I've been thinking a lot about the Harry Potter phenomenon lately. I continue to be impressed with the branding strategy and the marketing tactics that have been used to sell this "brand" to such a broad audience.
I've been a fan of Harry Potter since the first book was released in 1998. I've read all of the books (some more than once) and seen all the movies. My wife has been bugging me to take her to Orlando to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so we'll probably do that soon.
But whether you are a fan or not, 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 boy wizard .
Here are a few.
1. Great branding starts with a great product. Each book has taken its readers, young and old, into a fantastic world of heroes and villains. 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.
2. 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 or the characters just didn't come to life as you had expected them to do? 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 the casting has been superb. Can you imagine anyone else as Professor Snape or Bellatrix Lestrange?
3. Have a long term plan for success. J.K. Rowling has said in numerous interviews over the years that while she never imagined the success the books have garnered, she knew that the story would progress and grow to its ultimate climax with Harry defeating 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.
4. Make your brand a must have. Ms. Rowling was insistent that no advance copies of the book go out before the official on-sale date. She angered a lot of book sellers, but that tactic was a primary reason many book stores held midnight parties and lotteries for that first all-important copy. And, as mentioned in point #1, she didn't disappoint her audience.
5. 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 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal-Orlando theme park brings the story (and the brand) to life and allows readers and fans to experience the books. What a great case study for experiential marketing. 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.
6. Look for ways to build new excitement to extend the life of your brand. Now that the book series is over, don’t expect Harry Potter to disapparate. Ms. Rowling is about to unveil pottermore.com, an interactive experience that she promises will be “an online reading experience unlike any other”. The site will offer exclusive insights, new stories, ebooks and even the ability for the user to be sorted into one of the four houses of Hogwarts. Pottermore will not launch until October, but a sneak peak will be available to one million lucky winners of an online scavenger hunt that begins on July 31 – Harry’s birthday.
At every step, we’ve seen one smart marketing move after another. And I suspect we’ll see a few more before it’s over. I, for one, can’t wait to experience pottermore.com.
And along the way we’ve witnessed a great example of how to build and manage a brand. There’s really nothing magical about that. Or is there?