How to Brand Like Disney

No matter where you fall on the “How much I like Disney” spectrum, you have to admit that Disney has a startlingly successful brand. When I told friends that I was going “to Disney” right after school was out for my kids, no one said “what’s Disney?” and the only question people asked was “Disneyland or Disney World?” — most people just assumed Disney World and they were right.

Disney has a successful brand for a lot of reasons, but I want to talk about the way they reinforce and strengthen their brand through the experience that visitors have at their Disney World collection of parks and resorts. I’m not a Disney astroturfer or cheerleader, but I can appreciate what they have done with their brand and pass along what I’ve learned from it in a marketing framework.

Here are the four main things that Disney does to consistently strengthen their brand:

    1. Go Big or Go Home: Disney doesn’t do anything half-way. Their resorts are big and comfortable. The rides in the Disney theme parks take a theme and follow it through with well-produced introductory “stories” that introduce you to the ride while you’re still waiting in line. The ride itself might not be any more thrilling or complex that one you would ride at Six Flags, but the ride is much more engaging because of the entire story and immersive experience that is wrapped around it. There is a tendency in corporate marketing to “play it safe” — to find out what your competitors are doing and do exactly the same thing except using your own color palette. This strategy might keep you afloat, but it won’t turn any heads or make you a leader in your market. Don’t just give your audience the same ride as everyone else; engage them in an experience that they will remember.


    1. Content is King: Disney has a ton of content and they use it in ways that are continually strengthening their brand. Your company probably doesn’t have 70 year’s worth of content to draw on, but if you’re inventive and tell a compelling story with your content, then the people you are marketing to will pay attention. One client of ours, Hyper9, developed a “character” — Hugh, the Alien — to engage their visitors and make them feel part of a larger world that exists separate from typical corporate marketing speak. As they grow their site and add new campaigns, they’ve found they are able to expand on the Alien theme in new and interesting ways.


    1. Details Matter: Disney is great at details. From the styling of their resort hotels to the set dressing that surrounds their rides and park attractions, Disney excels at interesting and appropriate details. On one ride — the Tower of Terror — there is a open window into a bell-clerk’s office at the exit to the ride. The office is filled with period equipment and decorated flawlessly. I even peeked around the corner and discovered that the wall that faced away from the riders, which would normally never be seen, was decorated. That level of detail greatly aids in the immersive quality of the ride and gives riders things to discover upon multiple visits.

      In your corporate marketing, there are two ways to incorporate a detail-oriented framework. First, make sure your pieces are grammatically perfect, consistent throughout in fonts, colors and imagery. Nothing breaks a person out of an engaging experience more than a blatant typo or a misaligned paragraph. Second, add creative flourishes wherever it makes sense — graphical bullets instead of standard ones, decorative lines instead of flat and straight, callout boxes and drop quotes. All these small details will add up to an engaging experience and provide reasons for your prospects to dig deeper.

  1. Be Engaging. Throughout the Disney parks, there are street performers who wander about, doing skits or magic tricks and engaging the participation of the park visitors. In Hollywood Studios, a director and his leads bring in extras from the crowd and shoot their feature, while in Tomorrowland, a robotic trash can follows children around and talks to them while they stare wide-eyed and wondering how it is done.

    Too often, corporate marketing is a one-way street. Brochures and direct mail pieces inform but don’t often elicit a response. Web sites can be more engaging, but most companies settle for brochureware sites that offer little in the way of true visitor interaction. The best marketing creates a dialog between a company and its customers. Develop a contest that rewards the best product suggestions; use social media to interact with your clients; invent an iPhone game that features your brand — there are so many inventive ways to engage your prospects. A little time, thought and imagination will help you discover them.

Let me know in the comments what you like or don’t like about Disney’s brand and how you’ve used these characteristics in your marketing.

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