Remove the barriers

February 15, 2017

I recently spent some time at Walt Disney World and observed how brilliantly they remove barriers for their guests.

There’s a free Disney shuttle from the Orlando airport to any Disney hotel and back to the airport at the end of your trip. Once you’re on property, there are free shuttles to all the theme parks and other attractions (like their water parks, putt-putt golf area, Disney Springs – their dining and entertainment district, etc.) If you don’t feel like taking a shuttle, you have other options like monorails and boats that can get you around as well.

That free transportation probably saves the average family a couple hundred dollars in rental car fees for the average 4-5 day visit. In fact, most Disney hotel guests don’t bother with a car at all.

Given that Disney wants to fill those hotel rooms and keep their guests on property for as much of the vacation as possible – they just removed some significant barriers to make that happen.

You don’t need to know your way around. Just get on the right bus. It’s efficient and free. Now, if you want to visit Universal Studios or Sea World – you have to rent a car or take a cab. Most families, given the sheer volume of things you can do on Disney property, will just opt to stay put. More money in the Disney pocket.

But the transportation system is peanuts compared to their new magic bands. They are a master class in removing barriers. That wristband is your room key, your ability to charge food, merchandise, tickets, etc. and gives you the ability to skip the lines on popular rides. They have a corresponding website and app so you can customize your vacation months in advance or on the fly as you walk through one of their theme parks.

I was just there for a week and never had to pull out my wallet. Every member of your party has their own band and, if you want, their own charging privileges. Imagine the increase in food, beverage and merchandise spending since they implemented this program.

But don’t think barrier removal is just for the big boys. Every one of us has the same opportunity to identify what slows down or gets in the way of a potential buyer during their customer journey and blast it out of the way.

Here are some of the areas many businesses could make smoother/easier:

Contract/Project sign-offs: Are you still sending your clients paper contracts to review and sign? Then what? They either need to fax them back (assuming they still have a physical location and a fax machine) or they have to scan them so they can digitally get them back to you. Why not use one of the many e-signature services available today? With a few clicks, the authorization is signed and work can begin.

Access to you: People hate voice mail and with good reason. Why not forward your work number to your cell or better yet – get a number that intuitively knows which phone to ring, no matter where you are. At the very least, in your voice mail message — give them another way to reach you (email, mobile number) if it’s urgent.

Anticipate their concerns: The bigger your price tag, the more concerns your prospects are going to have. Answer their questions and worries before they ask. Create a FAQ section on your website. Include a PDF of it with your proposal. Go out of your way to answer all of their worries before they even express them.

Spend some time identifying the biggest barriers in your business and put together a plan to reduce or eliminate them all together. That could lead to an impressive 2017!


The question behind the question

February 8, 2017


If you were ever to become an employee at Walt Disney World, you’d go through a class called Traditions. You’d learn all about the vision and legacy of Walt Disney and all the ins and outs of working at your one specific location. If you were slated to work at the Magic Kingdom, one of the things you’d learn is that the most common question asked is “what time is the 3 o’clock parade?”

The trainers use this absurd question to teach their new cast members (what Disney calls employees) a very important lesson that is just as critical in marketing as it is in theme park management.

The lesson is this: look for the question behind the question. When people express a concern or raise a question, there’s often something underneath that initial inquiry. But to figure out what’s really at the core – you have to understand your audience and their heart a little.

The people that ask, “what time is the 3 o’clock parade?” have waited on a curb for one to two hours for the upcoming parade. They’ve probably saved for more than three years to afford the trip to Disney in the first place and they probably will not be back for a few years at least. Which means that they are very invested in this vacation and one of the highlights of their day is supposed to be the big parade. Their kids are (by mid afternoon) tired and a little whiney so this parade had better be awesome. What this harried Mom or Dad is actually asking is “what time does the 3 o’clock parade pass by this exact spot and are we in a good viewing location?”

If the cast member didn’t understand the stakes for the average Disney guest – they might offer a snide reply or give the guest a look that says… “Duh.” Hardly a stellar customer service moment. But imagine how a guest feels after asking that question and having a cast member say, “the parade is kicking off in Frontierland, so it should be here by about 3:20. And you’ve got a great spot for not only seeing the parade but interacting with some of the characters.”

That’s real communication. That’s anticipating what your customer really needs. And that’s the kind of customer care and understanding that earns repeat business. So how do you apply this idea of understanding the question behind the question to your organization?

Dissect your FAQs: Make a list of the questions your staff gets asked most often. And be sure not to exclude anyone – your accounting department, your shipping crew, and the people who handle returns. Ask anyone and everyone to help you put together a master list.

Bring together a diverse team from your organization and really look at what’s underneath those questions. Force yourselves to go beyond the expected assumptions. Ask “what if” questions to explore new possibilities.

Look for patterns: Patterns suggest that there’s a common thread or behavior worth investigating. Don’t dismiss them, especially if it’s around a product/service that isn’t selling as well as you expected. Odds are, there’s something underneath the lack of sales beyond what you’re assuming. Every objection hides an insight underneath.

Test your theories: We know assuming is dangerous so be sure to test your new insights. Whether you use customer surveys, access a client advisory board or do some A/B testing with ad messages – make sure you get validation. Once you do, you can start folding the new insights into your marketing messages and materials.

Everyone wants to do business with a company that truly gets them. Understand what they’re really asking so you can demonstrate that you’re the right choice.


How to deliver excellence – it isn’t an accident.

August 10, 2016

deliver excellenceI’ve never met a business owner or leader who didn’t want the employees of their organization to deliver excellence. And the truth is – most employees want that too. They want to work for an organization that allows and even encourages them to go above and beyond for the people they serve.

Sadly, most employers believe that as long as they have this genuine desire and their employees share in it — they’re all set. But excellence doesn’t happen by accident.

The best companies in the world – the ones who get kudos for the customer experience every day like Disney, Southwest Airlines and Zappos, all invest heavily in training because they know that the true strength of their company’s brand rests on the shared values and common behaviors of their leadership and staff.

Zappos puts every newly hired employee through an intensive four-week training program that goes beyond orientation and also covers brand values, strategy and culture. One week in, Zappos makes what they call “The Offer,” a $1,000 bonus to any employee that will quit on the spot. The goal is to identify those who don’t embrace the brand and make sure they never get to talk to a customer.

Disney starts every new cast member, regardless of their job title, in a three-day class called Traditions. A housekeeper might be sitting next to a VP of operations or the next Cinderella. Together they learn all about the values, history and traditions of Disney. They are taught that every guest at the park is expecting something magical to happen, and it is their job, no matter what their actual job is, to make that happen.  After that training, and only after it has been completed, every cast member learns his or her actual job.

Disney cast members all learn and live by The Disney Cast Member Promise:

  • I project a positive image and energy
  • I am courteous and respectful to all Guests, including children
  • I stay in character and play the part
  • I go above and beyond

That promise and how the cast members honor it didn’t happen by accident. It was carefully crafted and even more carefully and consistently trained.

So how about you and your company? Do you invest in training your people? Do you have a way to discover and share your core values and how you want those values translated into behaviors?

You need to figure out what your core values are and how you’re going to teach/translate them to your team. And guess what – teaching them once isn’t enough. You need to weave those values into their daily experience as an employee so they’re surrounded and immersed in them.

Do you have a plan for getting that done?


Marketing Tip #47: What’s your oops plan?

January 26, 2016

what's your oops planEvery business needs to have an oops plan — a pre-determined course of action that allows you to make amends with your customers when something goes wrong.

This isn’t something you can create on the fly — it needs to be something that is rehearsed and ready to take off the shelf at a moment’s notice.  Because even the biggest organizations drop the ball. Even my beloved Disney.

I spent a long weekend at Disney World recently. Disney has a system called Fast Passes that allow guests to pre-register to ride some of their more popular rides.

At the pre-determined time, the guest shows up and goes into an expedited line that gets them on the ride in a fraction of the time that the normal line would take.

At Epcot, the ride in greatest demand right now is called Soarin’ and it’s not unusual for the regular line to have a wait time in excess of 90 minutes. So a Fast Pass to Soarin’ is worth it’s weight in gold since it reduces the wait time to about 15 minutes.

Being a regular Disney goer, I’d secured Fast Passes for the ride. We were in next group to ride when one of the cast members announced that everyone needed to leave the building immediately. When pressed, one of the cast members said there had been a fire alert triggered and although they were sure there was no fire, better safe than sorry.

As we dig into this case study, keep in mind:

  • They evacuated everyone in line, both Fast Pass holders and the people who had been patiently waiting for over an hour.
  • For most people, a trip to Disney World is a once in a lifetime event. They’ve saved for years and have planned out their days to maximize every moment.
  • Most Disney guests only budget one day for each of the major parks, which means if they don’t get to see something that day – they won’t see it at all.
  • The people holding the Fast Passes had already used them – they’re only good once so the effort they went to secure them was wasted.

When someone asked if they could re-use their Fast Pass, another cast member told them to visit the information desk outside the attraction and they’d probably be able to help.

Within the three minutes of the evacuation announcement, cast members were lined up every 10 feet (we left the building through an emergency exit that took us into space that guests are not normally allowed) to guide the guests back to Epcot’s public space. So clearly they’d rehearsed the evacuation process. Everything was orderly and safe.

But it had no Disney magic. Here’s what they missed:

No one apologized for the disappointment or inconvenience: When you mess up, more than anything else your customer wants to know that you’re genuinely sorry and understands their disappointment and frustration.

They didn’t proactively tell everyone how to get a make good: Customers know that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. They’re willing to go with the flow, but they want to know how you’re going to make it up to them and that you’ve thought about it before they ask.

The cast members were not well informed: The very people who had to deal with the customer knew the least. They didn’t know how long the ride would be closed or how people could check to see if it was back up. Don’t leave your team in the dark if they have to deliver some bad news to your customer. Make sure they have the answers.

If customer magic maker Disney can mess up, then we’re at risk too.

Take some time to identify the danger zones where you could potentially disappoint a customer. Figure out where you’re vulnerable and outline how you’d like to handle both fixing the problem and resolving your customer’s frustrations that it happened.

Meet with your entire team to review your oops plan. Then, get it in writing and review it regularly with your team so that when a mistake happens – you all are ready.


Are you minding your packaging?

June 21, 2015

The smartest brands know that having an awesome product/service is important but how you present that awesome product or service matters too.  Yes, it probably costs more. And yes, it means you have to keep upping your game. So there’s risk and cost in making that choice. But it’s what separates the premium brands from their competitors.

Here are two of the world’s best brands and example of how seriously they take the simple presentation of their product.  Check out how Disney presents their MagicBands and Apple is sending out its new Apple Watch.

This is how Disney mails out their MagicBands.

This is how Disney mails out their MagicBands.


Inside the box is your personalized MagicBand -- in the color you selected and with your name printed on the inside of the band.

Inside the box is your personalized MagicBand — in the color you selected and with your name printed on the inside of the band.


This is the packaging for the Apple Watch.

This is the packaging for the Apple Watch.


And finally, you get to your new watch.

And finally, you get to your new watch.


In every case — the anticipation of actually getting to the product (and keep in mind with the Disney MagicBands — the bands are simply the access point to getting into Disney) heightens the experience of getting the actual item.

They don’t have to go to the extra lengths — but they do. Which triggers even more buzz and loyalty for their brand.

So — how can you, no matter what you sell, use anticipation and packaging to elevate your brand and create more buzz?


Actually, it’s isn’t all about you

February 7, 2013

Gaston2At a recent jaunt to Disney World*, I found a great marketing reminder for us all.   Right in front of the brand new Gaston’s Tavern in Fantasyland, there’s a huge statue of…no shocker, Gaston. (For those of you unfamiliar with Beauty and the Beast — shame on you!).

In front of the statue is this plaque that reads:

Tribute to Gaston

An extravagantly generous gift to the humble people of my village.

From Me, Gaston

Of course…Gaston is the buffoon in the movie but all too often brands and companies get their Gaston on.  They behave as though it’s all about them.  They talk about themselves incessantly (go on…look at your website — who do you talk about?) and they behave as though they are a gift to the people they’re supposed to serve.

We laugh at the behavior when Gaston does it in the movie.  We shake our head when we talk about how “other” companies market this way -but when was the last time you did an honest gut check of your own marketing materials?

If you aren’t talking about what really matters to your potential customers and customers — odds are, you’re talking about yourself.

So a little message from Gaston and me — get over yourself and start focusing on sharing what you know/do in a way that actually helps and serves your clientele.


*Note:  Yes, I know I start a lot of posts with this sentence.  I’m a 12 year old boy trapped in a grown up’s body.  I can’t help it.

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How badly do you want it?

June 1, 2012

There’s a remarkable difference between wishing for something and the relentless pursuit of a dream.

On this, the 65th anniversary of when they broke ground on Walt Disney World… I ask you this:

What do you want so badly that you’d ignore all the nay sayers, tune out all of negativity, keep getting up every time you get knocked down and when you close your eyes… you don’t see what might be, you see what WILL be?

And… when are you going to start making it a reality?  Walt Disney faced bankruptcy, professional ruin, and more “no’s” than you or I could ever imagine hearing.  But the vision was so strong, so real and so non-negotiable – he simply kept at it.

There’s a famous story that I love.  On the opening day of Walt Disney World, Walt’s brother Roy was being interviewed.  The reporter commented that it was a shame that Walt did not live to see it.  Roy quietly replied, “if Walt hadn’t seen it first, we wouldn’t be seeing it today.”

When you let yourself close your eyes and see the most audacious, crazy but spectacular thing in the world… what do you see and what are you doing to create it?

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How Disney says “I’m sorry”

November 24, 2010

Disneysorry_drewmclellanIt's inevitable…we're going to make a mistake or disappoint a customer.  And while Love Story might have told us that "love means never having to say you're sorry" I'm pretty sure that if we really want to create a love affair with our customers — we do on occasion, have to apologize.

The brilliant marketers at Disney know that for many, a trip to one of their resorts is a once in a lifetime event for a family.  So if they mess up, they'd better apologize in a big way.

Like most hotels, check in at Disney's Boardwalk is 4 pm.  But our room wasn't ready until around 6 pm.  Oops.

How did Disney handle their error?  First, we got a $200 credit on our room tab.  And then, there was a knock at the door and room service presented us with this beautiful (and delicious) 8" white chocolate Mickey and four tuxedo'd chocolate covered strawberries.

Do you suppose that right after we finally checked in, someone scrambled to figure out how to make things right with us?  Of course not.  Disney had a plan in place and all the cast member had to do was put it into action.

How about you — what's your white chocolate Mickey?  Don't wait until after you've disappointed a customer to figure out how to apologize.  


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Are you evolving with your marketplace?

May 13, 2009

One of the challenges for any mature business to to balance the two ideals — staying true to your brand's core and yet still being nimble enough to evolve with your marketplace.

As you may know, I am a bonafide Disneyophile.  I have been to Walt Disney World at least once a year since it opened in 1971.  Back in the late 70's and 80's, the only real competition to Disney was SeaWorld in Orlando and if you wanted to make the drive, Busch Gardens in Tampa.

I can remember leaving Disney property to head to SeaWorld as a kid.  It was a great day — Shamu the whale, feeding the dolphins the dead fish and watching a water skiing show.  There were many things to see and watch, but there wasn't a lot to do.  As a pre-teen boy, I was full of energy and loved thrill rides, like roller coasters.  So after our initial SeaWorld visit, my parents couldn't convince me that going back was worth losing a day of Disney's rides.

In the late 90's, Universal Studios added to the market by building two theme parks, packed with thrill rides.  Which I'm sure added even more pressure to Sea World.  They had two choices.  Stick with just Shamu & gang or branch out and add a thrill ride or two.  They opted for #2 and just last week opened The Manta.

Want to see how it might feel to ride the Manta?  Check out this POV animation of what the ride will be like.

What do you think?  I'm a little torn.  They did a good job of keeping the ride tied to their brand.  And I'm sure it will help them attract more young families, whose kids want thrill rides.

But on the flip side, their brand is about learning more about sea life and getting up close and personal.  Did Orlando really need another roller coaster?

If you were on the planning team at Sea World, would you have recommended the thrill ride or something different to keep up with the marketplace?

Check out Sea World's new Manta roller coaster!

P.S.  The logo below tells you that I heard about the Manta from IZEA and because I'm using their link, I'll get paid a whopping 50 cents per click.  I use that sort of money to pay for mailing out the free books etc. that we do here on the blog.  Pretty sure I'll never break even but you never know! ;-}

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It was inevitable, really.

December 13, 2008

I will probably be posting quite a bit less often with this latest development.  I wanted to share the news with you as soon as it was made public.  (feed and e-mail readers, please click on the headline to see the video)

You know there are very few things that would take me away from the blog….but come on!

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