Getting back to reality after a vacation in Disney World is no easy feat. I returned from the “happiest place on Earth” last week to a dreary and snowy Boston. I can’t even count the times I’ve been to Disney World/Land on my fingers anymore, but even as an adult it’s as magical as ever.
It’s not just an amusement park with overpriced food and even more overpriced merchandise (though it has both). If anything, I don’t mind laying down $40 for a t-shirt I’ll never wear outside the parks. The environment they’ve created makes me forget about my worries from the real world. It’s not just about Space Mountain. Young or old, the Disney brand makes you start to believe that fairy tales could be real, and dreams can come true.
This perception really got me thinking. Even in a suffering economy, Disney remains packed with people willing to fork over hard-earned cash for tickets to wait in long lines. They’re doing something incredibly right. So what Disney traits can anyone (CEO’s, entrepreneurs, bloggers, etc.) use to make their products more successful?
Here’s a breakdown of what I think makes up the Disney magic, and how I will aspire to apply these characteristics to my blog in 2009.
Be a great storyteller
One thing that makes Disney unique from other amusement park is that each ride tells a story. Splash Mountain is more than just a drop into water; it’s a story a rabbit escaping from a hungry wolf. Expedition Everest isn’t just an intense, awesome roller coaster; it’s a story about a team of hikers killed in the Himalayas by the legendary Yeti. Even the parks themselves tell a story. The Magic Kingdom is a fantasy land, EPCOT is an appreciation of the world we live in, MGM (now called Hollywood Studios) is about the entertainment industry, and the Animal Kingdom takes you on an African safari adventure. It just doesn’t get boring.
So tell your visitors a story. These days, no matter the topic of your website or blog, it’s probably been written about before. What you can offer that nobody else can is your own unique perspective. Don’t just do your research, spit out facts, and call it a blog post. Craft it into something that people can understand, use, and find so interesting that they’d come back to read it again. Don’t drone on with fact after fact; tell it like a story, and develop your writing voice. A good rule of thumb is to create content one day, then leave it alone until the next day so you can go back and edit, and make sure it’s an interesting read.
It’s still important to remember that your opinions won’t resonate with everyone. It’s impossible for every single person who reads your content to agree with you. But crafting a story will spark discussion about what you’re selling, whether it’s a product or blog post. If you’re sensitive to criticism, just think of it this way: all publicity is good publicity… right?
Have quality content
Although I can’t speak for all of their live-action films, the animated classics are amazing. They resonate with audiences generation after generation, and have translated to rides in the park, spin-offs, costumes, toys, you name it. When you see an animated feature prefaced by the Disney logo, you know it’s going to be good.
Having high quality content comes from being a great storyteller, but it also means doing your research, staying current or ahead of the trends, and not rushing content. Creating high quality posts is often a challenge for bloggers with full-time jobs and time constraints, such as myself, so posting every day might not be ideal. Spending the time to focus on quality will drive traffic to your site. It has the potential to go viral (via Twitter, social networks, and bookmarking), and will increase profitability in the long run as future users find and share your content. When I’m in my goove, I like to write 3-4 articles a week. Half will be shorter articles on social media applications I think are useful, and the other half will be longer, more opinionated posts that will (hopefully) get my readers to think (like this article).
Keep your customers happy
Ever go to Disney and realize that despite the large amount of little children around, you don’t really hear any screaming or crying? Sure, I bet it’s partially due to the environment and the fact that the parents aren’t quite as stressed out as usual. But I’ve heard from past Disney employees that if a child starts crying in a store, employees are encouraged to give that child a free toy. I’ve also heard that if someone steals something from a store and the employees are aware of it, they still won’t come after you and create a scene in front of other Disney guests.
Keeping your customers/readers happy may seem obvious, but really make an effort to do so. If someone bashes something you wrote in a comment, don’t get defensive. Instead say, “That’s an interesting point. Can you tell me more about why you think XYZ?” And then go on to support your point of view.
If you run a company, be aware of what people are saying about your brand. Provide comment forms where people can give feedback, and reply to everything with at least an “I appreciate your suggestions,” even if you don’t plan incorporating the feedback into your business. Also, create profiles on sites like Twitter, and connect with individuals who mention your company. Make it apparent that you care about your customer’s opinions, and they will come to respect your brand.
Every time you visit the Disney parks, you know the parade will be at 8pm, the fireworks will be at 9pm, the Haunted Mansion will always be there, It’s a Small World will get stuck in your head. Not only that, but the branding is consistent. Ever since the 1930’s, when Snow White got her happily ever after, Disney has convinced fans that their wishes can come true. They’ve been consistent in their messaging for 70+ years.
Websites tend to go through redesigns when they start getting significant traffic, and that’s ok if it improves the user experience. But you should have a reason to overhaul your site. Your readers/customers have been coming back to your site for a reason, whether it’s the subject you write about or the voice you write with. If you’re a beginner and plan to add advertisements to your site, add them now. Don’t be ad-free and then bombard your readers later on. Dramatically changing things can hurt you.
For bloggers, if you write a post once a week, continue to do so. If you write three times a week, continue to do so. Being consistent and sticking to a schedule is important for keeping your repeat visitors and subscribers who are expecting to hear from you. I haven’t written in the past two weeks because of my vacation, followed by a week of extreme catch-up at work, and this certainly wasn’t ideal. My plan is to create some backup content before big trips or commitments, so I can simply schedule the article to be published using WordPress.
Mind the little details
I once went on a behind-the-scenes tour at Disney World. The amount of detail that goes into making sure the guests stay happy is unbelievable. The edges of the sidewalks are painted a certain shade to make sure guests looking down at their maps don’t trip. Garbage cans are strategically placed where people would be expected to finish eating their hot dogs. Workers repaint the horses on the carousel, benches, lampposts, etc. just about every night. They fan cinnamon-scented air onto the sidewalk outside the bakery to draw you in. And if you pay attention, there are “hidden Mickeys” all over the place. It’s all about the details.
So when creating your blog or website, pay attention to the little things, because they all add up to your big product. Take the time to brush up on your keywords so readers can find what they’re looking for easily, and so you get more organic search traffic. Make your ads and affiliate links relevant to your content, and pay attention to ad placement and design. When writing articles, link to relevant articles you’ve written in the past, and other blogs in your niche, so your visitors will always have more to read. Also, make it easy for your visitors to spread the word by adding social bookmarking buttons.
Leverage the newest platforms and technologies
From the animatronics in the parks to acquiring Pixar, Disney is always ahead when it comes to technologies. And so should you. Keep up with industry news by reading other blogs in your niche frequently. Comment if you have something insightful to say, even if you’re not a blogger. Give visitors a way to submit news and feedback, whether by comment form or simply providing your email address with a request for industry tips.
Although you might not be able to provide an escape from reality like Disney can, modeling the Disney way might help you create content that readers can lose themselves in. I love getting comments and emails from people saying they’ve just found my blog and read the whole thing because they found the content so interesting. This is my goal, and though I’m glad to see results already, there are definitely areas I want to improve in.
I’m not claiming that Disney is perfect. As a company, it’s had its fair share of scandals, pushes timeshare marketing a bit too hard, and underpays its theme park employees. But Disney has a timeless appeal, and its parks are always full and movies are always a success in the box office. So for the most part, you can learn a lot about success from Disney.