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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Downtown Disney STORY Field Trip

As promised in Innovating With Blue Ocean Strategy And Experience Co-Creation, I share with you a glimpse into a magical storybook fieldtrip to the Magic Kingdom....

To recap, it all started with I Have Met The Mouse when I witnessed firsthand the amazing Disney attention to details... And then, In STORY Brings Brands To Life, we got a taste for the Disney Institute teachings on customer experience.

Our Disney Institute facilitator, Rob Morton, expertly brought the Disney concepts to life. As soon as the formal presentation was over, he took us to the Magic Kingdom to observe, absorb, be inspired and thoughtfully internalize our learnings. [There is Rob on the right pointing to a unique feature on Main Street.]

From the formal session, we learned that the principles of STORY bring the Disney brand to life:

S-tudy the audience
T-ailor the experience
O-rchestrate the details
Y-ield long term relationships

We started out looking at the experience from onstage, as a visitor first enters the Magic Kingdom.

Think of it, the visitor enters from the real world -- having possibly just come off a bus, a boat or a train -- to enter into a fantasy world. This is the equivalent of a transition or decompression zone in a retail store. The visitor must produce a ticket, get his/her bearings, maybe a map, worry about practicalities [bathrooms, lockers, etc.] before being able to fully take part in the fantasy.

Visitors go through turnstiles to enter the Kingdom [I was astounded at the level of security throughout the properties: big vehicle barriers, security walk-throughs on buses to check bags...]. Although the process is electronic and mostly automated, Disney has Greeters by the turnstiles to welcome people, often waving a Mickey Mouse hand. Interestingly, Disney experimented with having no greeters, but learned that this negatively affected the experience.

To the right of the turnstiles are lockers, wheelchairs and various sundry items. Entering into the Kingdom [see #1 on the map] through the train station takes you officially to fantasy land. Rob likened it to walking through the red velvet curtains of a stage: on the other side, it's showtime!

First clue that we are onstage comes from the sidewalks: they are red. After consulting with Kodak, Disney learned that the best background color for a perfect picture is red. Consequently, the sidewalk is red for better photo contrast in all of the public spaces.

No surprise, large crowds visit the Magic Kingdom on a daily basis. That crowd enters with expectations... and Disney World must meet and/or exceed those expectations. Cleanliness ranks way up there. As a result, trash cans are placed every 27 steps. [In this photo, you can see 3.] This encourages guests to participate in keeping the park clean [cast members - including Rob - also relentlessly pick up trash].

I love how cleverly DisneyWorld makes use of perspective. From the train station, forced perspective makes the buildings [and especially Cinderalla's Castle] look larger and farther than they really are, especially at the beginning of the visit [when everyone is fresh and energized]. Note in the photo how far the castle looks and compare that to the location on the map...

However, at the exit [i.e., the train station] structures are built to scale so the exit looks closer on the return trek when everyone is tired and cranky. Isn't that clever?

Now, that means that perspective has to be maintained relentlessly which includes making sure that all of those garbage cans - every 27 feet - line up perfectly across the street from one another.

Disney pays attention to visitor mood changes depending on time of day and stage of visit. At the beginning of the day, music is bright and bouncy, filled with energetic anticipation. At the end of the day, when everyone is exhausted and overloaded, music is quieter and more subdued. Cast members, too, use a different tone and message depending on the daypart.

During our visit, we witnessed the pre-parade activities with high school bands playing. Schools consider it a big honor to perform in the Magic Kingdom and the selection process is intense. Bands pay Disney to participate; they must audition and generally prove that they meet expectations.

[Do you remember skating medallist Nancy Kerrigan's reported grumpiness over being in a Disney parade? Imagine what Tonya Harding might have done instead...]

I thought this scene was priceless: this young girl got to be crossing guard for the day. I can't remember how kids get selected for this, but she was on cloud 9 directing traffic. What a clever and easy way to make your visitors, clients or younger constituents shine!

Architectural details are delicious - all true to a Main Street, turn of the century [1900s] Americana scene. Disney pays lots of attention to maintaining the integrity of fantasy, down to the message tip board.

The tip board came out of a "BFO" [blinding flash of the obvious] according to Rob. It provides information to visitors at a point of divergence in the Magic Kingdom. Now, it cannot be an electronic or digital message board. That would be untrue to the historic Main Street time frame. So, it is updated by hand every 10 minutes. Updates come via radio.

Main Street in the Magic Kingdom has a distinct "real feel" that Rob referred to as Storybook Realism.

By the way, this level of realism includes smells. Disney pumps many smells into the street to add to the legitimacy of the experience -- from horse manure to baked goods outside the bakery [we even got to see the bakery compressor when we went backstage!].

Every building and building sign has a story. In fact, there are books that detail the stories. This is part of yielding long term relationships in that a first time visitor may not notice these details, but repeat visitors will. They will also start to collect these stories....

Every window features names with stories that interconnect with other stories. No one can have a name [or story] attached to buildings unless they 'move on' [literally or figuratively] and have contributed significantly to Disney.

Note in the photos that many store doors are open to the outdoors - to express courtesy, and extend a welcome to passersby. If no one is in a store, cast members are encouraged to step outside, wave a Mickey hand and otherwise interact with visitors.

Ever aware of its audience base, the Magic Kingdom offers many 'Grab and Go' meals, realizing that visitors are looking to maximize their visit.

I experienced the Disney Photo Pass in Halloween Bathroom Horror Stories at the Disney store in Manhattan. Anyone photographed by an official Disney photographer receives a card with a barcode on it to group any photos taken and make them easily available online. It eliminates the need to wait in line and generally puts the photo experience in the hands of the visitor.

Per Rob, 80% of merchandise sales take place at the end of the day. Disney enhances the experience by delivering packages to the front of the park or offering package express service to further eliminate the hassle factor. It also improves efficiency overall.

We discussed some of the thinking around accommodating guests' and cast members' needs:

- What about smokers? How do you adjust the smoking policy? Smokers now have a dedicated area.

- What about making sure that cast members don't get too hot? Very important and front line leaders actively monitor. They worry about creating a positive experience for cast members, too.

The Town Square showcases a statue of Roy Disney on a bench with Minnie Mouse. This acts as a visual reminder of the Disney values, and helps keep cast members focused on making the right decisions and preserving the magic even when discussing how reality makes the fantasy possible [Rob used the example of Tinker Bell zooming out of nowhere on a cable. The magic of that appearance MUST be preserved].

Then, we moved backstage. The first visual cue comes from the sidewalk: it switches to concrete.

Immediately, we noticed banners promoting messages: "I can make a difference: project a positive image, go above and beyond. " These need to be simple and fresh to get noticed. Backstage includes the "Tunnel". It seems to be underground, although in reality it is above sea level. Nonetheless, it is beneath the Magic Kingdom and allows cast members to efficiently move around without affecting the fantasy, without interrupting the theme.

Underground is where cast members are allowed to be real, to behave differently, to relax. Even the music is different, having nothing to do with the theme music above. This is where they have "down time" - critical to sustaining their fantasy role over extended periods of time. If they can't do that, maintaining the facade in front of guests becomes increasingly difficult.

Everyone wears a name tag and is on a first name basis. That and the hometown create discussion. When Disney first introduced the concept, it was unheard of.

Pins appeared as part of the millennium celebration 2000; they are a big deal in Europe and are becoming so in the U.S. Disney now encourages cast members to trade pins with guests. To avoid problems, cast members wear a green lanyard to trade with kids, and a blue one for adults.

Main Street includes a firehouse which displays real firehouse patches. However, to preserve the happy fantasy land aura, it now displays a series of 9/11 patches in the tunnel as they are too sad and real to include above ground. However, Disney does now fly flags at half mast now, even though that captures reality and detracts from the fantasy. They did it first time when Challenger exploded.

Rob showed us many programs focused on honoring and recognizing cast members. For example, the Partners in Excellence Award is peer nominated and peer selected based on three criteria: guest satisfaction, business results and peer excellence. No cash, but highly coveted.

People are starved for recognition. It's critical to express a sincere 'thank you'. Interestingly, no formal performance appraisals are in place because of the complexity of administering them across a multitude of unions. Instead, Disney conducts daily performance assessments as a result of leaders spending 70% of their time on stage with cast members. Turnover in Florida ~20%.

Disney looks to hire people who express a strong connection to the brand and to the culture. In fact, they worry if someone wants to be there just for the money! Some jobs are specifically designed to be short-term.

Disney truly wants its managers to be out managing cast members and delivering the best possible experience to visitors. Although it has 17 unions on property, it has instituted a new concept referred to as deployment base to centralize and automate scheduling and allow managers to manage.

Rob explained the emergency preparedness plan [remember that Disney is committed to visitor safety]. On 9/11, it emptied the theme parks in 1.50 hours.

Overall Observations:
Disney engages all of the senses to enhance the onstage fantasy. It uses a variety of communication tools. It pays incredible attention to details because guests will notice perfection. It uses every opportunity possible to reinforce the brand including through behaviors and details.

It hires for attitude rather than for aptitude, looking for those with an affinity to the brand and the culture. It has created an extremely successful, well defined, clear to all, by design/by specific intent corporate culture. That culture intends to stay true to its heritage and traditions.

It measures everything, obtaining information from customers to generate new offerings and ideas. Nothing occurs by accident. At restaurants, standards are in place for everything: how long before a guest is greeted, is the napkin under the drink, etc...

The goal is to create an experience that generates such emotions that no one minds purchasing it [and all of the memorabilia!]. Nothing about the Disney experience is commoditized. Rather, it is unique! Emotion plays a critical role in driving that marvelous experience.

This taste of what makes the Magic Kingdom so magical can be successfully deployed outside of Disney World to any retail environment. Attention to details, expressing a passion for the customer experience, a true commitment to creating a memorable unique interaction.... It is all possible given the right focus on STORY.

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