As we will discuss throughout this series, creating a compelling narrative requires a carefully devised long-term strategy. But, while this is an important element, what is perhaps the defining factor in a storytelling strategy’s commercial success is its ability to resonate with us, as humans.
We, the people, are not only an audience for brands but also the main characters in enabling their victory. And there is no better way to connect with us than by evoking positive emotional responses.
No one has been as successful at doing just this as Disney, to which I must doff my cap.
The Disney dynasty
What sets Disney apart is its sheer size. No matter who you are or where you are from, it is likely that Disney has played some role in shaping your experiences – whether you’re aware of it or not.
They have created everything from classic childhood shows and Hollywood blockbusters, right through to theme parks and, of course, merchandise in just about every shape and form, too.
Expanding out of your original space so successfully is the hallmark for any powerhouse brand. But, despite its continuous expansion, Disney has kept one vital element at the heart of its offering – the human touch.
In this way, the company has been able to change with the times, while remaining true to itself to and what consumers have come to expect from its output. And this is exactly how Disney has sustained the success it still enjoys today.
A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference…
…is not just a line from a famous Disney character but the very reason we, as an audience, have formed such strong connections with the brand.
At their core, Disney is an expression of the dreams and fantasies of both children and adults, no matter how simple or complex they may be. Whether it is a young girl with a desire to grow up to become a princess or a worrisome child afraid of the monsters in the closet, Disney has allowed imaginations to run wild.
And this has done more than just evoke emotional responses. Consumers have formed strong bonds with the company and its various characters and franchises, whether that be through childhood memories or through the eyes of their children.
That intrinsic human dimension is what creates the Disney magic and is responsible for the company’s huge commercial success.
But, as exploitive as it may seem bending our deepest, most secretive fantasies to its own commercial advantage, we willing turn a blind eye because where else can our dreams come true?
A friend for life
I have spoken about brand loyalty in previous instalments too, namely recalling a story about my daughter, Summer, demonstrating loyalty to Coca-Cola at a very young age and how beneficial it is for brands to create lifelong loyal customers.
Disney do particularly well at encouraging loyalty from childhood. As consumers grow up, their connection with and preference for the brand continues, which ultimately leads to brand advocacy.
But, in the case of Disney, this idea of continued connection is much more interesting. Not only does the bond sustain, it grows and gets ever stronger. For a lot of us, our childhood memories are some of our fondest so you can only imagine the power of a brand that is able to attach itself to them.
And, for those of us who now have children, the connection gets deeper. Seeing the joy and excitement of our children watching their favourite Disney movie or playing with their newest Disney toy can be a memorable highlight of parenting and only encourages a greater emotional attachment to the brand.
The experience economy
What Disney offers is much more than a brand, product or service. It is an entire experience. And, despite the fluctuations of our financial markets, the experience economy remains strong, something which has certainly worked in Disney’s favour over the years.
Whether it is a film, a toy or a theme park visit, the Disney experience is consistent. The brand has always completely understood that the experience of the consumer comes first and is paramount to its success, so it invests heavily in ensuring a seamless delivery every time.
And the investment pays off. From my own personal account, my family and I have been fortunate enough to visit Disneyland a number of times. As an adult and as someone who isn’t particularly fond of rides or rollercoasters, I repeat the purchase over and over again, and enjoy the same, unparalleled experience on every occasion.
Although the experience comes at a relatively high cost, which we would resent in any other instance, we understand that we are buying much more than that. We pay for the memories we are making and the experiences we are unable to get from anywhere else. All of this adds to the Disney phenomenon.
Experience plays a vital role in communicating the brand’s story. Its narrative and essence really come to life when consumers interact with the tangible experiences on offer as they take on a role in the storyline. In this way, deeper emotional bonds are created, bringing the brand to the forefront of both our minds and our memories.
For Disney, storytelling is something that transcends screenplay. It is injected into all aspects of its brand, creating the perfect fairy-tale as far as any marketing strategist is concerned.
A whole new world
Although having remained consistent at its core, Disney’s ability to take strategic risks has been exceptional, and this is another theme that will be discussed consistently throughout this series.
Following the 2009 acquisition of Marvel Entertainment with the $4bn purchase of Lucasfilm, the studio behind the Star Wars franchise, just three years later – for which many thought Disney had overpaid – is proof Disney is not afraid of making bold moves.
However, although I do not think this strategy was without risk, I do believe Disney understands the power and value of “Tribes” probably better that any business in the world. As such, they appreciated the value these businesses held and exactly how their sprinkle of Disney magic could maximise their commercial values.
But, in true Disney fashion, going at it with full force, with cinematic masterpieces coupled with theme park rides and merchandise, saw the business enjoy a return on its investment in less than four years.
More recently, having seen the changes in consumption behaviours driven by platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon, Disney also moved into the streaming market with the launch of Disney+.
Unlike its competitors, Disney+ leverages the brand’s lifelong loyalty and offers audiences the chance to re-watch their favourite childhood movies and live the nostalgia all over again.
Brand and product extensions like this so often fail as brands take on too much and, ultimately, lose sight of who they are and what their customers expect from them.
But Disney does not. Rather, its ability to penetrate and dominate markets by extending both its offering and reach is yet another key factor for its success and the reason I doff my cap. The answer on how it does this is simple... literally. It understands the simplicity of what is does well and ensures that it replicates this across everything it does, without distraction or complication.
Transporting you away from normality and into fantasy, Disney is a brand like no other and it continues to deliver a quality emotional connection with its fans on every level.
And to think all it takes is simplicity of delivery of its clearly defined strategic direction... and a little sprinkle of magic dust.