Few companies have been able to connect with their audience as well as Disney has. From its founding by brothers Walt and Roy Disney in 1923, the Disney brand has always been synonymous with trust, fun, and quality entertainment for the entire family. Walt Disney once stated, “I am interested in entertaining people, in bringing pleasure, particularly laughter, to others, rather than being concerned with ‘expressing’ myself with obscure creative impressions.”
The Walt Disney Company has grown into the worldwide phenomenon that today includes theme parks, feature films, television networks, theatre productions, consumer products, and a growing online presence. In its first two decades, however, it was a struggling cartoon studio that introduced the world to Mickey Mouse, who went on to become its most famous character.
Few believed in Disney’s vision at the time, but the smashing success of cartoons with sound and of the first full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1937 led to other animated classics throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, including Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella, and Peter Pan, live-action films such as Mary Poppins and The Love Bug, and television series like Davy Crockett.
When Walt Disney died in 1966, he was considered the best-known person in the world. He had expanded the Disney brand into film, television, consumer products, and Disneyland in southern California, the company’s first theme park. After Walt’s death, Roy Disney took over as CEO and realized his brother’s dream of opening the 24,000-acre Walt Disney World theme park in Florida. Roy died in 1971, and the company stumbled for several years without the leadership of its two founding brothers. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the company reconnected with its audience and restored trust and interest in the Disney brand.
It all started with the release of The Little Mermaid, which turned an old fairy tale into a magical animated Broadway-style movie that won two Oscars. Between the late 1 980s and 2000, Disney entered an era known as the Disney Renaissance as it released groundbreaking ^animated films such as Beauty and the Beast (1991),
Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Toy Story (with Pixar, 1995), and Mulan (1998). In addition, the company thought of creative new ways to target its core family- oriented consumers as well as expand into new areas to reach an older audience. It launched the Disney Channel, Touchstone Pictures, and Touchstone Television. Disney featured classic films during The Disney Sunday Night Movie and sold its classic films on video at extremely low prices, reaching a whole new generation of children. It tapped into publishing, international theme parks, and theatrical productions that helped reach a variety of audiences around the world.
Today, Disney consists of five business segments: Studio Entertainment, which creates films, recording labels, and theatrical performances; Parks and Resorts, which focuses on Disney’s 11 theme parks, cruise lines, and other travel-related assets; Consumer Products, which sells all Disney-branded products; Media Networks, which includes Disney’s television networks such as ESPN, ABC, and the Disney Channel; and Interactive.
Disney’s greatest challenge today is keeping a 90-year-old brand relevant and current with its core audience while staying true to its heritage and core brand values. Disney’s CEO Bob Iger explained, “As a brand that people seek out and trust, it opens doors to new platforms and markets, and hence to new consumers. When you deal with a company that has a great legacy, you deal with decisions and conflicts that arise from the clash of heritage versus innovation versus relevance. I’m a big believer in respect for heritage, but I’m also a big believer in the need to innovate and the need to balance that respect for heritage with a need to be relevant.”
Internally, to achieve quality and recognition, Disney has focused on the Disney Difference, which stems from one of Walt Disney’s most recognizable quotes: “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
Disney works hard to connect with its customers on many levels and through every single detail. For example, at Disney World, “cast members” or employees are trained to be “assertively friendly” and greet visitors by waving big Mickey Mouse hands, hand out maps to adults and stickers to kids, and clean up the park so diligently that it’s difficult to find a piece of garbage anywhere.
Every detail matters, right down to the behavior of custodial workers who are trained by Disney’s animators to take their simple broom and bucket of water and quietly “paint” a Goofy or Mickey Mouse in water on the pavement. It’s a moment of magic for guests that lasts just a minute before it evaporates in the hot sun.
Disney’s broad range of businesses allows the company to connect with its audience in multiple ways, efficiently and economically. Hannah Montana provides an excellent example. The company took a tween-targeted television show and moved it across several divisions to become a significant franchise for the company, including millions of CD sales, video games, popular consumer products, box office movies, concerts around the world, and ongoing live performances at international Disneyland resorts in Hong Kong, India, and Russia.
Recently, Disney acquired three huge brands: Pixar, Marvel, and LucasFilms. The company has started to leverage these properties, which include the Star Wars brand and superheroes such as Spiderman, Iron Man, and the Hulk, across many of its businesses in order to create sustainable character brands and new growth opportunities for the company.
Perhaps the most anticipated new product of 2013 was the Disney Infinity gaming platform, which crossed all Disney boundaries. Disney Infinity allowed consumers to play with many of the Disney characters at the same time, interacting and working together on different adventures. For example, Andy from Toy Story might join forces with Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean and several monsters from Monsters, Inc. to fight villains from outer space.
With so many brands, characters, and businesses, Disney uses technology to ensure that a customer’s experience is consistent across every platform. The company connects with its consumers in innovative ways through e-mail, blogs, and its Web site. It was one of the first companies to begin regular podcasts of its television shows as well as to post news about its products and i nterviews with Disney’s employees, staff, and park officials. Disney’s Web site provides insight into its movie trailers, television clips, Broadway shows, and virtual theme park experiences.
Disney’s marketing campaign in recent years has focused on how it helps make unforgettable family memories. The campaign, “Let the Memories Begin,” features real guests throughout Disney enjoying different rides and magical experiences. Leslie Ferraro, executive vice president of global marketing, Disney Destinations, elaborated, “The inspiration for this effort came from our guests. Each and every day people are making memories at our parks, posting them online and sharing them with friends and family.”
According to internal studies, Disney estimates that consumers spend 13 billion hours “immersed” with the Disney brand each year. Consumers around the world spend 10 billion hours watching programs on the Disney Channel, 800 million hours at Disney’s resorts and theme parks, and 1.2 billion hours watching a Disney movie—at home, in the theater, or on their computer. Today, Disney is the 13th most powerful brand in the world, and its revenues topped $45 billion in 2013.
Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.