Applying the Mouse’s ceaseless focus on creativity to your own digital marketing

Disney is a pretty big deal here at ForeFront. Our amazing designer, Sarah, is rarely seen without some sort of sartorial Disney element, and our resident Star Wars enthusiast, Kyle, just returned from 9 (!) days at the park.

Just after Kyle returned, he came into my office with the starry-eyed wonder that only a trip to the Mouse Kingdom can impart. In addition to regaling me with stories of the rides and attractions he enjoyed, there were many references to the technology that enhanced the experience. I responded by saying, “Well, sure, when you have unlimited revenue and the most creative people in the world, you can do just about anything.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I had one of those “aha” moments. While we and our clients (as far as I know) don’t have access to unlimited funds, we certainly have access to incredibly creative people. And given the world of business’ intense scrutiny on ROI, creative ideas can usually get funded if there’s a clear path to increased revenue.

Here’s what really got my gears turning. A lot of the technology that Kyle was impressed with was associated with streamlining and improving the theme park experience. Here in Central Ohio, we are roughly midway from two of the greatest theme parks in the country: Kings Island (near Cincinnati) and Cedar Point (near Cleveland). Anyone from this area has likely been to both, probably multiple times. That means we’ve all had the theme park experience: hours of waiting in line in the sweltering Ohio summer heat for the payoff of a minute or two of exhilaration. And once you finish the ride, you also get to wait in line for mediocre, overpriced food. There’s plenty of room for improvement, to say the least.

And certainly, over the years, there have been attempts to make things less aggravating for visitors. “Fast passes,” estimated wait time signs and cooling mist sprays are improvements, but really half-hearted ones. Why? Well, head to any of these parks on any day in the summer. You can barely get into the parking lot. The prevailing attitude seems to be that the parks don’t need to improve, because the people keep coming.

Not so with Walt Disney’s empire. Walt was relentlessly dedicated to creating the ultimate visitor experience. When he decided to open a new park in Florida swampland, he quickly realized that visitors would be annoyed with the mosquitoes, so he hired an MIT engineer to ensure it would never be an issue (for a very entertaining read, check out info on Joe’s Ditches). When he realized that visitors to his California park were willing to walk about 30 steps before throwing their trash away, he decreed that trash cans be placed every 30 feet in the new park. He even went so far as to stipulate that Cinderella Castle be designed to face south, so the sun is never directly behind it – ensuring that the lighting is always ideal for all those pictures. The monorail, the establishment of a no-fly zone above the park, the underground tunnel system – all done in the name of creating an aura and an incredible experience.

One of Walt’s key tenets was his idea of “plussing.” He was fond of saying that “as long as there is imagination left in the world, Disneyland will never be finished.” He would routinely walk through the park telling cast members to “plus it!” He was convinced that there were always changes – some trivial, some monumental – to be made that could improve the experience for guests. While Walt did not live to see his Orlando park completed, it’s obvious that “plussing” continues, as does his commitment to visitors.

 

“As long as there is imagination left in the world, Disneyland will never be finished.”

WALT DISNEY

 

And in typical Disney fashion, now that most theme parks have some form of “fast passes,” Disney’s have dumped that idea and introduced a new concept called Disney Genie. It’s part of their mobile app, and it uses an algorithm to recommend itineraries for you based on your preferences, including when to visit certain attractions for the shortest wait times. To be sure, the folks at Disney do not rest on their laurels, especially when the competition starts to match them.

I digress – back to Kyle and his experience. One of the features he raved about was the MagicBands. These RFID bracelets serve as hotel room door keys, entry passes to the parks, cashless payment devices and much more. Kyle also mentioned that the bands disconnected the visitor from the cost of goods; it was just a “wave of the arm.” To me, the “magic” in those bands is the fact that Disney created something that feels like a huge convenience to the visitors, but also undoubtedly increases per-visitor spend exponentially.

One of the most profound things Kyle mentioned was his sense that everything was designed with a purpose, and so much of it was planned to evoke an emotion. Most enhancements sparked a reaction from several senses, and he gave some examples:

  • As you walk down the Main Street, the attention to detail on the storefronts was visually amazing, they pumped food scents (popcorn, cotton candy, etc.) to the street and, despite the heat, most stores had open doors with gusts of cooling air enticing visitors to step inside.
  • When you entered certain attractions, in addition to the visual stimuli, they would pump in background noises (birds chirping, animals scurrying) that were so realistic it left visitors wondering if they were real or not.

Lastly, he mentioned that Disney had mastered the art of making the visitor the “star of the show” – not an easy task when you consider that the park averages 50,000 daily visitors. To build excitement for upcoming rides, they present a story of what the visitor will experience, and those stories are always told with the visitor in the main role: “You will need to make it to the next level to save the day!” It’s creative storytelling, and helps visitors become fully immersed in the experience.

 

A Deeper Dive Into the Method Behind the Mouseness

The concept of “plussing” is fascinating to me. Disney could literally do nothing, and their parks would be full every day of the year. Yet they continue to innovate, reinvent and improve the experience for their visitors. Put another way, we run into a phrase more commonly associated with web design and development: Disney’s efforts are a shining example of improving the User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX). Ironically (or maybe not), Kyle happens to be our resident UI/UX expert, so it makes sense that he was impressed by all of it.

 

“Everything was designed with a purpose, and so much of it was planned to evoke an emotion.”

 

What really intrigues me is the fact that Disney has implemented items that could be construed as completely self-serving. That MagicBand, with all its conveniences? Well, that little guy tracks your movements throughout the entire park, and beyond. When you get Big Data involved, you learn all you need to know about user tendencies within the park: where/when they eat, where they go after and before, and, ultimately, how to cater to all of those tendencies. But the conveniences gained far outweigh the contribution to Big Data, so folks happily strap them on themselves and their giddy little ones.

Along those same lines – hotels and resorts on the park grounds? What a convenient idea, right? Nope, Disney was tired of the local Orlando hotels making extra money on their guests, so lodging was a very logical next step. Add a monorail that takes visitors literally inside the hotel, and you’ve enhanced the experience once again – and can charge a premium for it.

So, I’m Ready to Book a Trip, But What’s Your Point With All This?

OK, time to bring this full circle, and to better explain the “aha” in my moment.

Here at ForeFront, we put an inordinate amount of time and effort into each website we build. At launch, they are things of beauty – picture a newly built home, right after the landscaper puts the final touches on. But all too often, those sites are treated like brochures, with a sense of relief that all the hard work is done and a relegation to the back of the mind until the “next time” it needs redone. Before too long, things get outdated, blogs go unwritten and the once-beautiful site gets long in the tooth.

It happens frequently with digital marketing campaigns as well. An analyst does all the hard work, monitoring and tweaking and crafting just the right mix to get results – and then things get put on auto-pilot. We see it all the time, and a large percentage of our clients come to us because this exact situation has happened to them. Kudos to them for realizing, but I can’t help but wonder how many firms are out there thinking that what they have is as good as it gets.

There’s an old saying that, in business, you’re either growing or you’re dying. There’s no such thing as simply treading water. Walt understood that better than most, and instilled that mentality in the very fabric of his organization. In our world, that means that no matter how well a website is doing, there is always room for improvement. It may be incremental, but even small steps can lead to long journeys. Websites, digital marketing campaigns, social media outreach, content marketing – there is always more than can be done, new ideas to implement and creative approaches that will wow visitors.

You Make It Sound Easy, But We Don’t Have the Budget OR the Creative Minds That Disney Has!

Surely, an unlimited budget frees the reins in ways that I can’t even imagine. And by limiting a budget, you put more dependence on your creative team; they have to figure out how to do more with less. As for not having creative minds, though? Not to put too fine a point on it, but I say bullshit. Anyone can be creative, but most people are reluctant to share ideas out of concern that their ideas will be ridiculed or belittled. Seth Godin has written extensively on creativity, and his take on it is this:

 

“Creative skills are not something you’re born with, nobody is born with the ability to speak in a complete sentence or to show up and solve problems. … We learn skills because there is work to be done. … Well, now our job is to show up and solve interesting problems, and that requires practice.”

 

Pick up a copy of The Practice and you’ll be amazed at just how much creativity you and those around you actually have.

And even if you can’t coax creativity out of your staff, the very fact that you are reading this blog brings you one step closer to a wealth of creative juice. Yes, there are digital marketing agencies that simply go through the motions and spool up the same campaign for everyone, but there ARE others that actually have creative geniuses – and those are the ones that rise to the top, along with their clients.

Do you need “plusses” for your campaigns? We’re here to help; just contact us today for some creative ideas for your site. Oh – and don’t forget to ask what Disney element Sarah is wearing today.

 


Scott Kasun started ForeFront Web in 2001 and specializes in strategy, design and UI/UX. He still likes to dabble in programming, and our actual developers have locked him out of more websites than we can count. You can follow him on Twitter @scottkasun.