Disney Marketing Strategy – Insights From “The Happiest Place on Earth”

There’s a reason it’s known as “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Whether you’re a six-year-old child becoming enamored with fairytales, princesses, and grand adventures for the first time, a parent experiencing these classic stories anew through the eyes of your child, or simply someone looking to re-enchant the world and re-discover the ordinary magic in our everyday lives, there is no better place for you than Walt Disney World.

As a young urban professional visiting Disney World for the first time in many years, I was excited to experience the parks and the people, the stories and the rides, and everything in between, in this different life stage. After fun-filled days spent at Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom, I left Disney World reminded of the ability of family and fun, and of good stories well-told, to bring people together and highlight the beauty of the human journey, no matter your age or culture.

Disney World’s intergenerational appeal is remarkable. There are few places in society where children, young adults, parents, and grandparents can together enjoy themselves so thoroughly, and it was a pleasure to see. Children are introduced to classic fairytales with their timeless heroes, and adults experience them afresh as if they were children. Disney offers something for all ages no matter what park you’re visiting, from the grand aerial adventure of Soarin’ to the adorable comedy of Finding Nemo, The Musical, to the thrilling twists and turns and drops of Expedition Everest, to the spine-chilling creepiness of the Haunted Mansion, to the vibrant costumes and music of the Festival of Fantasy Parade. There’s nothing more special than experiencing these with multiple generations of your family and watching them all walk away wearing the same wonderstruck smile.

Disney World’s magic owes much to the fact that it is just spectacularly fun. In our fast-paced world with stressful jobs and real-life worries, the chance to step back and revel in the thrill of a roller coaster taking off, the explosion of fireworks in a night sky, a safari ride with sightings of lions and giraffes, or a park full of people of all ages singing along to “Let It Go”…this seems like a true fairytale. In Epcot’s World Showcase, guests have the opportunity to immerse themselves for a moment in an entirely different culture. In a single afternoon, you can taste authentic French cuisine at Chefs de France, shop unique Japanese products at Mitsukoshi, and sing along on Norway’s “Frozen” ride. If you want to enjoy a “classic Disney” experience, Magic Kingdom is home to some of Disney World’s most iconic rides, including It’s a Small World with its catchy jingle, Space Mountain’s thrilling indoor rollercoaster, and the rollicking Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Beyond its celebration of family and fun, Disney World accomplishes the true magic of bringing together people from diverse cultures, generations, and backgrounds and reminding us all of the timeless bonds holding us together. Magic Kingdom’s breathtaking Happily Ever After fireworks and nighttime spectacular light show is a perfect display of this. On my last night at Disney, I stood in a crowd of guests, surrounded by families from around the world, each speaking a different language. Together we watched in awe as the lights, the fireworks, and the music wove together a universal story of everyday heroes with big dreams, love for family, and desire to do right and fight against “villains,” with a reminder that in the end, all will be made right. Whether Cinderella or Elsa, Mulan or Moana, Aladdin or Simba, Disney characters old and new tell this same story that has captured the imaginations of generation after generation. And at Disney World, you yourself step briefly into this story and watch it come to life in a magical way that leaves you believing a little bit more in “happily ever after.”

Three Simple Disney Marketing Strategies We Can All Apply

We greatly appreciate the perspectives Nicole has shared and as marketers who frequently visit Disney, we have identified three critical Disney marketing strategies that we have seen throughout our experience at Walt Disney World and in general with the Disney brand.  As you no doubt can sense, we are all huge Disney fans!

  1. Embrace The User Experience – It doesn’t take long for any visitor to Disney to understand the importance that Disney makes on comprehensively embracing the user experience.  As Nicole has shared above, the entire Disney team does an amazing job of intentionally amplifying the user experience to new levels.  Whether this involves your experience at the hotel, in the parking lot, or at the theme park, it doesn’t take long before you can appreciate how comprehensively the brand celebrates and encourages a positive user experience.  Sidenote:  While this is specifically focused on the Disney Parks and Resorts and in particular the unique experience at Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts it would be interesting to hear if you see this being extended to other divisions of the company (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:The_Walt_Disney_Company_divisions).  It should also be noted that recent Disney announcements have indicated that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts division will be blended with the Disney Consumer Products division:  http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/tourism/os-disney-reorganization-theme-parks-20180314-story.html
  2. Live The Data – As frequent visitors to Disney we are amazed at the vast amount of user experience data being collected at the parks or as follow-up user-experience surveys.  This commitment is one that the Zephoria team shares with Disney.  To be candid there is a wealth of user data available to all of us through Google Analytics that can help us become more effective marketers and brand ambassadors.  This Disney data focus is a great reminder that to be better marketers we not only have to collect the data (such as Google Analytics) but also work to convert the data into actionable strategies to help us become more effective communicators.  Nicole’s user experience is an expression of a company that truly lives the data and is committed to continual process improvement.  None of what Nicole experienced happened by accident, but rather was intentional.
  3. Celebrate The Journey – We all face times when we are challenged by the realities of life and the obstacles we must all overcome.  Over the years I’ve encountered hundreds of Disney Cast Members and what has always struck and challenged me is the number of Cast Members who are truly celebrating their Disney journey.  There are times for all of us when “celebrating the journey” may sound great as a marketing slogan, but is tough to live out in our daily lives.  This special “spark” I’ve encountered from many, many Disney Cast Members has challenged all of us to find ways to celebrate our own journeys and to allow that vision, enthusiasm, and passion to infuse itself into all parts of our profession and personal life mission.

Disney Four Keys Basics

Shortly after this article was published I had the pleasure of attending the Disney Key’s to the Kingdom Tour which not only highlights many insights into what makes Disney truly remarkable, but also the motivations behind many of their decisions.  This is probably redundant to most of you, but Disney is governed by Disney’s Four Key Basics which include in priority order: Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency.  What is amazing is that when considering our observations of the Disney marketing strategy they become even more clear when considering the integration they have with the Disney Four Key Basics.  In other words, by understanding the Disney Four Key Basics we then can better understand the marketing strategies that are so observable at the Disney parks.

For example, understanding Disney’s focus on efficiency and courtesy allows us to better understand why market research is such a critical element of Disney’s delivery of services to their customers.  As shared by a Disney Cast Member, “The Four Keys Basics, to me, are how I build every decision that I make…With the help of the Four Keys Basics, we are able to deliver on the promises of safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency—in that order.”  The challenge we face as marketers is making sure that our marketing strategies and tactics are representative elements of a dedicated company vision and not simply an aspirational marketing slogan of what we want to be.

About the Author

Dan Noyes

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Dan Noyes is the principal consultant of Zephoria Inc., a digital marketing consulting company based in Sarasota, Florida. Dan has more than 20 years of experience in digital marketing with a focus on search engine optimization, social media, and marketing-focused web development for both large brands in the US as well as several emerging growth global companies. Dan is also passionate about training the next generation of digital marketers and routinely works with and mentors these talented professionals about adopting digital marketing best practices. To learn more contact Dan at dnoyes@zephoria.com.

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Quote mentioned above is an excerpt from the Disney Institute:  https://disneyinstitute.com/blog/2015/07/disney-customer-service-101-why-courtesy-is-not-always-our-first-priority/