7 Business Lessons from Star Wars

The sheer joy I felt watching The Force Awakens was only topped by seeing my utterly cynical, Star-Wars-fanatic husband moved to tears no fewer than 6 times (he counted) in those 136 minutes.

Much has been said about the franchise’s revival and the mythology of the Star Wars universe in general, but what pearls of wisdom can we find for the business world in J.J. Abrams’ newest masterpiece? Quite a few, as it turns out.

1 — Sell the experience

People don’t get this excited about “just” a movie, even this one. Humans are social animals, and we crave shared experiences. Your product –whether it’s a film, app, song or book– needs to be a catalyst for social interaction. Sharing it with friends (and complete strangers) should be fun and exciting for the user.

2 — Remember where you came from…

If you have a successful product, there are very good reasons why people already like it. It seems like a no-brainer, but Star Wars teaches us that it is perfectly possible to lose sight of this along the way. Constantly think about what your audience loves about your offering, and make sure to give them more of that.

3 — But move with the times

That doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in the past, though. Some things can be cute — if still cringeworthy — in a historical context but should frankly be relegated to the dustbin of history. Such is the case with Princess Leia’s gold bikini, famously hated by Carrie Fisher who was quoted as saying that it let Boba Fett “see all the way to Florida”. It is a relief to see Rey, the heroine in The Force Awakens, not only able to take care of herself — and often rescue her male counterparts — but also not being defined or objectified by her outfits.

4 — Foster a conversation with your fans

A strong creative vision is important when creating a compelling product, but that shouldn’t mean ignoring those who are most invested in your creation. Keeping channels of communication open with your fans means that even when you choose a different path, you keep their respect and engagement. That is reflected in the overwhelmingly positive tone of the social media conversations around The Force Awakens both in the build-up to the release and following it.

5 — Use the talent in the community

If you engage your community in the right way, you will be able to get more (often for free) than you would if you paid a fortune for equivalent professional services. One example of how this was done in The Force Awakens is the way that R2-D2 was built by two British superfans, members of a worldwide community of hobbyists dedicated to (you guessed it) making ultra-accurate droids. It’s not about exploiting fans, and should never be approached as a shortcut or money-saving exercise, but rather as a win-win partnership.

6 — Don’t restrict your target audience

The greatest cause of friction between George Lucas and the Star Wars community over the past decade was the fact that the legendary director insisted that the films were for children. Undeniably they have always appealed to a young crowd, and in the cinema as I watched The Force Awakens I was surrounded by little ones. But does that mean that you need to insult the countless adults who continue to enjoy the experience? Of course not. Shrek and Toy Story (plus every Pixar creation in between) show how getting parents on board is a great strategy for making sure the kids will get to see it too.

7 — The customer is always right

That’s the moral of the story: Putting your user/customer/consumer/viewer/player/reader at the forefront of everything you do, and building your engagement strategy around it, is the only true path to the force, my Padawans.

Are you a Star Wars fan? Or one of those 3 people on Earth who aren’t really into it? Either way please share your thoughts in the comments!

*Images from the Star Wars Costume Exhibition currently showing at the Discovery Times Square in New York.

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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