What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Performing a Brand Reboot

May 27, 2013

brand reboot

Let me make it clear going out the gate that this post is largely inspired by me coming off of a nerd’s dream weekend as a new Star Trek movie was released (and a season finale of Doctor Who to boot!). While these are obviously a few of my favorite things, there are lessons we can all learn from this most recent Star Trek on performing a brand reboot.

Ultimately the endgame for anyone wanting a “successful brand” is building something that stands the test of time. Furthermore, it’s also proving over that time that your brand and its unique characteristics are assets you can take to the bank. That’s why Star Trek is an incredibly strong brand, having made millions over the course of the last half century.

However, it couldn’t have done so without the benefit of several brand reboots along the way. Let’s take a look at lessons your brand can learn from the recent reboot of Star Trek.

Know When It’s Time

2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis provided the seasoned cast of TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation with one last journey through the stars. In so doing, it almost killed the franchise, with a weak story, pacing problems, and indulgent subplots. As a result, the franchise took most of the next decade off.

It sounds cliche but many times you need to experience that low to know it’s time to rebuild. Star Trek had gotten lost in the previous decade with four TV series and a new generation of movies that only yielded one and a half or two decent movies at best. Nemesis‘ poor performance with fans and the box office helped all involved realize that it was time for a new direction. Having the foresight to recognize this impasse is more difficult that it sounds.

Respect the Chair

Throughout Star Trek’s various incarnations including the recent hit Star Trek Into Darkness, much is made of respecting the captain’s chair. This theme plays out in the recent films as you experience the highs and the lows of a maverick in the chair. A healthy understanding of the balance of risk and reward are critical in being an effective brand leader as well. Consider the bold decision Paramount made in tapping J.J. Abrams of Lost fame as director of the brand’s reboot.

In reworking your brand, look for your own rebellious (within reason) James T. Kirk or your visionary J.J. Abrams. Reimagining a brand requires equal parts rebellion and vision. This should be someone who’s not afraid to blow up Vulcan if it can take the brand in an exciting, new direction. As Kirk notes in Into Darkness, “Nobody knows the rules better than you, Spock, but sometimes exceptions have to be made.” Know when to take those risks with your brand.

The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few

… or the one. This famous Spock quote was originally uttered in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and was resurrected in Star Trek Into Darkness. Beyond being a killer quote (in more ways than one) this lesson is one your brand should consider as you approach your reboot.

Many times, as we work through our rebranding efforts, we slowly start to accumulate a series of sacred cows that we can’t change. If the needs of the many aren’t being met (read: your brand isn’t connecting with your audience as well) then you can’t be afraid to push back on legacy ideas and systems that are being championed by an internal minority (“the few or the one.”).

Strip Down to Build Up

“One of my favorite things about ‘Star Trek’ wasn’t just the overt banter but the humor in that show about the relationships between the main characters and their reactions to the situations they would face; there was a lot of comedy in that show without ever breaking its reality.”

This observation from J.J. Abrams, who has infused his Treks with a healthy dose of humor, also offers a branding parallel. In looking at how to rework your brand, forget what you historically can or can’t do. Instead start with a blank sheet of paper and a team of trusted organizational stakeholders and define from the ground up what’s at the very heart of what you do.

Would you have thought Star Trek’s humor was a critical ingredient in the recipe or would you have gotten lost in ship design and uniforms? Take the time to do the homework so you know what’s most important to who your brand is.

Boldly Go

So, to recap, the big lessons on rebooting your brand that you can borrow from Star Trek are knowing when it’s time, finding a visionary maverick to take the helm, balancing the needs of the many with the needs of the few, and, finally, identifying and magnifying the core elements critical to your brand’s success.

What say you? Are you ready to set forth on the continuing voyages of your brand? Have you had to reboot? If so, what worked for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo via startrekmovie.com
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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.