5 steps to Transformer-ing your brand

transformers movie posterOn Saturday, four Transformers came to my door. Of course, they were between the ages of 5 and 10, and it was Halloween, but still. They were there. My oldest son has watched the first movie so many times he knows the dialogue, and he rushed out to pick up the latest movie on DVD the day it came out. And has watched it half a dozen times since then. (I even caught my wife engrossed in the special features the other night.) This is a 25-year-old franchise – how in the world are they dragging 9 and 16 year olds into their web? Simple. Marketing.

transformers toyWhen I talk about toys and music and sports heroes from my childhood, my kids just laugh at me. But Transformers? Somehow it’s cool to them. No, not so much the toys from 1984, but the Movement from 2007 and 2009.

As I stood at the doorway dropping Hershey bars and Kit-Kats into the waiting hands of Bumblebees and Optimus Primes, I began wondering: how did Transformers pull it off? And are there implications for your brand, too?

Perhaps your brand has been around for several decades and needs an update. Maybe it’s not as relevant as it once was. Maybe it just needs a shot in the arm. Maybe it’s only 2 years old, but hasn’t caught on. How to help? What follows is my 5-step program to Transformer-ing your brand.

1. Spend some money. At least in my memory (and I know, I will anger some purists here), the 1980s Transformers were a bit corny. As I remember it, the toys never quite worked right and the animation was mediocre. Although the Transformers never really “went away,” to get mass audience acceptance in 2007, the filmmakers knew they would have to cater to moviegoers used to some heavy-duty special effects. And they spent money with major special effects houses to create unbelievable digital “machines” and action sequences that left mouths agape. It wouldn’t have been possible by scrimping. Branding application: Don’t be cheap. Updating a brand the right way can be expensive, but a half-hearted effort will get half-hearted results, and be a waste of money entirely.

2. Hire the best experts. Dreamworks didn’t choose people who “knew the franchise” or were “steeped in the history of the company” to transform the brand. No, Steven Spielberg, who knows how to get folks in movie seats, was the producer, and Michael Bay, who knows how to make a summer action movie, was chosen as director. They wanted to make a summer blockbuster. And they picked people who knew how to get it done. Application: The admin who knows Photoshop, or the sales guy “who has been with us for 20 years and really understands the company” might be obvious choices. But they aren’t experts for a brand transformation. Hire an agency who knows how to pull it off successfully.

3. Know your audience. In the 2007 movie, there was a reason the hero and his girlfriend were in their late teens. And were portrayed by good-looking actors. Who got asked to be in the 2009 sequel. There was also a reason that there was a love story underneath the blow-up-the-bad-robot-guys plot. The movie makers knew who they had to get to watch the movie. And watch it again. And again. And . . . Application: Do the research to find out exactly who you’re talking to with your brand. You may even find that it has shifted from whom you were speaking to a decade ago. And then work hard to make sure your brand is relevant to them.

4. Make it look good. I admit. I didn’t really like Transformers as I remembered them. But the movie sucked me in two years ago, and, while it certainly wasn’t an Academy-Award winning epic, it sure was fun to watch, with gorgeous lighting, convincing sets, bone rattling explosions, and some pretty cool special effects. Application: Let the experts in image and design guide the brand re-launch. Their training and experience in what will stand out in the market are far more valuable than an office poll. At VantagePoint, we have seen far too many really good logos get diluted into irrelevance – and occasionally confusion – by too many cooks spoiling the proverbial broth.

bumblebee camaro5. Make it integrated. Of course, Transformers wasn’t the first movie to do this, but the synergy between other marketers and the studio was enormous. Hasbro action figures were carefully rolled out. Burger King and Pepsi both had tie-in commercials, directed by Michael Bay himself. And, of course, GM used the film as a platform to heavily promote its brand, including giving a huge boost to the 2-years-from-launch new Chevy Camaro that was Bumblebee. (I even read an article in Motor Trend the other night that referred to the yellow Camaro they were testing as “Bumblebee.”) Application: Make sure you update your brand across the entire company. Of course, there are the obvious visual elements – e.g., a new logo on business cards and stationery. But consider things like your salespeople’s elevator pitch, your email signature, the verbiage in your PowerPoint presentation, even the look and feel of your company trucks. It all adds up to what your brand represents.

And there you have it. $700 million worth of successful – not a bad way to reinvigorate a brand, eh? How will you Transformer-ize your brand?

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