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Why do we exist?

November 9, 2021

Why do we exist?

Humans have been trying to answer that question for themselves since the beginning of time. But it’s not just about us as individuals. This is a critical question for organizations to answer as well.

Last week’s column examined the idea that crisis brings about the need for innovation and evolution and that pandemic certainly qualifies as a change-inducing event.

I’ve cherry-picked some of the most important marketing trends that came from a recent Deloitte report that emerged from the pandemic so we can examine them with detail and walk away with some very tangible to-do items.

Just as a reminder, they are:

  • Being a purpose-driven organization.
  • Being agile.
  • Building trust.
  • Being authentically human.
  • Allowing customers to participate.

The concept of being a purpose-driven organization is not new. But it used to be optional. That’s not the case today. What we’re talking about here is that, as a company, you have a very clear and shared vision of why you exist and who you are meant to serve. That may or may not have anything to do with what you sell.

In Deloitte’s survey of almost 2,500 global consumers, 79% of respondents recalled instances of brands positively responding to COVID-19 to help their customers, workforces and communities.\

Almost 25% of respondents strongly agreed that these actions positively shifted brand perceptions, and 1 in 5 strongly agreed that it shifted their buying preferences in favor of the brand. On the other side of the equation, it’s clear that sustained commitment matters. Consumers reported being aware of negative brand actions (66%), leading to 1 in 4 consumers walking away from the brand.

Companies can’t play fast and loose with this. There’s no more picking and choosing when we come from a place of purpose. In the absence of this level of consistency, trust erodes.

Let’s assume that your organization has figured out what being purpose-driven means specifically for you. How do you, as a marketer, convey that to your internal and external audiences?

It’s about brand: It may be time to retool your brand so that your purpose is more front and center. This can be particularly powerful for your internal audience. Not only do consumers want to buy from a purpose-driven company, but employees want to work for one.

Measure and report: Telling someone about your purpose is very different from demonstrating it. In a world where trust is tenuous, we need to have proof points. Keeping track and having a mechanism to report on your efforts is a simple way to go beyond lip service. It will also hold you accountable. A “how we’re making a difference” page on your website that tallies the hours and dollars you’ve invested in your purpose will be enough.

But only if it gets updated consistently.

Don’t go it alone: This is a no-brainer, and yet I don’t see it done as well or as often as I should. While this is a marketing initiative in one aspect, it can be so much more. Get the employees to buy into the vision. Invite prospects and customers to join in to make a difference. Build a community around your purpose and watch how they start doing your marketing for you. For free.

As you embark on or refine your organization’s purpose-driven focus, remember that it must come from the heart. Invest the time to make sure you’ve got it right before you start telling the world.

But once you do, find ways to infuse it into every aspect of the business, from hiring and firing to product development and growth areas.

When your company lives out its purpose in big and small ways, your audiences will take notice and be ready to join you in changing your little slice of the world.

 

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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We can’t go backward

November 2, 2021

While I think we are all a little tired of talking about it, we must acknowledge that we have all endured one of the most problematic, most sci-fi unbelievable years of our lives. But you can feel things coming back to what certainly feels like a more normal world. Many of us are vaccinated, traveling and stepping back into the world in a more confident way. Our consumers are doing the same thing. There’s a pent-up demand for many products and services, and we want to be ready to seize that opportunity.

We cannot deny that the pandemic had a seismic impact on our world and some of the marks it has left are permanent. Some of the changes that we and other businesses had to make to survive the shutdown were actually well received by our customers. They’re going to expect us to keep those around. And, of course, they’re going to want some of our old offerings, pricing models, delivery mechanisms, etc. to go back to pre-pandemic days.

Bigger picture, what our consumers expect to see and hear from us has been forever changed because of 2020. Will the current expectations last forever? That I can’t predict. But I do know we’re not going to go backward and that these new expectations are here to stay for the next year or more.

All through history, moments of crisis or awakening have led to colossal consumer shifts in consumption and behavior. The 1918 pandemic triggered widespread telephone adoption so much so that switch operators could not handle the demand. This pandemic will reshape aspects of our world and invite savvy businesses to take bold new steps toward new opportunities that emerge as part of the aftermath of 2020.

Deloitte came out with a report on some global marketing trends that emerged from 2020, and I’d like to invest the next few columns into exploring some of the most significant ones.

They are:

  • Being a purpose-driven organization.
  • Being agile.
  • Building trust.
  • Being authentically human.
  • Allowing customers to participate.

You might look at that list and think, “Well, nothing has changed. Of course, people want those things. Haven’t they always?” The difference is that now they are insisting upon them and expressing their displeasure with their wallet. Beyond that, they are more than comfortable calling companies out publicly for not living by these new expectations.

The challenge for us as marketers is multifold. First and perhaps the biggest of them is that we must be a voice for change inside our organizations. Faking any of the above for marketing’s sake will cost us dearly.

The second challenge is helping our internal teams recognize the importance of communicating around these trends instead of always going for the sale. One of the big silver linings of the pandemic, in my opinion, is that it’s forcing organizations to go back to their brand and reinvigorate it to be about what really matters to both their internal audience and their clients.

The third challenge is actually finding ways to communicate how your company is embracing these trends and weaving them into your culture, your products and services, and your customer service. It will be very easy in the messaging to go into the sea of sameness and produce ads or marketing that sounds like everyone else. There’s also a risk of appearing to be grandstanding or bragging. This is going to be a delicate dance.

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to dig into specifics on how we can do just that for each one of these trends. I want to give you really practical examples and ideas so you can forge out with this new messaging as quickly as possible.

Your customers are waiting and watching, so let’s give them the confidence that you are too smart to just go back to new normal.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Is it me?

October 26, 2021

I want to take a slight departure from my usual marketing tips this week and address an issue creating havoc in just about every business in the country.  It affects your capacity to serve your customers, the opportunity to go after new prospects, and ultimately your ability to stay in business.

I know of very few businesses that are not being rocked by turnover right now. Many of the businesses we work with have experienced 50-60-75% turnover since the last

fourth quarter. This is not an isolated incident at your company.

This is a COVID-caused phenomenon.

Economists are calling this the “Great Resignation.” The number of employees leaving their employers for new opportunities is at its highest level in more than two decades.

When I look at the departures happening across all industries and businesses of all sizes, they’re very different from what we typically see. What we are witnessing is another casualty of COVID. All of us were affected by the last 18 months, but for some people the effects were so profound and so personal that they are making radical choices.

The departures we’re seeing now are much more about life choices than career choices.

Think about the people who have left your organization. In most cases, they didn’t just trade up jobs and go to one of your competitors. They’re going back to school or moving closer to family, or choosing to work for a nonprofit. They’re taking a “safe” job. They’re staying home to raise their kids. But in most cases, it is far less a strategic career move. It is a survival tactic.

This is about people being afraid, or in some cases about them needing to make a dramatic change in their life to feel as though they’re taking back the control that COVID stole from them. And for others, it’s needing to be closer to family no matter the cost.

This is way bigger than us. This is a long-term effect of COVID.

What does that mean for us, from a marketing perspective? Internally, we must be mindful of two key components: How are we handling the departures, and how are we taking care of the people we still have?

In terms of handling the departures, this is a time for grace and understanding. Again, the folks who are leaving us need to go. And our people are watching how we embrace that idea. We also need to remember that this may be a temporary situation. They might just need a respite and eventually want to come back.

We’re also going to need to be a bit of a cheerleader. It’s frightening to see a good portion of your co-workers walk out the door. Your current team needs reassurance that they’re not going to have to bear the increased workload, that you’re working to recruit replacements, but most of all, that the opportunities and culture that drew them to your organization are still there.

This is also the time for us to be even more committed to our employees’ well-being. It’s fair to say that everyone is dealing with some remnants of COVID. It might be child care or parental health issues. It could be a fear of being indoors with a lot of people. It might even be undefinable, but it’s there.

Investing in our company’s culture and values right now feels like a smart play. I’m not talking about another party or potluck, but really doing the work to live up to the values that are on your wall. What better way to unite your employees and give them a reason to stay?

Now more than ever, our employees need our stability, our compassion and our commitment.

Next week, we’ll cover the external communication we need to be thoughtfully preparing.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Let’s go beneath the surface

October 19, 2021

This has been a busy time for brands to outwardly demonstrate their societal stand. They’ve been speaking out about diversity, equity and inclusion. It was the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, and it was Pride month recently, so we saw a lot of brands go all black square or rainbow in their ads and communications.

That is all well and good.

But it’s not enough. I saw a meme the other day that made me realize that brands need to do more and better. The meme said, “You put a black square on your social media posts a year ago. What have you done since?”

It’s a valid question.

While this is not solely a marketing issue, it has a lot of marketing implications. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer (over 33,000 respondents) showed that 68% of respondents believed that corporate CEOs should step in and take the lead to fix societal problems because they don’t believe anyone else will. Sixty-five percent of respondents believe CEOs should hold themselves accountable to the public, not just to their board of directors.

If those numbers seem high, 86% of respondents expect CEOs to speak out on societal issues.

Whew. That is a vast and clear mandate. From both previous years and this year’s study, we know that consumers are more willing than ever to use their wallets to let businesses know they do or don’t approve.

Even if this wasn’t a marketing and customer retention issue, it is a human issue. So how do we go from lip service to actually becoming part of the solution?

Here are some thoughts examining how we could go beyond the surface in genuinely caring about and fighting for diversity, equity and inclusion in our businesses.

  • Have we shared our DEI goals with our entire company and invited their input?
  • Do we provide DEI training for all personnel?
  • Do we have a zero-tolerance policy for racist or inequitable behavior in the workplace, and have we actually taken action honoring that policy?
  • Are we actively working on and talking about what an inclusive workplace looks like for our company?
  • Are we measuring diversity of all kinds within our company and setting goals for improving the ratios?
  • Are we measuring diversity of all kinds within our leadership and setting goals for improving the ratios?
  • Do we actively audit salary and advancement policies to make sure they’re fair and equitable?
  • Are our recruitment tactics inclusive and inviting diversity into our candidate pool?
  • Do we use our company’s voice to celebrate and support DEI initiatives?
  • Do we offer our employees personal holidays so they can enjoy the religious or cultural celebrations that matter to them?
  • Is Election Day a holiday in our company?
  • Do our charitable contributions include a proper percentage to organizations working toward DEI initiatives?
  • Do our communications (internal and external) make it clear that DEI is a priority and nonnegotiable for us?

We’re not going to solve these issues overnight. But our consumers and the world are demanding that we play our part. And it can and should be part of our legacy as leaders.

There’s also the very pragmatic side to doing all we can to improve our company’s DEI efforts and share that commitment and our progress with the world. When it comes to attracting and retaining employees, it ranks very high in most surveys of what team members are looking for in an employer.

Beyond that, as the Edelman Barometers have demonstrated over the last several years, our customers are watching. If we’re going to earn and keep their business, they expect us to take a stand and fight for a better world.

 

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Surviving a cookie free world

October 12, 2021

In last week’s column, we talked about the fact that third-party cookies and our ability to use the data those cookies mined are going away. The question, of course, becomes – how do we pivot the way we’ve been marketing online to prepare for this change?

Cookies allowed us to track and follow people online at an individual level. Their online behavior allowed us to determine particular interests or buying patterns. We could then put them into an advertising sequence that followed them on the web and served up the ads specifically targeted to them because of what we’d learned.

We’ve all experienced it as consumers, and most of us have leveraged it as marketers. The good news is, there are other effective ways to get your message in front of the right consumer.

First-party data: This is not a new concept, but now it’s critical. We have to find ways to get to know our own customers better. First-party data is the information you collect directly from your audience or customers. It includes data from behaviors, actions, or interests indicated across your website or app. It would also be information you have in your CRM system and your subscription and social data.

First-party data also includes off-line information you might gather like completed surveys, customer feedback, and other information you gathered during the sales process.

The more you know about your customers and even potential customers, the more personalized your communications can be to them as a captive audience. But those relationships also support your outbound marketing efforts. In terms of knowing who to target, the more you know about who already loves you and what matters to them, the easier it is to craft marketing messages to attract more clients that look a lot like them.

Contextual targeting: Contextual advertising or targeting refers to the practice of placing ads on web pages based on the content of those pages. For example, this could be ads for a fishing rod on a news article about fly fishing, or it could be ads for laptops on an appropriate eCommerce site. This is done through contextual targeting on an ad network, which involves segmenting ads based on parameters like keyword or website topics.

This concept may have a place on your own website or social channels, but it’s also a smart way to buy ads or links on other properties. If done well, your ad can feel like part of the story or theme of the page.

Keyword targeting: Keyword targeting uses keywords relevant to your product or service in website and ad copy to achieve a top listing in the search engines. Proper keyword research is vital to determine which keywords your business should be targeting.

This is SEO 101. There are many tools to help you determine which keywords have enough search volume to be beneficial for you. As you build out your content strategy, this should be one of the most significant criteria. It’s an art form to create useful, engaging content that also supports your keyword objectives. This is not about keyword stuffing. It’s about knowing your audience well enough to write what they’ll find valuable and are already searching for.

You’re going to be hearing a lot more about the crumbling cookie, but you don’t have to worry. While it has undoubtedly served marketers well, we have many other tools and tactics at our disposal.

If we’re being honest, some of the tools I’ve reminded you of in this column are actually more effective and better for our audience long-term. And when we serve our audience more authentically and helpfully – we always benefit in the long run, as do they.

 

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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The demise of the third-party cookie

October 5, 2021

The odds are that you’ve heard that third-party cookies are going away. But you’re probably wondering what exactly that means to you as a marketer and how it will affect your work moving forward.

If you are not familiar with the term, third-party cookies are tracking codes that are placed on a web visitor’s computer after visiting a website. When that same web visitor visits your site or any other, the third-party cookie tracks all of their activity (which sites they visit, what products they click on, etc.) and sends it back to whoever created the cookie. Many brands use cookies on their sites so they can serve up ads to their web visitors on other sites.

If you’re an advertiser, third-party cookie data gives you insights about your web visitor’s overall online behaviors, such as websites they frequently visit, search history, device details, purchases and interests that they’ve shown on various websites. With this detailed data, you can build detailed prospect profiles to decide which of your visitors are your best potential customers and worthy of investing ad dollars to connect with them.

You can then create a re-targeting list that can be used to send ads to your past visitors or people with similar web profiles, called lookalike audiences.

For many years, third-party data has been integral to how advertisers decide where to place their ads and what messages should be served up to specific groups.

As an internet user and consumer, you’ve experienced this marketing tactic many times.

A Google blog post announced the 2022 target date for the final removal of third-party cookies and explained that the reason for the change was to protect users and their privacy.

“Users are demanding greater privacy – including transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used – and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands,” the post stated.

Safari and Firefox have both blocked third-party cookies since 2013. Google has been working with advertisers for the last two years to ensure that this shift doesn’t destroy the online advertising industry, but the change is coming quickly now.

If your current practice is to simply track your website’s visitors’ behaviors, preferences and basic demographics while they’re on your website and only while they’re on your site, nothing much will change.

However, if you’re a marketer that relies on robust third-party data for targeting online advertising or a very specific audience-targeting strategy, you’re going to have to change your ways.

We’ve known for decades that when we get something for free on the internet, we are the product. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that social media sites like Facebook and search engines like Google already have substantial amounts of information that they could use to develop detailed profiles using a single cookie.

There may come a time when, as marketers, we subscribe to a data source that is powered by one or multiple of these entities to get the same kind of aggregate information we can get today from third-party cookies.

In a cookie-less world, to identify and access external audiences, we may need to subscribe to one or more of these big-box data sources to get insights about our potential customers. The data sources will be able to track and monitor behaviors but in an aggregate way. Hopefully, this will protect everyone’s individual privacy and give marketers a way to access insights that will be valuable.

All of this does not mean online advertising is dead. We’re just going to need to find different ways to build an audience and learn more about them. In next week’s column, we’ll explore some tactics that are worthy of consideration as we adapt to this new chapter of marketing.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.
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Do what you love in service of people you love

September 28, 2021

The headline paraphrases author Steve Farber’s core message as he talks about the power of love in business. It’s a perfect segue to this final column in our look at the seven principles that I’ve identified as vital to Walt Disney’s success as he built one of the world’s most iconic and profitable brands in the world.

For Walt, the other six beliefs all work in service of the final one – never forget who you serve and why you matter to them. Walt loved delighting children of all ages, and he believed he could help them go on adventures together – through his movies, his theme parks and the stories he told. Those adventures became treasured memories that brought and bound people together.

That’s why he did what he did. It fueled him. It inspired him. And it paved the way to his success.

Just a reminder, here are the seven beliefs/habits that I believe led to Disney’s success:

  • Your vision must be so clear and so well-articulated that someone else can complete it perfectly, even if you’re not there anymore.
  • No detail is too small, and in fact, the smallest details have the biggest impact.
  • Obstacles are road maps to innovation.
  • If the team is happy, the customer is happy.
  • Ask the best questions because you need to keep learning.
  • You’re never done.
  • Never forget who you serve and why you matter to them.

Having clarity about who you serve and how you help them gives everyone in the organization a true north. If everyone on your team understands why your work matters to your customer, they’ll be inspired to deliver against that promise. Or they shouldn’t be working there.

From a marketing perspective, we’ve always known that understanding your audience was important. But we tend to understand them through the lens of data and numbers. X% of people prefer our XYZ package over the others. Our buyers are typically 37-53, and 68% of them are female. It’s hard to be fired up to serve a demographic.

How did Walt keep his audience a little closer to his heart? How can we make sure we’re connecting at an emotional level with our clients so we truly can love being in service of them?

We all think of testimonials as an external marketing tactic. We know that hearing other people’s experiences reassures a potential customer and often accelerates the buying cycle. But have you ever considered creating customer testimonials or interviews for internal purposes? Imagine if every week at your all-team meeting, you showed a video of a client talking about the work you do and what it means to them. Not outcomes or deliverables but the fact that you relieve their worries or fire them up or helped them get healthy, so they had the stamina to play with their kids. Underneath every deliverable is a person with a story.

Those stories can remind your team why they work so hard and why their work matters. Helping your team understand the impact of their efforts is incredibly powerful internal marketing. It’s effective for employee retention and for inspiring moments of delight for your customers.

Walt would tell stories to his team about the families he met in Disneyland and how they had saved for several years for that one day of magic. He inspired everyone, from the person sweeping up popcorn from the sidewalk to the VP of guest relations, to take their work and their customers very personally. When it’s personal, we deliver at a whole new level. Some of the most fundamental marketing we can ever do is to help our team see how personal their work really is.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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We don’t finish, we iterate

September 21, 2021

This column is the sixth of a series where we explore the seven principles that I’ve identified as vital to Walt Disney’s success as he built one of the world’s most iconic and profitable brands.

Here’s are the seven beliefs/habits that I believe led to Disney’s success:

  • Your vision must be so clear and so well-articulated that someone else can complete it perfectly, even if you’re not there anymore.
  • No detail is too small, and in fact, the smallest details have the biggest impact.
  • Obstacles are road maps to innovation.
  • If the team is happy, the customer is happy.
  • Ask the best questions because you need to keep learning.
  • You’re never done.
  • Never forget who you serve and why you matter to them.

The Walt Disney Co. started with animated shorts. As they evolved to full-length animated movies, the company invented the multiplane camera in 1940 as it was working on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The same design was used for several decades until digital technology replaced the original multiplane camera.

Today, Disney and Pixar use the latest in computer camera technology.

Disneyland opened in 1955, and it was pretty amazing. It had attractions and shows like the world had never seen. Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Mad Tea Party, among others, were all there to welcome the inaugural guests.

Today, both Disneyland and Walt Disney World allow guests to register for the Rise of the Resistance attraction via Disney’s app.

Over the years, the small animation company has grown, created new offerings, and bought companies like ESPN, ABC, Marvel and others as it continues to reinvent itself.

As Walt said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

That has to be true for our organizations as well. We can’t be stagnant, and we can’t miss an opportunity to share our innovations with our customers and prospects. One of the silver linings of 2020 was that just about every organization had to reinvent some aspect of their work and how they served their clientele.

Many companies created new products, services, or delivery channels during the pandemic out of necessity. But a subset of those new necessities have proved to be profitable and popular with your customers. Circumstance forced us to be innovative.

The question is, how can we incorporate that same drive to keep creating when we’re not in a worldwide pandemic? Marketing can play a significant role in this effort in several ways.

  • We can keep learning from our clients through formal research, customer intercepts, buying patterns and customer service contacts.
  • We can secret-shop our competitors and other similar businesses to make sure we’re staying ahead of the curve.
  • We can track industry and societal trends and lead ideation sessions with other departments to imagine the future and begin to experiment with some of the better ideas.

It’s very easy to get into a rut when things are going smoothly. Disneyland was met with rave reviews during the first few years. It would have been easy for Walt and his Imagineers to let it ride. But instead, their culture pushed them to keep re-imagining the future, which meant that every time a guest visited the theme park, they discovered something new, which encouraged them to keep coming back.

As marketers and keepers of the customer experience, we can have a considerable influence on whether or not our organizations continue to evolve. We’re in a very unique position – we are tracking the pulse of the client, and we’re inside the company. That perspective can help bridge the gap between the company’s goals and the customers’ needs and serve both in a substantial way.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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The power of questions

September 14, 2021

This column is the fifth of a series where we explore the seven principles that I’ve identified as vital to Walt Disney’s success as he built one of the world’s most iconic and profitable brands.

Here are the seven beliefs/habits that I believe led to Disney’s success:

  • Your vision must be so clear and so well-articulated that someone else can complete it perfectly, even if you’re not there anymore.
  • No detail is too small, and in fact, the smallest details have the biggest impact.
  • Obstacles are roadmaps to innovation.
  • If the team is happy, the customer is happy.
  • Ask the best questions because you need to keep learning.
  • You’re never done.
  • Never forget who you serve and why you matter to them.

Perhaps it comes from being creative by nature, but Walt never saw what others thought was a finished project as being done. He saw it as being ripe for some questions to make it even better. He believed that if you asked yourself and the team the right questions, you could level up everything you created.

He also believed that questions allowed people to explore, and in that exploration, there were fresh ideas and connections to be made. Walt’s Imagineers were always waiting for Walt to say, “What if we looked at this another way …” and then they’d be off to the races.

Questions can be a fantastic marketing tool to help you attract and connect with your audience. Here are some ways we can use questions in our marketing.

Check your assumptions: One of the most dangerous habits we can get into is accepting our own assumptions. As you’re developing your marketing strategies, make a point of asking, “Do we really know this is true?” Another question to ask yourself is “How would I prove this in a court of law?” You’re going to discover that much of what you believe to be fact is indeed supposition, guesses, or long-held beliefs that may not be accurate anymore.

Query your clients: One of the biggest compliments you can get from a prospect or current customer is “No one has ever asked that before.” It demonstrates that you’re thinking about them in a deeper, more meaningful way. It also indicates your genuine interest in helping them solve their challenges, and it reminds them that they can count on you to always be thinking about their business.

Use questions in your advertising: Questions make very effective headlines. They draw the audience into your ad, and when someone asks you a question, your brain is hard-wired to answer that question. They’re already engaged and considering your question before they get to the key message points.

Ask your customers to imagine: Asking your best clients to help you visualize the future takes some deft moderation and insightful questions. But if you can get them in a mental state where they’re helping you imagine how you could be of more service to them, that’s a goldmine for your R&D, sales and marketing teams.

Marketing timelines are always aggressive, and it’s tempting to skip the discovery time and get right to producing the work. But that work is far more effective when you take the time, as Walt often did, to look at the problem, the audience or the messaging in a new way.

The right question can lead to a profitable and powerful breakthrough idea. But it’s rarely the first question you ask. The key to asking that right question is to ask many questions and let those initial inquiries open up new avenues for additional questions.

Allowing yourself the space to be curious will yield some potent questions that will lead to marketing that feels authentic, speaks directly to your consumer’s heart, and reinforces your brand.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Your best marketers are your employees

September 7, 2021

This column is the fourth in a series where we explore the seven principles that I’ve identified as vital to Walt Disney’s success as he built one of the world’s most iconic and profitable brands.

Here are the seven beliefs/habits that I believe led to Disney’s success:

  • Your vision must be so clear and so well-articulated that someone else can complete it perfectly, even if you’re not there anymore.
  • No detail is too small, and in fact, the smallest details have the biggest impact.
  • Obstacles are road maps to innovation.
  • If the team is happy, the customer is happy.
  • Ask the best questions because you have to keep learning.
  • You’re never done.
  • Never forget who you serve and why you matter to them.

One of Walt’s beliefs about his business was that it was his job to take care of the cast members (Disney-speak for employees) because if he took care of them, they’d take better care of the guests (Disney-speak for customers). And if the guests were well cared for, that took care of the bottom line.

Whether they’re a new executive overseeing thousands of employees or a new custodial cast member who keeps the streets of the Magic Kingdom clean, everyone goes through the Disney Traditions training class.

In this onboarding course, the cast members don’t learn their on-the-job duties. Instead, they’re taught the history of Disney and the fact that they could be the cast member that creates a lasting memory for a family who has saved for years to visit, no matter what their role. They are soaked in Disney culture and pride. The culmination of that class (after backstage tours and other activities) is that each cast member is given their official name badge by none other than Mickey Mouse.

In 2020, the Walt Disney Co. had to lay off or furlough over 30,000 employees due to the pandemic. Those same employees are now accepting offers to come back to the company they love. For some of them, the wait was over a year — but it was clear that as soon as they could come back, they were ready. That level of loyalty and commitment to the company’s mission is why 70% of first-time visitors to Disneyland or Walt Disney World come back for another visit.

Walt was right: When an employee loves their work and feels appreciated, they go out of their way to be of service to the customers. It shows in how people are flocking back to Disney in 2021, how steady the stock price held during the pandemic, and the glee-filled parade of Disney cast members who are heading back to work.

There is no better marketing than a delighted customer telling others about their experience with your company. How do you instill that pride and ownership in your team so that they create magical experiences for your clients?

Share feedback and praise from customers. Make it very public that someone was recognized for going above and beyond. Celebrate the behavior you want.

Invest in training. Disney’s training gets cast members invested. They connect with the history of the company and the idea that they can be someone’s favorite moment of a vacation, no matter what their role.

Create recognition programs for team members who earn your clients’ praise. Make the rewards both meaningful and significant.

Actively ask your clients for input and feedback. Disney makes its promise of a magical experience very clear and then checks in with its guests to see if it has honored that promise. Don’t be shy about asking your customers to catch your people doing something special.

As Walt said, “You can design and create the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make that dream a reality.”

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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