Saturday, June 28, 2008

Are You Focused on the Consumer or Yourself? Disney and Apple Demonstrate the Experiential Difference

Some time ago, I visited and had what might be described as a violent reaction to what I found on the home page.

I am a huge Disney fan and have become accustomed to being treated as a "guest," whether I visit a theme park or their Web site. The organization has a storied history of dedicating itself to the guest experience, and much of what I know of experiential marketing has come from studying Disney. It is because I hold Disney in such esteem that my disappointing experience produced such an intensely negative reaction.

On this particular visit to, I found a link on the home page that promised a "Main Street parade." Intrigued, I wondered if I might see a live video feed of a parade from the Magic Kingdom or a behind-the-scenes peak at the staging of one of their enormous marching spectacles. I had no particular idea of what I'd find when I clicked that link, but I expected to experience some variety of Disney magic.

What I found, after waiting 30 seconds for the Flash movie to download and launch, was a cartoon parade of wagons and floats, each one containing a brand logo of a Disney sponsor. That was it--nothing but a review of corporate logos. Had any thought gone into this promotion featured so prominently on their home page, it would've become obvious this little movie furnished no value to any concerned party:
  • I felt my time had been wasted and that Disney broke it's brand promise to treat me with respect.
  • Disney positioned itself as a selfish and unwelcoming host, more interested in its own interests than in consumers'.
  • The brands featured received no value, since few if any consumers lured into this marketing trap were likely to dedicate precious minutes observing a series of brand symbols.
I respect Disney a great deal, and they have provided many positive online and offline experiences since, but this example demonstrates how easy it is for marketers to negatively alter consumer perception. It is no small lapse when marketers focus only on their own interests and forget to question and define the value of a program to the consumer.

This experience came to mind when I read the New York Times article, "In Overhaul, Seeks a Path to More Fun." It turns out Disney has come to realize its Web site is too much about itself and not enough about the guest. According to the NY Times, "Disney is trying to position its Web site more as a place that entertains and less of one that exists to promote Disney wares."

In other words, they are trying to move their site further up the Experiential Marketing Continuum. Rather than provide a site that is merely welcoming--one that equips consumers with information about Disney products--Disney instead is seeking to make their site desirable and more worthy of repeat visits. This shift focuses on what consumers want, and thus encourages consumers to spend more time with Disney, to think of the organization as an integral part of their entertainment and relaxation time, and to make a strong emotional connection that will bear far more fruit than any animated parade of logos.

The changes, which are the second significant rejiggering of in as many years, include some exciting and smart ideas. For example, one subtle modification will be to the navigational structure. The current has categories such as “Movies,” “TV” and “Live Events," but new options will include “Games,” “Videos” and “Characters.” The current information structure isn't bad--it's descriptive and intuitive to visitors--but it focuses on the company; you could add "our" in front of each category: "Our Movies" and "Our TV Shows." By comparison, the new structure focuses on the content consumers seek--their favorite character or the videos they want to see.

The changes will be more substantial than just navigation. The new will feature more videos (including some full-length Disney films), more games, and more activities that bridge the online and mobile worlds. This focus on the consumer experience is an exhilarating and fitting direction for

Another organization doing exciting things to improve the consumer's experience is Apple. We all know that Apple has an obsessive focus on elegant usability that has allowed its digital music players to crush Microsoft's similar product and its laptops and desktops to begin to chip away at Microsoft's PC hegemony. What you may not have realized (but perhaps appreciate) is that Apple brings its obsession with usability to its real world stores.

An Ad Age article entitled, "How Apple Is Blurring the Line Between Marketing and Service," describes how Apple is executing its customer-focused approach within its stores. Apple has increased the number of "concierges" who greet consumers at the door with the question, ""How can I help you, and where would you like to go?" As Ad Age notes, "These employees don't wait until you look utterly confused to ask you what you need. They intercept you -- though not intrusively and always with a smile... They assume you arrive at the Apple Store looking specifically for something, and in most cases they are right."

Much like Disney is doing with its Web site, Apple is moving the shopping experience up the Experiential Marketing Continuum. Most people find shopping a reasonably welcome experience, but is it desirable? Apple believes "service is marketing": Consumers aren't a bother; their questions aren't distractions; and their needs don't disturb Apple employees but are the reason the employees are there.

The Apple and Disney examples demonstrate a key concept in experiential marketing: Are your efforts focused on benefiting just yourself or on adding value to the consumer's experience?

Most Web sites exist for the purpose of promoting the brand's product--these sites help consumers to the point of purchase, but nothing further. And most retail outlets are staffed with the minimum number of people required to populate registers and stock shelves--the employees are there at the service of their employer. It is clear Disney and Apple bring a different level of commitment to the consumer than do most of their competitors.

Of course, focusing on the consumer isn't an act of corporate altruism--it should be done in a way that creates more brand value. Check out Apple's 71% market share in digital media players and the fact they "dominated the U.S. retail market for high-end computers in the first quarter of 2008, selling two out of every three PCs priced over $1,000." As for Disney, last year's redesign vaulted the average time spent on the site to 44.9 minutes; even though that's the kind of engagement most marketers would kill for, Disney wants more and knows it can get it by focusing even more on the consumer.

In an age of cost cutting and efficiency, Apple and Disney demonstrate how investing in the consumer experience pays dividends.

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