Re‑awakening the Star Wars franchise: How to build on reputation legacy

Reputations are not made in a single moment – they are built on who you say you are, what you stand for, what you promise and ultimately, what you do. However, it only takes one moment, one broken promise, one failed plan, one image or post to lose all the goodwill and legacy you worked so hard to build.

When you have a good reputation protecting it is one thing but promoting it is another.

In 2012 Walt Disney, one of these most loved and best known brands on the planet, took on perhaps its most ambitious project to date – reawakening the Star Wars franchise.

There are very few franchises that can boast legions upon legions of dedicated fans of all ages, demographics and geographies. George Lucas’s controversial attempts to rejuvenate the franchise in the early 2000’s proved the enormity of the challenge that lay ahead.

From day one of the project Disney headed into a maelstrom of speculation, rumour mongering and expectations before things reached fever pitch ahead of the global release of the film. Fortunately for critics, fans, movie goers and Disney executives alike, the film did not disappoint and is set to be the biggest grossing film of all time. But how did Disney pull it all off?

Force Awakens - Poster Art

Here are four ways Disney made Star Wars come alive again and what we can learn from it.

  1. Right man for the job

Firstly they found a trusted pair of hands to manage the process. J.J. Abrams has a reputation for reboots because, not only is he an exceptional storyteller, but he understand the communities his projects will affect and looks to build relationships with them. With him at the helm Disney set itself up for success from the start.

Lesson to learn: We can’t always choose our leaders but we can ensure they have the skills to understand the context they operate in, the communities their decisions will impact and how to bring them along with you.

  1. Respect the fans

Over the decades since the first films were released, Star Wars fans created one of the most complicated and extensive fan fiction universes of all time. Disney could have ignored everything that had gone before and just started again but instead it listened to what fans wanted from the film. In listening to fans they began to understand their expectations and, importantly, what drove them to be Star Wars fans. Taking on board elements from the most popular fan stories Disney were able to tangibly demonstrate its commitment and respect to this community.

Lesson to learn: Don’t just listen to your fans – do something about what they say. Learn from others like LEGO who understand what motivates their fans and what they expect from them. And most importantly don’t just pay lip service to them; find ways to demonstrate that you have listened by taking their feedback on board.

  1. Know what works for you

Disney understood what made the first films so successful – characters you could identify with being plucked out of their ordinary lives and thrown into an epic battle between good and evil. The mistake of the Lucas reboot was a departure from this formula so this time Disney made sure the Force Awakens stuck to it. Although some criticised it for perhaps taking too much from previous films, it made sure that the legacy set by the first films continues on.

Lesson to learn: What is it about your business, organisation or brand that works? What’s the unique promise you offer that connects you to your customers and society? Once you know it, stick with it! Don’t deviate from the fundamental reason why you exist and as communicators, we need to make sure that this message is as clear as day in all we do.

  1. Bring your values to life

The Star Wars franchise not only fits perfectly with Disney’s values like Community, Storytelling, or Optimism, but one of the films big success points was its portrayal of women. Disney is committed to diversity and the Force Awakens certainly brought this to life. Having a strong female and ethnically diverse cast gave new role models and beloved characters to communities who are so often underrepresented by Hollywood.

Lesson to learn: Values aren’t just nice things to put on a website, they need to be based on how people think, feel and act at work. Think about what you want to be known for and work with your employees to find values that feel authentic, motivate people and inspire action.

By taking these lessons on board your business will become strong with the force whilst building a reputation that will echo across galaxies far far away……

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