Harvard Business Online

How Would Walt Disney Market in 2009?


Posted on The Near Futurist: December 30, 2008 9:34 AM

Walt Disney, the man, was equal parts technological genius and ancient story teller. He drew upon stories that reverberated with our humanity and told them in sizzling new ways that shaped memorable experiences. Simultaneously he knew how to leverage every powerful method of engaging the consumer and he swarmed them with multiple modes of his message always reinforcing the central stories. For example, Snow White was a movie, a ride, a doll, a book, a dress, a television show, a cartoon, and a set of experiences which all were touchstones to the magic of it all.

As companies try to get their voice "out" in the overcrowded, fragmented, 24x7, blog-filled, multi-dialog, Mad Money Cramer kind of world of 2009, executives need to think carefully about their core stories to customers, employees, and investors—and to use all relevant media to orchestrate the message across the global information network.

In that spirit, I'd like to outline what I think are the core principles that we can all learn from Disney:

1. Know the story is king. Humans like to read about humans and whether you are selling CAT scanners, or auto insurance, every message must have a story that resonates with the human condition at its core. Almost all great stories have ancient roots.

2. Utilize the newest technology to tell that ancient story in a new way. For example, if your firm serves businesses but does not have a marketing message that can be consumed over a BlackBerry then you're behind; if you serve consumers and don't have applications in the Apple App Store, you're out of touch.

3. Coordinate the message across the media. When you leave Disneyland you stroll down a Main Street populated with dolls, and shirts, and hats, and media that all are linked to the wonderful experiences you just had. In today's fragmented world, executives must reinforce key messages by having multiple, consistent, coordinated touch points for the same idea.

4. Have the courage to innovate. Walt Disney initially funded both Disneyland and Disneyworld out of his own pocket, and then sold them back to the corporation because they did not want to take the first risks. Be braver.

5. Ride your uniqueness. Disney received enormous press coverage and accolades because he was doing new things. For example, if you have a direct sales force, what new stories have you given them so they can market themselves on Facebook or LinkedIn or over the BlackBerry? How have you helped them tell a great story about your firm and its services? If you do it, they will talk about it and the media will report on it.

6. Stay on message. With Disney, you only had to see the Castle to conjure up the entire set of thoughts and dreams.

I am optimistic that this downturn will cause people to do more with less. We can draw wisdom from Walt Disney, who understood the multi-media, multi-channel, multi-experience world four score years (what are you thinking of now?) before the rest of us. As Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot just by watching."

Provided by Harvard Business—Where Leaders Get Their Edge


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