Over the last 15 years, CEO Bob Iger has been at the helm of the Walt Disney Company. Under his stewardship, Iger and team have acquired Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox. Many of Disney’s moves have reaped huge rewards (Avengers: Endgame $2.8 billion in worldwide box office), some are struggling (Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge), and others are soon to be released (Disney+).
What underpins all of these moves, continues to grow in the process, is Disney’s extremely strong brand. That’s not just me speaking. Forbes ranks Disney #8 on its 2019 list of World’s Most Valuable Brands at $52.2 billion. That’s up three spots and nearly $5 billion in value over the past year.
Whether you are looking to build your personal or corporate brand, allow me to offer you 5 lessons from Disney’s success:
1. Lead; Don’t Just Differentiate
Disney doesn’t claim that 9 out of 10 kids prefer Mickey Mouse. They don’t advertise that Goofy is 13% funnier than others in his line of work.
Disney opted to be a leader from inception. They chose to be different in kind. The company received acclaim in the 1930s for the first ever full-length animated film. When land was tight in California, they transformed a Florida swamp into a world like no other.
What’s the point?
Differentiation is often a zero sum game.
Painful as it is to admit, your customers don’t live and breathe your company – you do. So, little differences in your products or services often go unnoticed. Ask yourself these questions:
- How are you positioned against your competitors? Can customers even tell a difference?
- How could you truly innovate your products or services? Your organization? Your industry?
- What gap exists in your market that is calling out for a leader?
2. Create a Seamless Experience; Don’t Cause Customers to Pause
Step into a Disney theme park and you are immediately transported to another world. The sights, sounds, and aromas seamlessly work together to create and sustain the fantasy. If a park ‘guest’ sees something out of place, she might pause, and the moment will be ruined. This is key to Disney’s brand and the underlying principle is true for yours as well.
Whether you run a restaurant, manage an accounting firm, package consumer products, or accomplish a myriad of other worthwhile endeavors, you must create a seamless experience. If your customers pause because something feels out of place, the magic of your brand is lost. Consider these questions:
- What type of experience are you creating for your customers?
- Is the experience intentional and holistic or is it inconsistent and fragmented?
- Do you stay true to your brand or do you create gaps that cause your customers to pause because something doesn’t feel right?
3. Drive Interaction; Don’t Settle for Passivity
One of Disney’s more recent animated films, Frozen, was an instant classic. In fact, Disney recently completed a Frozen attraction at Walt Disney World. It allows guests to ‘interact’ with the film, not simply sit in a theater. Guests will wait in line for hours for a chance to ride into the magical world of Frozen.
Fortunately, fans of the film didn’t have to wait for the Frozen ride’s construction to go beyond simply watching the movie. A sing-a-long version ran in theaters and patrons were encouraged to join in the show. Google ‘Frozen videos’ and you will see that fans have invested their personal time to produce Frozen-esque videos. Disney has tapped into the concept that customer participation breeds commitment.
In fact, they are doubling-down on their success with Frozen 2 opening in theaters in late November 2019.
Consider these questions:
- Are your customers investing their time to interact with your products/services?
- When was the last time you provided your customers opportunities to interact?
- Can they go to your website, office, or storefront and participate in some way?
4. Produce Memories; Don’t Be Forgettable
If you travel to Disney’s private island, you will likely put out a photo of the trip in your home. It makes sense; that’s a memorable vacation. What is surprising is that when customers visit a Disney store at the local mall, they smile for photos. Now, that’s uncommon. You don’t see people posing for pictures at Wal-Mart.
If you are thinking, “Sure, that works for Disney, but we don’t have loveable characters.” You’re missing the point. You don’t have to be memorable like Disney, you have to be memorable compared to your competitors. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you leave your customers with positive experiences that they are likely to remember?
- Is your brand lost in a sea of ‘others’ or does it stand out?
- When a customer looks to use a similar product or service in the future, will they recommend your organization? Or will they have forgotten all about you?
5. Build on Success; Don’t Settle
Walt Disney didn’t settle for Disneyland in California. He built on its success to create Disney World in Florida – many times larger and grander. That innovative spirit continues today. There are theme parks around the world, multiple ESPN channels, second and third versions of movies, Broadway shows, a fleet of cruise ships, and Walt Disney World is investing in large scale changes at nearly every turn.
Sure, other businesses grow and develop new offerings or locations. But Disney didn’t do that – nothing feels cookie cutter. Each new offering is unique and arguably better. Consider your brand:
- Have you grown content with your brand and complacent with your efforts?
- If you don’t strive for something better, where will you be a few short years from now?
- What can you do today to capitalize on past success?
So, there you have it. 5 brand building ideas and lots of questions to get you thinking. Now go get ’em.
Photo by Patrícia Ferreira on Unsplash
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.