by Christian Lachel
As seen on Forbes
In 1977, George Lucas changed my life. It was a classic transformational experience: something that changed the way I thought about myself and my world. Star Wars opened a virtual world of fun and adventure that I took with me everywhere. I trained with a flashlight as my lightsaber. I couldn’t wait for the next adventure with my friends. It was an endless world of role-playing, imagination and fun. And this relationship with the Star Wars brand has endured for 41 years. Yes, I secretly love the Rebels series and read the endless books that have become part of the Star Wars Universe even today.
My Star Wars experience helps me produce transformational experiences for our clients and their audiences. These are experiences that go beyond influencing customers to buy a certain product or service. As Seth Godin once said,“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.”
This statement couldn’t be truer. If you want to build a lasting connection and bond with your customers, you must focus on creating a transformational experience that builds trust and leads to a relationship built on a common passion.
Here are four things that Star Wars taught me about creating transformational experiences:
Start with the heart of the audience.
Why was I the perfect customer back in 1977? Because George Lucas knew me: I was a younger version of himself. Lucas grew up as a movie-loving kid in Modesto, staring at the night sky (like Luke Skywalker) and wondering about his destiny. He followed his heart and made a movie for his 12-year-old self, supported by his study of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. His movie was an invitation to dream for everyone who ever yearned for an epic adventure.
What do your customers yearn for in their hearts? They want to belong to something greater than themselves. They want to find a “tribe” that shares their values and ideals. They want to share, laugh and celebrate with people like themselves. They want to be part of something that might continue to influence the world after they’re gone. In other words, they want meaning.
The story and values of the Stars Wars universe — good versus evil, love over fear, hope against despair — are eternal. These values anchor the adventure that Luke and I went on together. When I emerged from that theater as Jedi Knight in Training, I had the confidence to go on daring adventures in my own life.
This is what the best brand experiences do: They find the common values that unite us, give us something to believe in and create meaning. They invite people to become part of the story, to feel the roller coaster of emotions in a great adventure. They find the heart of the audience and marry it with the heart of the brand.
Harness the power of emotion in storytelling.
Max Planck, the inventor of quantum physics, said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” That’s the power of emotion in storytelling. That’s what George Lucas did so masterfully in Star Wars. He sequenced the emotions of the story so that my “mirror neurons” were firing as if I were there with Luke. I felt Luke’s fear when he turned down Obi-Wan’s invitation to train as a Jedi. I felt Luke’s desolation when he discovered his home destroyed and his stepparents killed. And I felt that desolation morph into a transformative rage that caused Luke to pick up the lightsaber. Finally, I felt Luke’s exhilaration when, by channeling the Force, he destroys the Death Star and saves the Rebel Alliance.
This is what you do to create your transformative experience. You’ll begin with questions: How do I choreograph the emotional journey of my customers? How do I create a narrative that takes people on a journey and makes them a part of it? If you think like your favorite filmmaker, you can create an experience that changes people so they see themselves and the world in a new way. They’ll see themselves as part of your tribe. They’ll see people who share their passion as friends and allies. And they’ll see your brand as a part of their identity — their emotional DNA.
Build a lasting relationship.
After seeing Star Wars, I knew that I was part of something bigger than myself. I was invested in the universe that Lucas had conjured. I was excited when the sequels came out because our shared story universe was growing and becoming more interesting. I had a relationship with George Lucas, a man I’d never met but felt like I had. I joined a tribe that I’m a part of today. This tribe is grounded in values that give my life meaning — courage, daring, compassion, love. The best brand experiences do this. They take the initial transformational experience and deepen it by giving people even deeper encounters with the brand built on the same emotions. This relationship is built on trust. This trust must never be violated. That will be fatal to the tribe of brand fans.
Profound, lasting transformational experiences are difficult to create. Otherwise, every brand would make them. The relationships that come from them are fragile. A wrong step can shatter the trust that fans have for a brand. If you commit to creating a breakthrough transformational experience, make sure you’re ready to maintain it, deepen it and freshen it with innovative stories grounded in the original emotional values. These values are eternal. George Lucas didn’t create them, nor did J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen or William Shakespeare. These are emotions that empower humanity to, as Joseph Campbell said, “participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world” to become more loving, spread peace and cause people to see the good in each other.