Our perspective at VantagePoint

5 ways to create an immersive brand (part 1)

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.


  • I first read about Disney’s staff as performers in the book Made to Stick.

    They “audition” instead of interview for the job. They wear “costumes,” not uniforms. They’re “on stage” when they’re at work.

    This terminology makes it fairly simple for employees to know how to serve the “guests” (not “customers”).

  • So true – it’s amazing how something as seemingly simple as semantics can change the way people interact with one another. I’ve picked up another book about applying Disney management principles to your company titled “The Disney Way.” I’m eager to see what I can learn.

  • Agree! Here is something that I sent to my team soon after I returned from a Disney experience…

    I didn’t go to Disney World to learn business lessons, but while I was there I couldn’t help but notice aspects of the way customers were treated. It caused me to compare how I view our “Guests” and whether we see ourselves as “Cast Members” in the movie or just people performing tasks. This isn’t a dissertation, just some quick observations that I hope will spark some thoughts on how we can continue to improve.

    1. Happy companies have happy customers.

    Disney World is sometimes called “the happiest place on earth.” Of course, I’m sure it has its share of issues. However, you wouldn’t know that from looking at the folks who work there. Employees for the mouse are always projecting happiness. Guess what? It is contagious! It hit me that not only where the workers courteous, sympathetic, and helpful — most all of the customers were around me as well!

    2. Employees sold on a vision will infect customers with that vision.

    Not only where customers happy, but they also would join in with the spirit of the employees. Why is Disney World so clean? Sure, part of it is because there are workers constantly going around picking up trash, but also because you will find customers going out of their way to find a trash can and even picking up trash that others have dropped.

    3. It isn’t Disney magic. It’s Disney management.

    The Cast Members will tell you to please step back as the door will soon open “automagically.” It seems that there is a lot of magic going on as everything seems to tick along perfectly. Everything that you might think you need seems to be just where you need it.

    However, it isn’t magic. It’s management. If you stop and notice you will find that even seemingly random events or structures have a purpose and an ultimate plan. Everything is managed. – that is the magic. It all takes a whole lot of work!

    4. Parameters and rules that exist to meet needs are well received.

    You don’t really think about it, but there are a whole bunch of rules at Disney World. However, rarely do you hear anyone complaining about them. Why? My guess is that Disney World’s approach to rules is to come from the customer’s point-of-view and not the companies.

    Why do we have lines? It isn’t because Disney World needs to manage the huge crowds that come there. It is because the customers need to have a safe, orderly, and efficient means to get to the ride. The rule is you must wait in line, but Disney World then makes even the act of waiting in line an event!

    5. Every cast member is an integral part of the whole experience.

    Want to work at Disney World (and a WHOLE lot of people do)? Then prepare to join an experience, not a process. Want some detailed information about a ride or upcoming event? Don’t worry about walking all the way over to some information booth. Just approach one of those quiet guys moving about the park scooping up dropped popcorn.

    These folks are sold on the overall mission of Disney. Whether on station or walking across the park after finishing a task, the job never ends. As long as there is a Guest around, you are still in costume. It is your job to make sure that the customer receives a consistent Disney experience at all times.

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