Since its creation in 1923, the Walt Disney Company has continued to capture the attention of consumers around the globe. The company attracts people of all ages, reaching a broad audience through various media and entertainment outlets.
Disney’s power lies in its brand. With a market capitalization hovering near $200 billion, the Disney brand is constantly expanding and growing.
According to Business Insider, Disney’s brand value has grown 11% in the last year, “after a mammoth year in film with ‘The Lion King,’ ‘Toy Story 4’ and ‘Avengers Endgame.’”
How has Disney created such a powerful brand? And how can we learn from the company’s marketing strategy?
Let’s break it down.
Create the Story
For Disney, storytelling is key. Storytelling requires an emotional component that will appeal to consumers of all ages, and Disney has mastered the ability to create those emotions. Every advertisement, commercial, and billboard must remind consumers of those emotions and stories.
As Geoffrey de la Bourdonnaye, the chief executive of Chloé and a former executive at Disney put it:
“We’ve all known the power of attracting emotions through strong storytelling, and that’s what makes Disney so unique. At Disney, it’s about the power of narrative and being able to create a world with a theme and characters, to draw emotions that are common to all people around the world.”
But how does Disney manage to separate itself from its competitors?
The answer lies in a unique content marketing strategy. Disney has a one-two approach by first creating the story and then building a whole line of products around that story.
As an article from Forbes states, “Disney’s ‘content marketing’ strategy goes in reverse compared to most brands. Meaning, where most brands start with a physical product and then build a story around it in the form of ‘content marketing,’ companies like Disney do exactly the opposite.”
This is how Disney has separated itself from its peers. By adopting such a simple strategy, the company has differentiated itself in a saturated market.
What storytelling strategies does your marketing team or company follow? How can you differentiate the stories you tell from those of your competitors?
Know Your Audience
In addition to the stories that they masterfully wield as part of the company’s branding, Disney has become successful by appealing to the audience’s wishes.
For much of Disney’s audience, nostalgia remains a driving force behind annual revenue. Consumers who experienced the power of Disney in their childhood want to be reminded of those feelings. They don’t want a new Disney; they want the Disney that the grew up loving as a child.
Jody Jean Dreyer, an employee of Walt Disney Studios and Disney Parks Division for 30 years, writes about those feelings of nostalgia in her 2019 book “Beyond the Castle: A Guide to Discovering Your Happily Ever After.”
As an article from Fast Company states, “Dreyer touches upon a few Disney mishaps during her career, including misreading the desires of the Tokyo Disneyland guests. For the 1983 park opening, the food and beverage team picked Japanese staples they thought would appeal to park-goers: rice, fish, and other items that required chopsticks. But after slow sales, the team realized it was the exact opposite: The Japanese didn’t come to the Happiest Place on Earth for what they could get at a local sushi shop. They sought the ultimate American experience. They wanted hot dogs, French fries, greasy finger foods, and sugary soda. They wanted sticky hands and food comas.”
Disney wanted to avoid making the same mistake again. When the company opened Disneyland Paris in 1992, only American food was offered at the park. But the French, unlike the Japanese, had “no interest in partaking of the ‘American experience.’ So they stepped out of the park to eat more traditional French dishes (perhaps with a glass of wine), then returned to jump on the rides.”
After realizing this, Disney quickly added Parisian options to the restaurants at the park. This encouraged visitors to dine at the park, adding to the all-day family appeal of Disneyland Paris.
The lesson here is to know your audience. Disney constantly analyzes how consumers react to different movies, shows, theme parks, and any other form of entertainment. By knowing its audience, the company has been able to meet the needs and wishes of a growing fan base.
What does your audience need? How can you market yourself as a supplier of those needs?
Design the Experience
It was Walt Disney who once said that “when you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.”
The company has embraced this mindset with full commitment. Every aspect of a Disney movie is carefully planned and thought out. Every small detail of every single story is analyzed. Every single component of a Disney theme park is carefully put in place.
And yes, I mean every single aspect. Even the smells.
In her book, Jody Jean Dreyer describes a patented machine called the “Smellitzer” that Disney uses at its parks. The scent-emitting machine creates a variety of aromas to match different locations around the park. As the article from Fast Company states, “even the wafts of popcorn along Main Street U.S.A. are by design.”
“That’s why smell can transport us to a time and feeling that we’d long forgotten,” Dreyer writes. “It’s the combination of all these things that trigger your mind to let you go places, either positive or negative. It’s being mindful that people are using their senses.”
We will not all manage theme parks, but it’s critical that we understand the importance of designing a unified, holistic experience for our customers. If you are building a brand, what is the one word you want to convey to your audience? What is the one feeling? Do you want to entertain, inspire, or convince your audience?
To establish your own brand, you need to answer these questions. You need to understand how to design a complete experience for your customers. And just as customers do for Disney, your audience will continue to return time and time again if they are satisfied with the experience you have offered.
By Better Marketing