MediaPublishingWhat Site Publishers Can Learn From Disney

What Site Publishers Can Learn From Disney

Surprise, surprise. Ann took her two kids on a four-day Disney cruise to the Bahamas. The kids loved it... Ann survived. And was duly impressed by Disney's well-oiled marketing machine, executing on all cylinders-so much so that she wants to share with all of us who promote products or services online. We can learn a thing or two from the marketing sherpas leading sales for the Microsoft of the family entertainment zone. Ann gives you Mouse Mantras one through seven.

A few weeks ago, I took my two kids on a four-day Disney cruise to the Bahamas.

I know what you’re all thinking… a cynic like YOU, Ann, on a DISNEY ship? Mugging it up mid-ship for the ship’s photographer with roly-poly Chip and Dale, and doing the Macarena on the deck with a six-foot Goofy in swim trunks?

Well, a cynic I may be. But I’m also a soft touch when it comes to my children. So there I found myself on a 900-foot ocean liner, setting sail with Mickey and hurling confetti off the deck with the maniacal fervor of the converted.

The vacation was a predictable fare of character karaoke, mouse-shaped waffles, free ice cream, and that Disney brand of animated, chipper fun.

The kids loved it. I… uh… survived.

But one thing DID impress me. And that was Disney marketing. Maybe it was more palpable to me as a cruise guest because I’m steeped in this stuff daily. But clearly, Disney’s marketing machine is well-oiled and executing on all cylinders.

So much so, in fact, that any one of us who promotes products or services online could learn a thing or two from the marketing sherpas leading sales for the Microsoft of the family entertainment zone.


  • Simplify the purchase. Disney issues each cruise guest a sort of credit card passkey. With it, you can do virtually anything on board: Pay for drinks at the bar, unlock your stateroom, gain access off and back onto the ship, buy sun block in the gift shop, and so on. My eight-year-old used his to play video games in the arcade off the pool deck. During our entire stay on the ship, our hands never handled money.

Truth be told, this was actually a bit troublesome for me since I never really had a sense of how much money I was actually spending. (I assure you, I eventually found out. And it was plenty.)

But one aspect of the Disney passkey I did like: It sure simplified things at the point of purchase. And as I was juggling two kiddie soft drinks and a glass of red, all while keeping one eye on my three-year-old’s head bobbing in the Mickey-shaped wading pool, I sure appreciated the streamlined purchasing. In that way, it’s not unlike Amazon’s one-click feature.

Mouse mantra #1: Are you making it easy for your customers to spend money with you?


  • Personalize your message. Each evening, at a predictable hour, a newsletter for the following day’s events arrived in our stateroom. As a family with small children, our “Personal Navigator” was customized with events geared toward kids: “The Tigger Movie” screening in the Buena Vista Theater, and a round of “Who Wants to be a Mouseketeer” in Studio Sea. My guess is newsletters heading to the grandparents on board emphasized the adults-only Quiet Cove pool hours.

Mouse Mantra #2: Do you segment your audience according to their needs and interests, and speak to them in their own language?


  • Emphasize your brand. Disney never lets you forget where you are, because the Disney brand permeates the ship. The mouse-ear silhouette is expressed in the macro (in the shape of the toddler pool) and micro (in the bend of the drinking straws and in the weave of the curtain tapestry). The TV channel on our stateroom TV defaulted to the Disney Channel. I half expected the evening sun to sprout two round ears as it set over the sea. (The powerful Disney Oz is only steps away from pulling that off, I’m sure.)

Tiresome? Maybe for some. Not for my kids who made a game out of finding “Mickey heads” on board. But I’ll never confuse a Disney ship with, say, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.

Mouse Mantra #3: Do you reinforce your brand throughout your site, at every opportunity?


  • Give your site warmth. Disney works hard at ensuring that each member of its staff from Marcus, who tidied up our stateroom; to Patrice, who worked the bar by the pool; to Enzo, the waiter who rotated among the three on-board restaurants with us each evening was friendly, helpful and personable to a fault.

Each crew member oozed warmth and personality. Each one got to know the names of my kids and encouraged conversation with them.

Enzo taught my son how to fold a rabbit puppet from a dinner napkin, and knew that my daughter liked her milk with a PINK Mickey straw. In turn, my kids learned that Enzo grew up in Italy, where his mother cooked in a restaurant and his father owned a gas station.

Disney isn’t afraid to let their employees become living, breathing beings to their guests. In the spirit of the Cluetrain Manifesto, they let them have a personality and a point-of-view.

Mouse Mantra #4: Does your site have a personality that shines through? Do your readers have a sense of the names and faces behind the business?


  • Cross-sell at every turn. Not only are more people vacationing with Disney, each family is also spending more when they do, according to the latest release of robust Disney earnings. Onboard ship, certainly, Disney excels at creating new opportunities for guests to part with their cash. At every turn, there was a ship’s photographer snapping photos of me and my children: by the pool, on Castaway Cay beach, on the shuffleboard court.

Disney’s photography studio prints each photo in a gorgeous five-by-seven glossy and displays them all in a gallery for sale at ten bucks a pop. And would you believe… guests need to walk directly through the gallery each evening, since it’s by far the most direct route to the after-dinner entertainment.

Loosened up with a little wine and feeling good about the day, wouldn’t you be inclined to plop down the cash for each snapshot? I sure was.

Mouse Mantra #5: Have you thought through all the ways you might increase the amount of each sale your site makes?


  • Version your content. Disney excels in repackaging its “content” in various ways. The cruise ship itself, for example, was little more than a floating version of a Disney resort. The evening entertainment was no more than a stage version of well-known Disney movies. There wasn’t an original character or story line in sight.

Online, versioning can take many forms. Our good friends at eMarketer sell statistical reports about doing business online. They will sell you a full-blown report on the Latin American Net market for $795, or they’ll sell you a 21-report subscription for $10,000, or they’ll sell you individual stats in the eStatStore for a buck or two. Same information, packaged how you want it.

Mouse Mantra #6: Can you meet the needs of your audience by repackaging and repurposing your content in accessible, useful, appealing ways?


  • Increase your renewal rate. Disney hasn’t forgotten us since we arrived home. Since then, my kids have gotten thank you notes from Mickey, I’ve gotten discount coupons for the next sailing trip, and we were added to their mailing list for “Cruising Families.” Disney is working hard to keep its name in front of us, for the next time we start wandering down the vacation path.

Truth be told, I think Disney overdoes it here. I would have preferred to opt-in to the mailing list, rather than be automatically added. But the concept behind the marketing is sound: Disney is letting me know they appreciate my business and is working hard to win me back.

Online, you might offer customers an opportunity to be added to your newsletter mailing list. You might send them online coupons, redeemable on their next purchase. You might send along a note to let them know of an improvement to your service or upgrade to your product. You want to be front and center in their minds when they need to do business in your market again.

Mouse Mantra #7: Are you building loyalty by communicating with your customers regularly?

And by the way, Disney has sure built loyalty from my kids. Anticipating the next cruise, they are already blowing up their inner tubes.

Mouse-shaped, of course.

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