I just got back from a 9-day vacation in Disney World, and let me tell you, it was hot! Beyond that though, I could not help but notice all the incredibly smart things that Disney World does that keeps their customers engaged, and returning.

Now you might be thinking, “I’m just a small business owner, I don’t have the size, influence, or bank account of Disney! What could I possibly do that they do?” The answer is, “More than you think!” Disney has a lot of weight it can throw around, but most of their practices come down to 5 simple things that they do that permeate throughout every business decision they make. So let’s take a look!

1) Create Fans, Not Just Customers


A customer is someone who buys your products, but a fan is someone who loves your service.

This is something that Disney has done right since its inception. Every theme park, movie, character, costumed actor, piece of merchandise, and everything else they do is designed not just to create a customer, but a to create a fan. They do things that some people would consider “above and beyond” (did you know they have the third largest fleet of buses in the state of Florida? And they don’t charge people anything to use them). Everything they do is designed not just to make you like the product, but the brand as well. They could be happy to make money from you staying at the resorts and the visiting the park, but they don’t stop there. Every moment you have is supposed to be “magical,” and they do it well. From employees so perky that it would make Chick-fil-A proud, to the way that the Disney characters seamlessly engage in both the world around them and with the guests, no one who goes to Disney is just a guest, they are a fan.

So how can you use this? Odds are you don’t have a budget to create the third largest fleet of buses in your state simply for the convenience of your customers, but you do have what it takes to make every experience with a client a “fan making moment”. Every time you have an interaction with a customer you have a chance to make a fan. A fan will not just buy your stuff, they will regularly frequent your service. They want the experience of the product and aren’t afraid to get others in on that experience. By going above and beyond in every way, empathizing with and humanizing your customer, and providing the incredible service that you promise, you can start creating fans who will create more fans, right now.

I often hear about businesses that exist on “word of mouth” marketing and this is their driving factor. They have fans that go out and create other fans simply because you provided an amazing experience for a customer and delivered the product they wanted.

2) You Have to Spend Money to Make Money


We marketers tend to get heat for this saying. People see it as a thinly veiled expression meaning “we want your money,” but in reality, this maxim applies to every area of your business, not just marketing!

We all know Disney spends money. Operating theme parks, hosting hundreds of stores worldwide, creating exclusive resorts, buying out franchises (hello Star Wars), they have nearly perfected the modern day art of spending money. While I was in Disney World, I thought about all the things they spend money on that provide them NO immediate income (and by this, I mean a guest does not provide money at the time it occurs to experience it). Transportation comes to mind first, with different sources putting it around 350 buses provided as a courtesy to guests who stay at their resorts, but also the monorail systems, boat systems, and other inter-park transit options. These costs are all baked into the “experience” and truthfully anyone can show up and ride around in them, as long as you make it to the property (at the least you will pay a $40 parking fee unless dropped off and picked up later).

Other examples come from the sheer number of employees they have (over 70,000), street shows and parades that happen all the time, and special yearly events like Mickey’s Not So Spooky Halloween Party, which transforms the park into a fun Halloween themed adventure.

As a small business owner, you have a responsibility to invest in your business. This doesn’t just mean marketing (although after a point it does include marketing), but it also means things like getting a website, hiring employees, buying business cards, registering your company, purchasing insurance, and so on. At Pixel Press Media, we spent a lot of money to get our storefront looking good and internally we used a lot of man hours to design our website, business cards, branding guidelines, and setting up backend systems. We could easily have spent those hours pounding pavement, or working on existing jobs. We even ran a promotion to local area businesses giving away 500 free business cards! This isn’t because we hate money, but because we know that investing in our brand, and giving people a great experience is a great way to make fans. We spend money to make money. It’s something that we have always done and will always do, and so should you!

3) Make Business Partners Early


Disney has a LOT of partners, and I mean LOT of partners. They also own way more companies and IPs than you would think (in fact, they’re the world’s second largest media conglomerate, check it out).

Disney is in the habit of knowing how to work with people and businesses who are successful or have proven they will be successful through good practice. Think of all the celebrity guests who’ve been featured in anything Disney or all the companies who partner in the new “Disney Springs”, such as Sephora, Under Armor, Ugg, Origin, Anthropology, and more.

As a small business owner, you should be looking to partner with people who compliment your services, and it doesn’t hurt to build a good rapport with people who could be competitors inside your local market. At Pixel Press Media we have a number of local partners who offer services that we pass onto the consumer at no extra charge, and in doing so we have created a referral network within our area. With a little legwork, you can accomplish the same thing. Consider joining a local business referral group where you can work with other business owners in different industries to pass on leads to one another and help grow each others’ businesses.

4) Branding Is Crucial to Brand Recognition


Branding is the missing link between a product or service and a business. Branding isn’t just the style or voice you have, but it’s the entirety of your presentation to the customer.

Disney is, in my opinion, the king of branding. Everything they do under the “Disney” umbrella is so unique and identifiable. You don’t have to ask, “Is that one of those Disney princesses?” You can often know just by looking that yes, that is a Disney princess with a sad backstory and a whacky adventure. Everything about Disney is recognizable, and they maintain that in all of the other companies they own.

As a small business, it is crucial that customers know who you are. From your business cards to your website, products, packaging, and on-time service, who you are and what you do are all parts of your branding. Just like Disney takes every opportunity to make a guest or customer’s experience a “magical” one, everything you do should be a reflection of your company’s standards of excellence and commitment to quality service.

5) Enjoy What You Do, and Let Your Customers See It


I have not known anyone ever to come back from Disney World saying, “The staff was terrible.” Even the grumpiest of dwarfs visiting has to admit the people who work there really seem to enjoy what they do.

Walt Disney once said:

“If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this whole thing was started by a mouse.”

Moreover, this philosophy is alive and well in nearly every single one of the employees I met while I was there. Even the janitorial staff had a smile on their face and happily answered any question I had. Disney makes their working experience fun for more than just the costumed characters and street performers. Bus and boat drivers, security, even store attendants are given a chance to let loose and have fun, and this giddy excitement creates an environment where the guests can really get into it and enjoy their experience. You know something special is happening when you see a 68-year-old man standing on Main Street USA wearing mouse ears and lining up for a photo-op in front of Cinderella’s castle.

Not every part of working is fun, but if you don’t like what you’re doing then why do it? After I finish writing this blog I have to do the dreaded revising and editing stage where I go back and look at how terrible my typing was for the last two hours. That’s not fun at all, but when I hit the “Publish” button, I get excited to share my work with anyone who wants to read it. Customers understand that work is work, but if you let them glimpse the parts you really, truly enjoy, then you are going to get them involved in a way that nothing else can. Customers love it when their provider takes pride in the product or service they are selling, even something as trivial as Mickey Mouse ears.

Wrap Up

This isn’t all that small businesses can learn from Disney, but the list here is a great place to start! I enjoyed my vacation, but as a marketer, it’s hard to leave work behind and not notice all the amazing little things that add up to make a Disney vacation come to life.

Have questions about how these tips can work for your business? Get in touch with us! We love helping small businesses reach their dreams and push beyond what they thought was possible, so give us a chance! We promise to market your business like it’s our own.