The story of Harry Potter on the printed page and big screen is just as magical as the story of Harry Potter from a marketing and branding perspective, and it's one that all marketers and business owners can learn from.
Here are five key elements that helped drive the success of the Harry Potter brand, which small business owners can implement, too. While your level of success might not reach the multi-billion dollar brand value that Harry Potter has reached, by applying these strategies to your marketing plan, you'll position yourself for long-term, sustainable business growth.
1. A Good Product
Clever marketing and savvy business practices can only sell a bad product to a limited extent. If consumers' expectations aren't met, repeat purchases dwindle and word-of-mouth marketing comes to a screeching halt. At its core, the Harry Potter books were good and consistently met consumers' expectations. Your product has to do the same thing or it will fail.
2. Emotional Involvement
A product, business or brand cannot become a phenomenon like Harry Potter without the emotional involvement of consumers driving it to that status.
To achieve consumer emotional involvement in your own product, business or brand, you need to have a good product that meets their needs consistently, and that product needs to deliver what I call the "3 Ss" of customer loyalty. That is, creating feelings of stability, sustainability, and security. Without that kind of emotional involvement, your success will peak long before the phenomenon status comes into view.
3. Word-of-Mouth Marketing and an Online Buzz
Ask 100 people how they first heard about Harry Potter and the vast majority of them (if not all of them) will tell you they heard about Harry Potter from another person, such as a family member, friend or colleague.
Leveraging the power of the Internet as a catalyst to build word-of-mouth marketing is critical if you want to achieve similar success. Fans always wanted more of the Harry Potter brand, and the Internet became a place where the Harry Potter community could socialize, network and experience the brand in their own ways. While J.K. Rowling and her U.S. publisher first sent cease and desist letters to owners of fan sites and blogs, writers of fan fiction and creators of fan art, they quickly realized that allowing consumers to take control of the conversation on the social Web and make the brand their own was far more powerful than trying to stop it.
You need to give up control and let the conversation flow, too.
4. Tease and Perpetual Marketing
By leaving consumers wanting more, each marketing tactic implemented to promote that brand (directly or indirectly) can build upon the one before it until the anticipation and buzz reaches a fever pitch.
Leaking bits and pieces of information, holding promotional events and contests and creating a veil of secrecy around the next product to launch related to a brand can drive the word-of-mouth marketing necessary to boost sales to the highest level possible.
The team behind the marketing of Harry Potter got better and better at tease and perpetual marketing over the lifecycle of the brand. Apple is another great example of a company that leverages tease and perpetual marketing quite well in order to boost sales. You can also integrate a tease and perpetual marketing strategy into your own marketing plan to build excitement around your business.
5. Brand Consistency and Restraint
Once customers become loyal to a brand and develop an emotional connection to it, it's critical that nothing is done to damage the brand or betray consumers' loyalties to it. In other words, you must meet consumer expectations in every branded interaction or they'll be confused and turn away from your brand in search of one that does consistently meet their expectations. When faced with opportunities to extend the Harry Potter brand, J.K. Rowling exercised restraint in an effort to protect the brand she loved. She said no to merchandise pitches and refused to allow Harry Potter to appear on a McDonald's Happy Meal. The Harry Potter brand continued to deliver on its brand promise and brand loyalty and brand advocacy continued to grow. You need to use the same consistency and restraint in your own marketing initiatives to ensure your brand promise doesn't waver in consumers' minds.
Harry Potter is the perfect example of a fundamental branding truth: consumers build brands, not companies. Marketers might nudge consumers in a desired direction, but at the end of the day, it's the consumers who experience a brand, make it their own, develop emotional involvement with it, become loyal to it, and advocate it who are actually responsible for the success or failure of a brand. Let them experience your brand, and you'll open the doors to the potential success known to leading brands like Harry Potter.
This article includes an edited excerpt from Harry Potter: The Story of a Global Business Phenomenon by Susan Gunelius (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).