, you should always consider Luke and Leia.
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Paul Worthington is head of Strategy for the New York office of Wolff Olins, a global brand and innovation consultancy. You can find both Paul (@pworthington) and Wolff Olins (@wolffolins) on Twitter.