15 Years At Disney: A Masterclass in Branding
Working at Disney for over 15 years was like a Masterclass in Branding. While at first, I was over the moon excited to simply be working at a movie studio as part of a marketing team helping release films to the world, I quickly learned that Disney films are at a caliber all their own.
When was the last time you heard someone saying…hey, I’m going to see that new Fox (or replace with Universal, Warner Bros, Sony) movie this weekend? No one says that. They’re more interested in the movie itself and they probably can’t tell you what studio it came from.
However, consumers WILL say, I’ve got tickets for the new Disney movie this weekend. Why? Because Disney is a brand that means something to them.
When people think Disney, the most common things that come to mind first are Disney Theme Parks or animated movies. They have a huge amount of love for the Disney brand because it oftentimes brings them right back to some of their favorite experiences as a child. Ask someone what their very first movie was in a theater, and Disney is a common answer. And, a memory that stays with people forever? Mom & Dad taking them on a family trip to Disneyland.
When you can connect someone to one of their fondest memories, you’ve basically earned a fan for life.
There are many reasons why the Disney brand is so successful and I won’t be able to capture all of them here…but, here are 8 key ingredients that Disney uses to build and grow a captivating brand. If you’re looking to build an unforgettable brand, I’d suggest you consider applying these elements to your business.
01 CREATE EXPERIENCES THAT PEOPLE WILL NEVER FORGET
Do you know there are people at Disney who’s full-time job is to dream imagine, innovate and follow their creativity to invent unforgettable experiences for their audience? They’re called Imagineers, and they’re brilliant. Walt Disney himself built a brand based on delivering experiences audiences would love. And Disney has continued to deliver on that again and again because when you can immerse your audience in worlds of delight and wonder, you’re creating fans for life.
Ask yourself how you can create an unforgettable experience for your audience in your business. It doesn’t have to be Disney-sized; you simply need to make it special in whatever way makes sense for you and your customers.
02 EXPRESS YOUR BRAND’S VALUES AND LIVE UP TO THEM
Disney is all about entertaining audiences around the world to make them happy and bring them joy. They add magic to peoples’ everyday lives. They deliver on their brand promise with values that include: high quality, creativity, curiosity, storytelling, and spectacular experiences, just to name a few.
These brand values are evident in everything Disney does. When your customers values are aligned with your brand values, it creates loyalty to the brand. People feel like they know Disney…there is a know – love – trust factor, for sure.
This is why it’s important to not only develop brand values for your business, but to share them and live up to them.
03 CUSTOMERS ARE #1
Disney puts their customers first. What does that mean? Anything they can do to make their customers HAPPY, is what’s done. Disney listens to their audience. They live up to customers’ expectations and they leave them wanting more.
04 ENSURE YOU’RE MAKING BRAND DEPOSITS, NOT WITHDRAWALS
A brand like Disney has millions of fans worldwide. Because of that, they must stay consistent with delivering on expectations and pursuing opportunities that add value to the brand people love. There is careful consideration given to new ideas, partnerships, and opportunities because if it’s going to have any negative effect to the brand and disappoint the fans, it’s a no-go.
Greenlight those projects that are an obvious deposit in your brand bank…positive outcomes only, please!
05 GREAT STORYTELLING IS ESSENTIAL
I sat in a dark theater on the Disney Studio Lot while animators pitched our marketing team the story of Frozen with pencil sketches roughly animated on the big screen, while Kristen Anderson-Lopez (half of the married songwriting team for the movie) sang “Let It Go.” I mean, what in the world? Not a dry eye in the house.
Disney hosts some of the greatest storytellers of our time, and I was lucky enough to get to witness this firsthand again and again, and to be part of the team that determined how to tell our many Disney stories to audiences in order to get them to the movie theaters opening weekend.
Great brands tell great stories. You may not have a singing queen of snow as part of your business, but I know you have a story that would touch your audience and inspire them to act. Find your story, and tell it.
06 DON’T BE AFRAID TO EXPAND AND INNOVATE
Disney isn’t perfect, but they’re wise in understanding the need to push the envelope with the Disney brand to continue its relevance with ever-changing audiences. I was part of the marketing team when we released our first-ever PG-13 rated, Disney branded film…and that was a huge occasion we were crossing our fingers would pay off. We didn’t want to alienate families from the Disney brand, but we wanted to expand the audience for our Disney Live-Action films. We did it successfully with the release of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, “The Curse of the Black Pearl.”
Innovation keeps you relevant. Expansion means taking risks and seeing what it means to redefine your products while keeping them in alignment with your customers’ expectations and fulfilling what your brand stands for.
How can you continuously evolve and innovate with your brand?
07 GIVE YOUR AUDIENCE ALL THE FEELS
When you’re able to tap into your customers’ emotions, you’ve succeeded. Find the ways to give your audience all-the-feels because that’s what will have them coming back for more of what you have to offer.
08 ADD MAGIC
“Magic Happens” was actually a brand campaign I helped work on early in my career at Disney. Just consider that statement and how that shares everything we’ve talked about thus far. The campaign highlighted Disney’s brand values, how it creates an unforgettable experience, giving people all-the-feels, telling a story full of magic and wonder, and featuring customers experiencing Disney. It’s a brand deposit for sure because it reminds their audience how much they love Disney.
Ever watch a Disneyland or Walt Disney World commercial and you’re basically crying at the end because how they masterfully share kids and families experiencing their best lives at the theme park? I’m literally tearing up right now.
Adding some magic will look different for your brand than it does at Disney. You won’t necessarily have Tinkerbell who can fly around sprinkling magical fairy dust over your audience, but remember to translate how you could bring a little magic to what you provide. What’s that extra bit of sparkle or joy you can give to surprise and delight your audience?
It’s just another way to create a brand with meaning, purpose & value. Give it a try!