Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brand Potter: What Harry Can Teach us about Marketing

This month, at midnight, I took my daughter and a gaggle of her friends to the opening night of the final film in the Harry Potter franchise. Dressed as favorite characters – Luna, Bellatrix, McGonagall and Hermione – we arrived an hour before the show to find the movie theatre packed and transformed to a mini-Hogwarts. “Wingardiam Leviosa!” exclaimed our would-be Luna to the ticket guy, to which he responded brightly “Diffindo!” as he ripped the tickets. It was another world. And when we left the theater at around 3am it felt more like mid-afternoon on a busy weekend – the parking lot was packed and another crowd of Dumbledores, Snapes, Rons and Ginnys were piling in for the next show.

JK Rowling published her first book in 1997: Seven novels, 4,000 pages and eight movies later, Harry has become a pop-culture phenomenon unparalleled in modern times. A whole generation of kids – including my daughter and most of her friends and cousins, not to say her parents – have grown enthralled by a fully-realized world of magic. Commercially, the Potter phenomenon has no equal: Over 400 million books sold in every language imaginable, a worldwide movie gross over $7 billion, and even a theme park in Florida. How on earth did this tale of a boy wizard going to school become so successful?

There is no question that Rowling’s vision – and her near-flawless execution in her books – was the core of the success. She created wonderful characters, embellished her plot with great imaginative touches, and had a story in her mind that she knew would hold an audience across a decade of reading.

But Rowling did more than that. Famously, she demanded great control over all things Harry, from franchising to having full creative control over the movies and their scripts, even selecting actors. She also remained true to her readers – she was almost possessive of them – and communicated directly to young fans in her blog and elsewhere. My daughter talks about “JK” as if they’ve met recently and are close friends: This is remarkable. Rowling also embraced the runaway success that Harry enjoyed. She has said that Harry and his world felt almost independent of her, and there must have come a point where the pop-culture juggernaut also felt outside her control. Despite this, there is a fidelity to the world she created that has never changed despite the movies, the fanzines, the endless media hoopla and the passage of time. Among her many other talents, Rowling has expertly managed the Harry brand. Her focus and fidelity to a vision is something we all could learn from in marketing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Marketing and Me

Last week, after three great years, I left my job running corporate communications for a large software company.

I was very fortunate – I left of my own accord, and I had plenty of time to think about the transition. Even so, I had two contradictory reactions to being gainfully unemployed: a feeling of delight at having oceans of time; and a feeling of mild panic at having no viable income. It’s hard not to oscillate wildly between indulging in projects and activities I’ve put off for years, then frantically job hunting.

I’ve worked almost all my career marketing, mostly in the high tech world but also for professional services firms and some consumer brands. In the last few weeks I’ve learnt that marketing feels very different when the subject at hand is You. Thinking about Brand You does a lot to focus attention on the fundamentals. Here’s some observations:

  • Know Thyself!
    It’s easy to have an instinctive understanding of what your professional value is, but I found myself having to work hard to organize my search. What are my target markets? What is the current demand in that market? What’s my professional objective? What differentiates me from the many other candidates? Like any other marketing program, answering these fundamental questions is Step One.
  • Resumes Revisited
    For many decades the basic tool – the promo piece – for advertising for work has been the resume. Nolonger. I’ve found that many conversations start because someone “found me” at this blog, because of press coverage I’ve appeared in, or via some other online imprint. Increasingly, our online resumes – our brand – is a diffused collection of activities. Managing these properly is critical.
  • Networks and Friends
    The influence of word-of-mouth on brand perceptions is well understood, but the reality comes sharply into focus when you’re searching for work. A recruitment consultant told me that over 75% of jobs are found through an individual’s immediate network of friends, colleagues and family. We often forget that the same is true for how most people make decisions about what brands to trust and invest in.
  • Social media works – and doesn’t
    A recent Pew Research study showed that fewer than 10% of “friends” on Facebook have never met in person. Social media is a wonderfully efficient way to maintain connections to our extended network of friends and colleagues, but it’s not so efficient at broadcasting beyond that network. Once or twice removed, the signal seems to get attenuated.
  • Professional networking and career sites can work
    I’m using Ladders, LinkedIn, Indeed and the rest, and they are remarkable. One reservation – moving to a premium, fee-based service on some of these sites has only a marginal benefit. The basic service is often enough, raising questions about the business models for some of these companies.

One other thing – I’ve come to realize how much I enjoyed the ‘Company of Friends” I worked with over the last few years. Good luck to you all!