I spent last weekend in Disney World for my brother’s wedding. I hadn’t been to Disney World in about a decade but I’m really, really glad I went. Not only because it was nice to see family (it was really, really nice to see family) but because Disney World is a really interesting case study for people who work in media. Here’s why:
If you stay on-site at a Disney resort, you’re picked up from the airport in a Disney bus to be whisked to a Disney hotel, where you eat at thematic Disney restaurants. Disney’s properties cover 43 square miles so it’s likely you won’t step off-site or off-brand during your stay. This also means Disney controls every part of your experience, from the RFID chipped bracelets that let Disney know where you physically are at all times to the transportation you use to get to the theme parks, to your interactions with every single employee on your vacation.
At Disney World, you can see people from every walk of life. There were lots of multigenerational families. There were lots of people from different countries. There were lots of people wearing Happy Birthday buttons. There were people in motorized scooters. Disney creates experiences that cater to each group really well.
I could go on, but basically: Disney is all about the user experience. And they’re all about creating positive memories that people will associate with Disney World, and about creating connections with and to their other branded products — like movies, music, TV shows, and cartoons. And after buying those products, you want to then return to Disney World.
What can we take away from Disney World?
1. Obviously think about the user. Disney is not one size fits all. A homepage doesn’t have to be either.
2. Create meaningful experiences that touch multiple generations. One of my favorite questions to ask people is the first news event they remember. It’s a really good way to see how and what people consume in the news cycle, and how they frame and remember something.
3. It’s good to change some things but not everything. And don’t change anything that goes against your ethos. Teacups? Always there. Toy Story ride? New, but nostalgia made me head back to the teacups too. And Tomorrowland looks like yesterday but will never go away.
4. Measure, measure, measure. The RFID wristband I wore was used as my room key, my park pass, and my incidentals charger. It also knew where I was at any given time. Is this creepy? Yes. Could it ultimately be used to create a more personalized experience on the rides and in the parks? Sure. Will that make me come back? Probably so.
5. Think about what the user sees and what the user doesn’t need to see. I was at Disney World for a wedding which means on the way to the reception, we got to see the back of EPCOT. The back of EPCOT looks like a parking lot with lots of trailers and trash bins in it. The magic is not in the back of EPCOT and people are generally not allowed back there. Disney employees come in through certain entrances and must stay in their designated areas, so no one sees Snow White taking a smoke break. This is on purpose.
6. Tie stuff in with other stuff you do. When I rode on the Disney bus, they played music from a label Disney owns. When I ate ice cream, it was shaped like a Mickey Head. And so on..
7. Build social in. Obviously everyone wants to take photos at Disney World. There are now signs around the parks with hashtags to use and suggested photo locations.
8. And as my mother said, “Mel, you’re on vacation, you don’t need to analyze everything. I don’t want to know any of this stuff. I’m enjoying myself.” You don’t want to annoy your audience, either.