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Behind the Magic: What Event Marketers Can Learn from Disney Parks

The Disney Company’s ability to create unforgettable experiences is legendary, a testament to the brand’s creator, namesake and original storyteller, Walt Disney.

Particularly “sticky” with consumers is the Disney Parks division of the organization: According to numbers released by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), more than 157 million people visit Disney Parks globally each year. The parks hold steady at a five percent annual growth rate and boast a 70 percent return rate among first-time Disney visitors, a notable achievement in the theme park industry. All in all, it’s pretty impressive for something that all started with a mouse.

Interestingly enough, when most people recall what stood out to them during their visit to a Disney Park, it goes way beyond the high-thrill, multimillion dollar attractions. Rather, it’s the parks’ attention to detail, cast member interactions and impeccable cleanliness that makes their experiences so magical. That’s because when you get right down to it, Disney is not really in the business of selling rides, fireworks shows, parades and food. They’re in business of monetizing long-lasting, memorable experiences.

In their quest to engage attendees within an increasingly noisy marketplace, event marketers have a lot to gain from studying Disney’s award-winning methods. Read on for insights on how to tap into the Disney approach and create exceptional, enduring experiences for your target audience.

Walt Disney quote that pertains to event marketers

Insight #1: Experiences can always be improved upon.

When we examine Disney’s penchant for “magic,” perhaps the most unexpected discovery is the brand’s focus on process, as well as its unique ability to optimize mundane details. Some of the innovations that Disney Imagineers have come up with (autonomous stunt doubles, anyone?) are nothing short of spectacular.

Consider its ambient sound systems, which keep audio levels consistent no matter where guests are standing. This feat is achieved by calling to duty more than 15,000 speakers that leverage mathematical algorithms to keep music within a specific decibel range park-wide.

Event marketers have a lot to gain from studying Disney’s award-winning approach
Walt Disney was a master planner, continually looking for smarter ways to scale his enterprise.

The takeaway for event marketers? Perfecting your campaign process is important. But just as key is to continually seek ways to scale and improve upon it.

Insight #2: Your front line is your bottom line.

In reality, the Disney experience has less to do about what the parks offer, and more to do with how they deliver it. As such, all Disney cast members, from the ride operators to guest services agents, are trained to be effective communicators.

For example, the question, “When does the three o’clock parade start?” became so commonplace within the parks that the Disney Institute now utilizes it to train new cast members. Of course guests know that the answer is three o-clock. What they really mean to ask is, “When will the three o’clock parade pass through this exact location?”

The Disney experience has less to do about what they offer, and more with how they deliver.
Whether they’re behind the scenes or helping out on the parade route, Disney Cast Members are crucial the the parks’ bottom line.

Disney creatively uses this question as a litmus test when interviewing potential cast members. Ideal candidates understand guests’ underlying concerns, and offer helpful and considerate advice: “You’re lucky! It should be passing by here in five minutes. Can I help you find a great spot to watch the parade?” Disney takes time to hire the right talent because it understands that those on the front line are a huge part of the bottom line — a crucial ingredient in the recipe for magical moments.

What can event marketers learn from Disney’s example? Training your onsite staff correctly can make or break your event. From check-in to coat check, your event team is the face of your overall marketing campaign.

Insight #3: Walk in someone else’s shoes to understand their experience.

When it comes to creating a consistent brand experience, Disney doesn’t skimp on the details. Consider the fact that while tens of thousands of guests walk through Disney Parks every day, the properties remain spotless. This attention to cleanliness can be traced back to Walt Disney, who spent days walking through the parks — sometimes in disguise. He quickly discovered that many guests would not walk further than a few feet after finishing a food item before littering. To this day, trash cans at Disney Parks are never more than 30 feet apart.

Disney doesn’t skimp out on the details when it comes to creating a consistent brand experience.
When it comes to enhancing the attendee experience, Disney really sweats the small details.

Whether they’re on the content creation or operations side of event marketing, savvy pros take a moment to envision themselves in an attendee’s shoes. Is an email cadence too aggressive? Is the event app interface user friendly? Sussing out potential conflicts helps event marketers uncover friction early on, then smooth over the path for attendees. The result? Higher engagement and increased long-term brand loyalty.

Insight #4: To create immersive experiences, blend the physical & digital.

As mentioned previously, the complete Disney Park experience goes well beyond just rides and attractions. For example, visitors will spend anywhere from a day to a week enjoying the many components that make up Walt Disney World. However, with the average ride lasting only one to seven minutes, just a fraction of guests’ time in the park is actually spent on attractions. The rest is consumed by walking, dining or waiting in line. As a result, Disney has conducted significant research into how to make guest encounters outside the attractions more immersive.

Taking a cue from Disney, event marketers should Blend the physical and digital to create immersive experiences.
The Disney mobile apps encourage guests to prolong their engagement long after the ride is over.

To this end, Walt Disney World was the first theme park to introduce Fastpass+, which allows park visitors to plan and reserve times for popular attractions in advance of their trips. And they didn’t stop there. Now via the completely digital My Disney Experience mobile app, guests can make Fastpass+ choices, search entertainment schedules, book dinner reservations, and even share professional photos and videos from their favorite attractions directly to social media.

Disney’s online platform and onsite infrastructure are prime examples of how a successful digital transformation can boost individual experiences. When it comes to event marketers, embracing event technology has become a vital way for them to enhance attendee participation well beyond the limitations of physical interaction.

The bottom line? Like great event pros across the globe, the folks at Disney aren’t afraid to sweat the small stuff. Despite their firm role as industry pioneers and constant innovators, the Disney team is always looking for ways to plus-size what they do well. In a harried marketing arena, it’s a formula ripe for replication.

Anati Zubia is the Vice President of Marketing at Attendify. She’s spent the last 15 years growing global IT enterprises and SaaS companies by pairing best-in-class technology stacks with best-in-class humans. When she’s not slinging tweets and “geeking out” over the latest tech gadget, you’ll find her writing for her niche Disney travel blog, volunteering for youth STEM programs, or spoiling her two cats, Tony and Cleo, absolutely rotten. Reach out to her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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