Disney World Magic Kingdom castle at nightOur family recently returned from a Disney trip, and I was left awestruck once again. Not specifically because of the launch speed of Rock and Roller Coaster, or the thrill of Mission:Space (or the neck-rattling twists and turns of Space Mountain), although those sure are fun.

No, it was because of Disney’s amazing skill at immersing you in another world. With careful work with architecture, branding, plants, costuming, and most importantly, people, they transport you from hot-and-sticky Orlando to any number of places, real or imagined, this world or otherwise. And they make it so you never want to leave.

This immersive branding pays dividends for Disney. Their ticket prices easily command a premium over your local Six Flags for, arguably, fewer “thrill” rides. Their hotels also are somewhat more expensive for slightly smaller rooms. And yet, both theme parks and hotels always seem to be more crowded, even in off season, than you would expect outside the “World.”

From a harder-to-quantify perspective, the draw that a Disney vacation holds over a trip to your local theme park for any child (and for a substantial portion of the grownup population as well) is considerable. (After all, where do Super-Bowl winning quarterbacks get excited about?)

So how does Disney do it? And what can we apply to our companies? Books have been written about this topic by people far more knowledgeable than an occasional visitor, but here are my observations from visiting several Disney properties over the course of a week.

1. The People: Yes, they wear uniforms that associate them with their hotel, ride, theme park, or park section. But Tire King employees wear uniforms too.

server at Animators Palette

The dinner servers really get into the act during Disney's "Pirate's IN the Caribbean" night

It’s far more than that. It’s the training. It’s the philosophy that they are Cast Members and not Employees. It’s the well-drilled approach that everyone, from the maintenance crew to the cashiers to the Guest Services folks, are there to serve Guests.

Disney even goes so far as to hire natives whenever possible: we experienced check-in staff at the Coronado Springs hotel from Latin American countries; cashiers in the United Kingdom section of the Epcot theme park from Scotland; and a program director on our international Disney cruise from Australia.

The application: train your people, from your receptionist, to your sales staff, to your customer service staff, to your installers, to live out your company’s brand at ALL times.

2. The Environment: When Disney takes over an area, for better or worse, it becomes all Disney. Once you drive onto Disney property, your eyes are immediately relieved of the hundreds of billboards and business signs that pepper the rest of Orlando. When you climb a Disney cruise ship, you enter another world, a world that is all Disney. (Even the channels on the ship’s TV are almost entirely Disney properties: the ship information line, ESPN, Disney Channel, an ABC affiliate, etc.)

Of course, you have to have a bit of tolerance for the Disney characters (but less than you might think). But what this leads to is a palpable mental vacation. During your trip to the park of the day, you’re greeted by beautiful landscaping, not 45 billboards. I’ve felt similarly when driving into the corporate headquarters of some companies, and, at least for me, it creates a more pleasant mood.

Where this benefits the company financially is that now you are Disney’s captive. You’re no longer being reminded where else you can spend your money, so you (naturally) tend to spend it on things Disney. They’ve even gone so far as to offer a service that will pick you up at the Orlando airport for free, and whisk you in a Disney-branded coach to your Disney hotel. There, you will spend the week eating Disney food, being transported for free by Disney buses (eliminating the need for a rental car), visiting Disney theme parks, playing Disney mini-golf, and eating Disney food. And when your trip is over, the Disney bus will deposit you in front of the check-in desk back at the airport. It’s a wonderful coup for Disney. Every penny you’ve spent is in their pockets. (Except for the airlines. Who knows? Maybe they’re working on that as well?)

Disney Dream cruise ship in port

The Disney Cruise Line even went so far as to get permission from the Coast Guard to paint the lifeboats the same color as the yellow on Mickey's shoes.

The application: although you can’t buy a few thousand acres of swampland and transport all your customers to be your captives, you can make sure your customers have no reason to go anywhere else. Make your website a living example of your brand, and make it possible with content and internal links for your customers to find everything they need right there — ROI calculators, customer reviews, product specs, contact information. This also applies to printed collateral and ads as well — make it as easy as possible for your customers to do business with YOU, and not look somewhere else that might lead to losing business to your competitors.

Next week I’ll write about the Expectation, the Visual Cues, and the Feeling. The end result, though, is that when you leave a Disney property, you feel disappointed that you’re leaving. I can’t imagine any brand, B2B or B2C, that wouldn’t want their customers to feel a similar way.

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