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We had a great client meeting today about a new product they wanted our help to launch. And during the discussion, the client casually mentioned another company who had produced a video last year that was “supposed to go viral.” But, of course it didn’t; the client, and we, both recognized you can’t just prescribe for a video to “go viral.”

Coincidentally, when I got back to my desk after the meeting, I had an email from my brother with a link to a YouTube video for TNT in Europe. I clicked on the link because I trust my brother’s taste. I clicked the play button. I laughed. I covered my mouth in horror. I watched the whole thing. I immediately tweeted to 1,000+ followers that they had to watch it.

The video was posted yesterday. As of 2:30 today, it has 4.5 MILLION views. Now that’s what I’d call viral.

Why did one video “go viral,” and another not? Of course, it’s impossible to predict exactly what will work and what won’t. But in comparing the 2 videos, a few things become obvious.

DON’T:

  • Make your viral video 6 minutes long.
  • Introduce it with large corporate logos.
  • Introduce it (after the logos) with a lecturer and definitions.
  • Make it hard to understand (both the plot and the audio).
  • Use a fake setting that looks almost real, but is obviously low budget.
  • Host it on your own servers. (While the video was also on YouTube, the company hosted it on their website in their own player.)
  • Use the same topic and approach as several other videos. (One similar video on YouTube had 40,000 views, but was obviously done in a tongue-in-cheek, cheesy, humorous style — and was easily understandable.)

DO:

  • Make your video brief.
  • Use a dramatic opening.
  • Use good pacing.
  • Use suspense.
  • Use real human emotion.
  • Use humor and pathos.
  • Throw in some unexpected plot twists.
  • You might also add guns, a girl in a bikini, and a football player or two for good measure.

In short, it’s just like telling a story. People like to pass on good stories. And in order for a video to go viral, it needs to have that same kind of emotional tug.

Your thoughts?

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Chevy Camaro grad commercialSo I’ve heard some folks spent tonight watching a football game. Me? I was too busy watching commercials, and that means it’s time for VantagePoint Marketing’s third annual Super Bowl commercial review. Here are my admittedly biased first impressions of each national ad (and a few locals too). I’ve tried to capture them as they happened, from kickoff to the closing plays, as they aired here in Greenville. (Want to catch them again, or see the longer version they couldn’t afford to air on the Super Bowl? Check them out on the NBC Sports website or on YouTube.)

So, without further ado:

Bud Light Platinum
Nice production values. But forgettable. Why do we need a platinum beer, exactly?

Audi Vampires
This is a perfect example of telling a story that supports a brand benefit – Audi’s relatively unique LED headlights. Very nicely done, with great editing and a well-crafted story (not to mention playing off the vampire theme that I’m sure more than a few folks would like to see come to an end very soon!). The end is a great touch (I won’t give it away if you haven’t seen it). Nice use of a Twitter hashtag in the commercial as well.

Pepsi
Not sure what a costume drama has to do with Pepsi, but it’s interesting to watch. At last Elton John has a real reason for an over-the-top costume, though. And the blackletter title screen is a nice touch – kudos to the art director.

Hyundai Velostar Turbo
Yep. A cheetah’s always a good way to demonstrate speed. Not sure we needed to see the critter turn on the guy, though. Pretty effective – you can’t leave the commercial without getting the impression of speed.

Bud Light Platinum 2
Yawn. Just another beer commercial with fake, good-looking people.

M&Ms
A naked M&M? Why, exactly? I love M&Ms, but have never really been a huge fan of their current commercial theme of turning-what-you-eat-into-a-character. And this one is less effective than some of the other previous incarnations. Pass.

Best Buy
“We created Words with Friends.” On a plane. Great touch. But I was so distracted by the joke that I didn’t get why Best Buy was doing the commercial. Not really effective in my book.

Coca-Cola Polar Bears
The CGI looks less “real” than some previous commercials. And not sure I really get the theme in just one viewing. Bring back the old bears!

Chevrolet truck
Very effective way to show the Chevy Truck is strong. But the apocalypse theme is a little too depressing. (In fact, some scenes looked a little 9/11 New-Yorkish.) The “Dave didn’t make it. Dave drove a Ford.” “Twinkie?” exchange adds some important light-heartedness, though.

Bridgestone
You know, I really wanted to like this commercial. A football made of tire tread had SO many opportunities for comedy and demonstration. But they threw it all away (pardon the pun) with a bizarre curving pass and a Deion Sanders temper tantrum.

GoDaddy
Predictable. You can’t help but notice the dot-co domain pitch, but other than that, the innuendo is nothing new.

Lexus
Pretty ordinary car commercial. There was potential for much more drama and suspense, but the directing and editing (and even music) didn’t allow it to build properly. And why is this Lexus particularly different, other than the front grille?

Battleship movie
Transfomers with smaller robots. I really wanted them to say “G-4” or “you sunk my battleship” at some point. But they didn’t.

Budweiser Prohibition
Very cinematic and gorgeous to watch. (Love the guy from the barbershop with the shaving cream still on his face.) Nice way to show heritage.

Doritos
Snack food as bribery. Canine-human communication. Post-it notes from dogs. Funny. (Poor Fluffy.)

Chevrolet Camaro
“Hey, Mr. Johnson just stole my car!” Great premise, clear tie to the brand, compelling story, funny. (I love how the innocent jogger passing by gets drawn in to the celebration.) And was created entirely by a 26-year-old dude from Long Island. Very nice.

GE Turbines
Informational, nicely lit and shot. And then they throw in the beer thing? Grasping at straws a little. Maybe even pandering?

John Carter movie
Creatures in the sand threaten the world, and we’re all rescued by some rugged-looking hunk. SURELY this has been done before. Right? Sigh.

TaxACT
Really? Watching a little desperate kid finally decide to pee in the pool? And linking that to “free”? Is that the best they could come up with to compete with H&R Block and TurboTax?

The Lorax movie
Entertaining, fun voices. But I’ve seen it before. My opinion: if you’ve paid for a SuperBowl spot, PLEASE show an original commercial!

Volkswagen, Dog/Vader
This was a good — not great — commercial. Until it “ended.” And started again in (pardon my limited Star-Warsian knowledge) some bar on a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away. In VW’s attempt to reproduce last year’s awesomeness, I think the commercial just got confusing.

H&M
David Beckham, in all his tattooed and skivvy-clad glory. I guess it’s ok, if you’re into that kind of thing — and $15 tighty-whities. (The ad buyer did realize the Super Bowl is football, not futbol, right?)

Coca Cola Polar Bears #2
Ok, I get it. He’s playing football and not even realizing it. This one is more fun, despite the image quality. Was the first one just a setup?

Chevy Sonic
This is a lot of fun, and the agency made a great choice for the soundtrack. Definitely shows the edgy, fun side of a car that Chevy is working hard to sell to fun-loving twenty-somethings. I love that they start the commercial with a full-screen “don’t try this at home” disclaimer. And a “Please.”

Star Wars 3D movie
I guess here is my opportunity to learn about the location of the bar in the VW commercial. And in 3D, no less.

The Avengers movie
Well, I knew it was going to be for a movie. I just wasn’t sure which superhero was going to get title billing. (I almost thought it might have been a satire.)

Telefora
“Guys, Valentine’s Day is not that complicated. Give, and you shall receive,” she says. Ok, well, maybe in some guys’ dreams (see Kia Optima, below), but I’m afraid it’s a bit more complicated than that in real life. However, the commercial is memorable for its simplicity and immediate link to Teleflora. I bet it’ll sell some flowers.

Skechers Mr. Quiggly
The CGI looks awkward. As does Mark Cuban. And while the new shoes may have some benefit (not sure what “midfoot strikers” means), it’s certainly not evident how they tie to a pug that runs faster than greyhounds.

Xbox Kinect
Using the NFL Films announcer is a nice touch, but it’s a really boring commercial. No entertainment value. And therefore, in this cast of very capable characters, I lost interest before the ad was 10 seconds in.

Cars.com
Ok, the falsetto singing back-arm is just a little freaky. Not sure it does much to sell Cars.com, even if it does give you “confidence.” I just couldn’t quit looking at the singing back-arm-thingy.

Doritos
Grandma-in-a-motorizing-wheelchair endangering a baby by turning it into a strapped-in projectile? Where is Health & Human Services when you need them? (Here’s hoping some nit-wit doesn’t try to emulate the commercial.)

eTrade
The baby is back. With a friend “speed dating” in the nursery? It’s gotten to the point where I don’t pay attention to what the baby is saying anymore; I just look for the gimmicks. Which means I’m not learning much about the brand.

G.I. Joe movie
Explosions. Machines. Bruce Willis. Works for me.

NFL
Win a million bucks. And waste it through sheer excess. Why, exactly? I guess an elaborate scheme to get your contact information.

Camry
Touching. Including Rusty and Mr. Sprinkles with their heads out the window. I love how they turn the car into a story.

Hulu Plus
Mint-flavored brains. Mmmmm. Yummy. (Huh?)

Bud Light
Nerds at the Halftime bar, that they got confused with the real halftime. Yawn.

Chrysler
Halftime in America, narrated by Clint Eastwood. Nice followup to last year’s imported from Detroit ad. Perhaps a little too sappy. And if I hadn’t seen the glimpses of Chrysler products throughout and figured out what the gig was, I might have felt a little betrayed. Nonetheless, the “halftime in America” is a pretty effective phrase, and nicely used for a halftime ad.

Jack in the Box bacon burger
I’ll admit I don’t have the insatiable hankering for bacon that some other folks do. But “you may now eat the bride” is just plain funny. Kudos to the copywriter.

Fiat 500 Abarth
I’ll admit I’ve seen this spot before, but not sure if on regular TV or not. So I’ll pretend this was the first time. The foreign language adds a bit of mystery at the outset, but I don’t get the payoff. Too much screen time for the Italian model, not enough screen time for the Italian car.

Pepsi Max
Ha! An ill-timed traitorous purchase of a Pepsi Max means that Regis awards Pepsi Max for life to the Coca-Cola delivery driver. Nice spin on the ongoing series.

Toyota Camry Reinvented
Ok, so I laughed and laughed at this one. It makes it obvious they have reinvented the Toyota Camry. And what’s not to like about a reinvented DMV with golf and ice cream (although the lady behind the counter is still spot-on-DMV-employee!).The deadpan announcer is perfect as well. Maybe not the best spot, but fun to watch.

Coca-Cola
Ok, back to not getting the point.

Dannon Oikos yogurt
So I’m annoyed with this commercial right away. First, I have no interest whatsoever in watching grown couples tease one another with food. Just not my thing.  And then the violence . . . over yogurt? Not appealing.

Century 21
How many celebrities can you cram in a commercial? At least they all have ties to the new “smarter. bolder. faster.” tagline. And no, Donald, you don’t get a do-over.

Acura NSX
This has Jerry Seinfeld, some great lines and a great surprise at the end. But it’s a lot of money for Acura to throw at a commercial for a product that only a few thousand people will buy, is three years away (says the fine print), and has little if any tie to an Acura you can buy at your dealer today. Fun commercial. Waste of money.

GE Appliance Park
Better than the turbine commercial. A little mundane, and self-congratulatory, though — how does the fact that you’ve created new jobs matter to me, the customer? I’m probably not going to go out and buy a GE fridge as a result.

Budweiser Heritage #2
Again, a nicely filmed review of the last century following prohibition, with Budwesier at the center. I repeat what I said earlier – an effective way to show heritage, and bring the brand into 2012.

Bridgestone
Here we go again. Tire technology on a ball – a basketball this time. And why does a quieter basketball matter? I just don’t get it, Bridgestone.

Honda CRV – Matthew Broderick
Fun, and a good way to carry through the “bucket list” theme that Honda has been using for the launch of the new CRV. I’m just a little bothered throughout by thinking that Mr. Broderick would probably be driving something far different than a CRV on his day playing hooky . . .

Act of Valor movie
Intriguing. Real Navy Seals? (Can they do that?) Looks like it could be a good movie.

Met Life
So Snoopy wasn’t enough? Nearly every cartoon character ever invented shows up for Met Life this time? Not sure I get why they are all involved — I got distracted trying to identify characters and missed the message.

Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Car as a life support device. Now that’s a new one. I like how Mr. Henderson becomes “Bob?!” after he appears to have passed on.

Bud Light
I’m predicting “Here we go” will be one of those phrases that gets WAY overused. And I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for that poor dog Wigo (Wego? Weego?). He just LOOKED weary.

Kia Optima Dream
Motley Crue, massive sandwiches, hot babes, and a  . . . Kia Optima? Really? The premise is good, but paying off with a Korean sedan as a “dream car” just doesn’t ring true. Bugatti, Ferrari, even Corvette, and I’m sold. And Mr. Sandman is just plain creepy looking.

Careerbuilder
Those monkeys were funny the first time. Now – at least at first watch – they come across as a bit creepy. If I worked with co-workers that bad, I would have left my job LONG ago. (Since I work with the wonderful folks at VantagePoint, that won’t be happening any time soon! Sorry, Careerbuilder.)

Samsung Galaxy Note
It started out looking like a repeat of a previous commercial. Fortunately I stuck with it – did everyone? It gets a little over the top, though. And I wish they’d spent more time explaining why it was a better phone (my Palm Pilot, circa 1998, has a pen). Have to give them some credit for admitting “that was over the top” at the end. (And I promise – I typed it before they said it.)

Cadillac ATS
I’ve driven some really good Cadillacs on a racetrack, and I’ve “driven” (on Playstation) the Nurburgring. But this was one ordinary commercial. Sorry, Cadillac.

GoDaddy
If 14-year-old boys were the primary audience for web hosting, this would be a great strategy. However, last I checked, they aren’t

NBC Sports Network
Ok, so I haven’t been commenting on NBC promos. But I have to give a shout-out to this ad. Touching, inspiring, and nicely narrated. And local hero George Hincapie makes an appearance about 3/4 of the way though, at the end of last year’s Tour de France.

My favorite? Probably the Chevrolet Camaro ad, with the Audi vampires spot a close second. That’s my opinion – what’s yours?

While the buzz over Google+ has certainly dropped dramatically in the months since Google launched the service, one of the more eagerly-anticipated features has been Google+ pages for business. Yesterday, Google formally launched Google+ Brand Pages.

Although the service suffered a few hiccups yesterday and wasn’t completely available for all users, by late afternoon it was up and running for everyone. We set up a VantagePoint page (please add us to your circles!), and captured the step-by-step process it took us to do so.

Here’s how to set up a Google+ brand page for your company:

1. Log in to your Google account, presumably one that you already have a Google+ account for. (It appears you cannot, at present, use an existing Google profile you may have created for your brand or company.) IMPORTANT: for the near term, you will be the “owner” of this profile, and it will be linked to your Google account. Others will not be able to edit this profile until Google opens up brand pages for multiple editing. Keep this in mind as you proceed.

2. Visit http://plus.google.com/pages/create.

3. You will now see the “Create a page” screen. Now it’s time to get started.

4. On the left side, choose the category that you wish your company to belong to. For now, we’re going to assume you will be a “company, institution or organization.”  Unless you have a major brand or a local walk-in store, this is probably the most appropriate category to choose. (If you roll over the category types, you’ll get a brief explanation to help you decide.)

5. When you choose your category, the right side of your screen will populate with several fields for you to fill in, including company name, website, business type, and page visibility. Fill in the appropriate blanks.

6. After a few seconds, you will see the beginning of your company’s Google+ page.

7. Enter your tagline. You can enter as many words as you want, but only the first 10 words will be displayed on your profile.

8. Add a profile photo — or a logo. Clicking on the “change profile photo” will bring you to a screen where you can import and crop an image.

9. When you’ve updated the tagline and the profile photo, click “continue.” You’ll next have the option to tell your circles about your new page from your personal Google+ account. Go ahead — or you can wait until later as well — and click “Finish” when you’re done.

10. You’ll now be taken to your official Google+ brand page. There are a number of options here to get you started in sharing, promoting, and linking to your new page. One of the nice things that Google has done is make it easy to switch between using the page as “you” or as “your company” by clicking on the little arrow next to your profile photo/logo.

11. You’ll also notice your stream changes appropriately — instead of friends, family, and following, you’ll see links for customers, VIPs, and team members.

Spend a few minutes exploring Google+ brand pages. Your first instinct will be to start adding folks to your circles. However, it appears you currently can’t — that is, until they add you first. (All the more reason to add VantagePoint to your Google+ circle!) We’re not sure if this is temporary, or if it’s Google’s way of making sure brands don’t overwhelm the general public.

Time will tell whether Google+ will replace or merely supplement Facebook and Twitter (or disappear entirely, as several other Google properties have). But for now, we think it’s important to take advantage of a social media service directly connected to the world’s largest search engine.

Just a few of our 2011 BMA Carolinas ProAd awards

VantagePoint Marketing was honored last night in Charlotte by the Business Marketing Association of the Carolinas with its 3rd straight Agency of the Year award, as well as 38 other awards in total. These awards were given for outstanding creative, strategy and results for projects created over the last year for business-to-business marketing clients across the country.

In addition to the Agency of the Year award, we also received 5 Gold awards, 17 Silver awards, and 16 Bronze awards. Work for a total of 11 different clients was awarded, including Estes Express Lines, T&S Brass, Milliken, Nucor Building Systems, SEW Eurodrive, S&D Coffee, Polydeck, BMA Carolinas, Thrace-LINQ, and VantagePoint.

This is the 5th time in the last 6 years that we have won the Agency of the Year award for B2B marketing in both North and South Carolina. We were thrilled to be honored against tough competition, including very strong showings by Jackson Marketing Group and PhaseTwo.biz.

Thanks to an amazing team at VantagePoint that made this year’s success possible!

Dave, Joe, Angie and Ryan after the ceremony

Last week, LinkedIn made it possible for LinkedIn users to be able to post status updates for their companies on LinkedIn. The process is relatively simple for users who are company page administrators. But, if you haven’t heard about it, here’s a quick overview of the new LinkedIn status update for company pages.
Read the rest of this entry »

Saturn Aura & Saturn L200

RIP, Saturn.

I’ve got a problem. My wife and I are shopping for a car, but the brand we have purchased for our last 4 cars (yes, we may have been obsessively loyal) no longer exists. So what brands to consider now? And why?

And while I pondered these deep questions, I also began wondering what made customers “brand loyal” in general. I’m sure there are boatloads of reasons, simple and complex, but 6 obvious motivations jumped out at me. (Feel free to add your reasons in the comments.)

And, it also occurred to me that companies can probably work a little harder to make it easier for their customers to be loyal. How? The obvious way is by spending some resources to reinforce or promote one (or more) of these loyalty reasons. Some companies do this really, really well: think Apple, IKEA, In and Out Burger, Zappos, and NewEgg. Others? Well, not so much.

1. Trust. Customers know what to expect when buying from companies they are loyal to. This trust can take many forms, but generally will include reliability, or ease of use, or suitability for a particular task. In short, there are no surprises: it’s worked in the past, and they expect it to work in the future. This applies to big purchases, as well as mundane ones like diapers, trash bags, laundry detergent and underwear.

2. Ease of doing business. Customers buy because it’s easy to make a transaction, and customer service is painless (sometimes even fun). Amazon and Zappos are great examples. The prices are great, shipping is simple, and returns are (relatively) uncomplicated.

3. Passion. Customers feel really, really strongly about the brand. Usually there are other intangible factors at work here, such as the buying experience, or some sort of cult-like following. And it’s a hard thing to foster. Early Saturn cars created this passion, partly because of the way they were sold, and partly because of an unexpected reputation for helping occupants survive horrific crashes. And we all know about fanaticism for Apple products — even in the early 90s when it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to be passionate about Apple products.

4. Appearances. Customers buy something to make a statement. BMWs and Subarus. Rolex watches. Brooks Brothers suits. Even something as mundane as Target. (How many of you have told a friend about a great shelf or shirt you found at Target? Now how many of you have said the same about something you’ve found at Walmart?)

5. Laziness. (Okay, perhaps this is not a motivation to aspire to.) Essentially, customers don’t have any really strong reason to change brands, so they stick with what they’re already doing. Or, in the case of some brands (some cable providers come to mind), customers feel the hassle of changing isn’t worth the benefit, no matter how frustrated they may be with a company.

6. Economic. Customers have some monetary reason to patronize a business. Coupons. Deals. Locality. Even affinity programs, such as frequent flyer miles or credit card rewards. It could be even as basic as price (although this is a very dangerous foundation to build loyalty on, as someone can almost ALWAYS undercut you on price).

Is there one of these reasons your company already commands brand loyalty? And are you doing everything you can to capitalize on your “loyalty advantage”?

Or, the best laid plans of mice, men and fish can very easily go awry (with due apologies to Robert Burns).

flying fishConsider this: your marketing and public relations campaign works wonders, and one of the country’s largest aggregators of funny videos sends an email with a link to YOUR COMMERCIAL on YouTube. The video of your product — radio controlled flying sharks and fish — gets hundreds of thousands of views – nearly 1.4 million total. You are smart and include a hyperlink to your website on YouTube.

And guess what? Your marketing team didn’t tell your IT team, and your website can’t handle the traffic. Instead, you give potential customers a “Sorry, our store is currently experiencing higher than normal volume. Please try again later.” message. And how many of those potential customers will REALLY try again later? My guess? Not many.

Now consider this scenario: your national sit-down restaurant chain sends out a flyer with a special meal offer and coupons in the local newspapers. Your customers see the meal — a combo of seafood, steak and chicken — and decide to visit your restaurant. The customer notices that the flyer mentions “limited time offer” — but no date is listed. The coupons, however, include an expiration date at the end of the current month. So, the customer assumes that the meal will certainly be available for at least as long as the coupon applies, right?

And guess what? Your operations staff and your marketing team didn’t communicate, and the restaurant is no longer offering the meal combo. “I’m sorry,” says the waiter. “We stopped that offer last week.” Well, of course, the customer is at the table, so he’ll order something different. But do you think that customer will think twice before responding to a marketing offer from this restaurant in the future?

The bottom line: make sure your logistics are in line with your marketing. It does no good to spend money marketing a product that your customers simply can’t buy, even if they want to.

If you’re like most B2B companies, you launch new or improved products or services every year. After all, that’s one of the easiest ways to increase sales and market share.

But time and again, businesses are disappointed with underperforming new products or services. A study by OnTarget and Impact Marketing showed that nearly 80% of executives ranked their method of launching products as “neutral” or worse. And 60% of launch failures are due to poor planning.

VantagePoint Marketing has helped dozens of B2B companies plan, execute and market new product and service launches. Recently a few members of our leadership team recorded a discussion about how we help companies make their launches more successful. Take a few minutes to watch excerpts from that discussion below (it’s only 4 minutes), and see if there’s anything VantagePoint can do to help you with your new product or service launch. (Or, feel free to watch the video in HD, along with other videos, on VantagePoint Marketing’s YouTube channel.)

Disney World Magic Kingdom castle sideLast week I discussed points 1 and 2 of how Disney creates an immersive brand and makes billions doing so. I talked about the People and the Environment, based on a recent trip to Walt Disney World and a Disney cruise ship.

Without further ado, I’m going to jump right into points 3, 4 and 5.

3. The Expectation: When you go to a Disney property, you expect it to be clean, safe and family-friendly. You don’t expect to see any trash on the ground, or peeling paint, or grime-covered restrooms. You expect to have fun. And Disney, almost always, delivers. The fireworks are always fantastic, the parades are always a bit schmaltzy but well-done, the rides are always fun if not the most thrilling, the bathrooms are almost always clean, the food is almost always expensive but palatable — and the experience is always fun. It takes work to create that expectation, and you’d better believe Disney works really, really hard to make sure that they don’t let you down.

The application: make sure your customers know what to expect from their dealings with you. (And it should go without saying that you should deliver on their expectations.) Product quality, personal interaction, service times — without consistency, your brand is tremendously weakened. If a customer gets a good product the first time and a shoddy one the second, they may or may not give you another chance. (Of course, if they get a shoddy product the first time, your chances of repeat business are about zero.)

4. The Visual Cues: Disney’s staff are masters at using graphic design, architecture and foliage to enhance the guest experience. Whether entering a 1700s Spanish-style fort for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, a 1920s mountain park service hotel at the Wilderness Lodge, or the maze-like narrow streets of the Morocco portion of Epcot Center, you really feel you’ve gone someplace else.

United Kingdom streeet in Epcot at Disney World

Disney's attention to detail can transport you to an English street in the middle of Orlando

One of the things that makes navigating all of these various “worlds” possible is the consistent visual branding and graphic design. Each park has its own guidemap and signage system, but they are similar enough that once you get the hang of it, you can go anywhere without getting lost. The graphic design elements for each hotel are unique to the property, but follow a common theme and architecture that makes it obvious you’re in Disney World, whether you’re at the Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Polynesian Resort. Wayfinding is simple, and you know what to expect.

The application: strive for consistency and ease of user experience in your visual branding and graphic design. Your colors, your website, your sales collateral, your advertising, even your teams shirts at your trade show booth, should all reflect a consistency of style. That’s not to say that everything has to be cookie-cutter; in fact, a “matching” approach will actually lead to confusion, as your audience can’t tell a spec sheet for one product from a promo brochure for another. But certainly a family look and approach, led by a skilled art director, can increase the perceived value of your brand.

5. The Feeling: OK, yes, this gets a bit vague. But the impression is real. When you go to a Disney property, or sail on a Disney ship, you feel as though you’ve been transported. Yes, sometimes its an over-sanitized version of the real world. But if you can, for a few hours or a few days, be transported somewhere else, who wouldn’t take the opportunity?

Disney realizes this. They understand how to produce this feeling through people, and botany, and architecture, and sound, and food. They understand they can make money by offering the same goods and packaging them with “the feeling.” And they do it well.

Case in point: On Main Street in Disney World is a hot dog store. It sells large hot dogs, nachos, Cracker Jack and drinks. A hot dog and fries is about $7. Yes, $7 — you can probably buy the same thing from a store near you for less than half that. But it wouldn’t be in a turn-of-the-century building with a piano player and folks that meet you at the door and counter staff dressed up in 1920s baseball uniforms. (And they probably don’t sell Cracker Jack, either.) You wouldn’t have the tradition. You wouldn’t have “the feeling.” And you wouldn’t, like our family does, make it the place we always eat dinner on the last night at Disney World.

The application: find a way to incorporate a “feeling” into doing business with your company. It could be something simple, like a pickle. It could be something significant, like having your president or VP of sales calling to check on every order of a certain size. But it’s an intangible that will set your company apart from the others — and perhaps allow you to charge a premium.

No, doing business will probably never be quite as fun as a trip to Disney World. But we can certainly take ideas from the master entertainers at Disney and find ways to improve our companies as a result.

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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