Guest post via John Andrews

Walt Disney World Astounds Its Visitors With Experiential Product Marketing

I began my business career as a Dominos Pizza manager in Maine. One of our marketing efforts at the local level was calling around 10 customers a night to see how their pizza was. Beyond learning more about our product quality and service, we also showed our customer’s quite simply that we cared. How many companies today call you to see how they did? Many will send you a survey, but few, if any, make the effort of human outreach to make a connection. A Harvard Business Journal article found the most correlated factor for business success is Net Promoter Score (NPS). Simply, how many of your customers will recommend you to a friend or family member. In an age obsessed with data, this is a simple number to determine. My favorite travel partner, Delta Airlines, asks a simple automated question after every customer service call, “If you owned a company, would you hire the last person you spoke to for your customer service team?” It’s just that easy to understand how you’re doing as a brand.

This week our family traveled to Florida to visit our in-laws in Winter Park. My wife grew up here and it’s always an enjoyable place to visit for many reasons including food, family, and tons of great things to do. Ever since our daughter was old enough to appreciate it, we started spending a couple days at Disney during our visits to Winter Park. It’s nice to be able to drop in, visit a park or two, and return back to our family’s home. We experience a bit of each park, a little at a time, without trying to pack ALL of the parks in in a single stay. We always stay on property to get the full effect, and experience different resorts, and also to take advantage of the multitude of Disney Transportation options. Since I was a child and rode the famed monorail for the first time, I’ve marveled at the fun and entertainment component of just getting around at Disney. Even now as an adult, the efficiency of the bus system is a positive addition to the overall experience for vacations, conventions, and conferences I’ve attended at Walt Disney World. As the marketing world increasingly focuses on experiences as a differentiator, Disney sets the bar for other’s to follow.A few years ago we received our first Magic Bands and Shannon left them open on our kitchen counter a couple weeks before our trip which created a sense of excitement of what was to come. They were brightly colored and each had our name printed on the custom box the bands arrived in. The smallest detail, which could have been easily and less expensively delivered in a plain padded envelope, was turned into a brand touchpoint. So often these simple pieces of the brand journey are overlooked. The bags, receipts, signage and other soft contact points are not considered in tone, voice, and opportunity to surprise and delight. These opportunities have exploded over the past couple of decades with the evolution of digital and all of the potential places a brand can come into contact with a shopper. Alas, many simple points are missed creating both a disconnect in brand relevance and an opportunity for brand abandonment. To remain relevant, more brands need to be like Disney, constantly exploring, refining, and improving every single place it touches a guest/customer.

This trip took the experience to a new level for our family thanks to my business partner Ted Rubin. Ted practices his mantra of Return on Relationship by turning his thousands of marketing relationships into mutually beneficial opportunities for creating real-world experiential content. Throughout his extensive travels for his speaking and brand evangelical work, he seeks to help the brand marketers he knows via storytelling about his journey and his experiences along the way. He decided to come join our visit to Typhoon Lagoon, a first visit for our family, and reached out to his contacts at Disney. They suggested he might also want to try out the Disney VIP Tour Service at the parks, and he asked us if we would be interested in extending our time at the parks by a day… of course he was inspired by our daughter Catherine, who calls him Uncle Ted, and had reached out with the idea of an additional day to visit The Magic Kingdom as a Father’s Day surprise. Our plans were flexible and we were thrilled to say the least. We added a night to our rooms at Port Orleans and were set for a day at Magic Kingdom, or so we thought. There are some great reviews about the Disney VIP Program that we read in anticipation of what to expect, I really enjoyed this one by Tamara Gruber of We3Travel.

The Disney VIP Tour Service is a personalized guided visit to its parks. The tour guide helps make recommendations for the most efficient way to see the attractions that are most important to the group they are helping. We had planned to just visit the Magic Kingdom but our guide let us know it would be possible to visit multiple parks easily with the private transportation that’s included in the program. Our guide Ray Patterson (the BEST ever) asked each of us what we would like to do most, questioned us each individually to make sure all 5 of us were included, and made a plan for us to all get to see and do the things we wanted over the course of the day. We made a plan, set a course, and were off for a day we wouldn’t forget. The service took Disney’s already superior experience to a new level and provided the basis for some great marketing conversations among our group of marketing junkies. Our good friend Lee Esmond is a leader for Mosaic that spends ALL of its time thinking about shopper experiences and her thinking is constantly helping us think more deeply about the role of experience in marketing. She immediately noticed our social media updates and wanted a full report. Great experiences are derived from deep experiential exploration.

The experience started me thinking about the whole craft of experiential marketing, specifically where it’s headed thanks to digital technology. Ted and I have endless conversations about brand experience both good and bad as part of our development of Retail Relevancy, our forthcoming book. Over the past few months we’ve both shared our views on how even with all the talk about experiential marketing, many brands run headlong into brand equity destruction through incessant programatic and digital spamming. The rise of retargeting and digital yield techniques is killing brands, and brand equity, and while we don’t believe this is intentional, it’s obvious that brands aren’t following Disney’s lead by constantly refining the brand experience. It makes me wonder how many brand managers sign up for their own email distribution lists, or shop their brands from an anonymous browser, to experience what their customers are being subjected to. Despite becoming numb to the onslaught of messaging, I suspect that the overall perception of these brand’s that are engaging in such digital behavior, is declining… and this is a central tenant of brand relevancy.

Disney’s commitment of brand experience is complete and it begins with training. Ray shared his training regimen to become a VIP Tour Guide with us and it was intense with specific skills that had to be mastered before moving on to further training. I saw this first had as I returned to my room after breakfast at the Hotel to find a housekeeping training in-progress. Ray shared with us that he had begun his Disney career in Housekeeping and the mantra was ‘everything everyday,’ a total commitment to completely refurbishing the guest rooms each day. It sounds basic but great experiences start with great processes. The consistency of experience is what separates great brands from also-rans. Serious training was evident everywhere, even from a Disney Transportation bus that was emblazoned with ‘earning my ears’ on its electronic destination signage.

The real value of the VIP experience is efficiency. The tour guides have vehicles staged behind the scenes to easily move within and between parks, and use the Cast entrances to shorten the distance between attractions. Thanks to the ease of movement, we were able to experience 15 attractions across three parks. The pinnacle attraction IMHO was the Flight of Passage at the world of Avatar in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If you want to see the future of experience, simply visit this attraction. Disney does a masterful job of building anticipation and expectation, a fundamental part of an amazing experience. The Flight of Passage has multiple digitally integrated touchpoints that add to the overall intrigue and enjoyment of the experience. All of the parts contribute to the whole, the foundation of experiential marketing. Here’s a great POV video from Inside The Magic that covers the entirety of the Flight of Passage attraction.

Everything we experienced on this trip has me thinking about experiences as a whole. Disney is actively using digital to enhance experiences and remove friction versus simply adding more messaging. The Magic Band makes everything at its parks and resorts better and enables a wealth of personalization opportunities. At Typhoon Lagoon, where you are in and out of the water, there is no need for money or I.D. as the bands can be used for all purchases. This is also helpful for visiting all the parks… there is no need for anything to navigate except the band. Behind the scenes, Disney uses the data to lower wait times, manage inventories, and align staffing with crowd movements and behaviors. Disney also uses band data to personalize experiences including photography, digital signage and even its interactive video. Customer preferences can easily be added like turning off receipt printing or managing room details. You can imagine a time when Magic Bands become an extension of the parks and integrate with Disney’s ever growing media empire.  The next Star Wars movie might be enhanced with the bands perhaps at my local theater perhaps, further extending the Disney experience beyond the park and pulling us back to the Star Wars World and resort coming next year.  Again, all of this is predicated by first person relationships, not inferred data from third parties fighting for relevancy.

When creating, maintaining, and evolving a brand experience, keep Disney top of mind. Always remember… A “Brand” is what a business does; a “Reputation” is what people remember and share. #RetailRelevancy

Originally posted by John Andrews

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