Treebird does Disney: One week at the most well-branded place on earth—and what small businesses can learn from it

The sightline as you enter the newly renovated Polynesian Village Resort points your eyes directly through the lobby and out the back’s glass façade, across Seven Seas Lagoon, to the white and blue spires of Cinderella’s Castle. Immediately, even as you adjust the lei ceremoniously presented to you after you depart your vehicle, and take in the lush tropical landscaping, the dramatic waterfalls, and the large, wooden Tiki man holding court in the center of the lobby, Disney is sending your brain a clear signal: The real magic is right over there. So get to it! 

Disney World, if it were almost any other entity, would greatly risk overpromising, one of branding’s biggest no-nos. The most magical place on earth is not just a superlative, it’s a superlative based entirely on fantasy. And the fantasy winds the consumer into such a frenzy—this vacation has to be perfect!—that there is hardly any margin for error at the Disney World enterprise.

The supporting branding of Disney—the happiest place on earth, and where dreams come true—only reinforce the sky-high expectations. And yet, Disney World, by-and-large delivers.

But how? 

10  things small businesses can learn from Disney

1)  Always be “show ready.” Disney never takes a day off, never forgets to sweep up Main Street U.S.A. even when the park is open until 2 a.m. The experience is always a 10.

2)  Make every customer feel important. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first, wide-eyed time to Disney World or you’re fiftieth—you feel cared about, known, and listened to from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave.

3)  Excel at storytelling.  Disney World rides by and large don’t rely on thrills—they rely on emotion, on immersion, and on transporting guests into other worlds. All that is accomplished through story, not facts or stats or lists of deliverables.

4)  Don’t rush things.  Small businesses often try too hard to do everything at once, and in doing so can sacrifice quality to quantity. There’s a reason Disney spends years building new lands and attractions—and it’s not lack of resources. Meticulous craftsmanship, counsel, and customer service take time.

5)  Reinforce your brand promise in every interaction. Guests expect magic from Disney—precisely because that’s what Disney insists that they expect. Then the onus is on Disney to deliver---but if that seed wasn’t first planted in guests’ minds, well, look at Universal.

6)  You can have a bad day—but your clients should never feel it. Imagine if Mickey Mouse walked right past your family because the cast member inside was going through a rough time? Your personal life should never negatively affect your clients. So buck up, buttercup.

7)  Be achingly consistent. It doesn’t matter if you’re staying at the Grand Floridian or that weird All-Star Resort, every one of the millions of guests at WDW every year gets the same amazing treatment. And if they don’t, you better believe Disney goes out of their way to make it up to them and invite them back.

8)  Incentivize in a way that your clients appreciate. Disney resort guests get “Extra Magic Hours” each day to the various parks. This makes them more likely to stay on property. And to spend more money within the confines of WDW. What do they get in return—the opportunity to feel “special” compared to others, and to have more quality experiences. Every transaction can be a win-win.

9)  Listen first. And second. And third. The easiest way to ruin a client experience is to get defensive about something that didn’t go right. Sometimes even the Monorail breaks down. But Disney doesn’t make up excuses. They patiently listen to complaints, and go above and beyond to make things right.

10)  When all else fails, song and dance.  Who can resist a little soft-shoe?

For a brand based on being the most magical place on earth, remember, even a 9.5 is going to disappoint. When Disney’s at their best, they get that thing up to 11. 

Patrick Kelly