Ted Topping, Creative Insights Inc.

Vancouver, BC Canada

“Coming Soon” Helps Disney Build a Relationship

Although every business needs to “cut expenses” sometimes, an unfortunate side effect of doing that can be a shift in strategic focus from the long term to the short term. Efforts aimed at building repeat business give way to a desperate “we need a sale” panic. But there is an alternative.

In Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience, our Disneyland benchmarking program, we look at three ways in which Disney avoids that shift by directing Guests’ attention to what is “Coming Soon.” The first of these creates a sale. The second adds value to the sale so that the customer is getting more. The third converts the sale into an ongoing relationship. Together, they represent a strategy that businesses in many other fields could use.

In the context of benchmarking, they are an effective way to manage and grow a business-customer relationship.

A cavalcade of themed vehicles visited various west-coast cities in May and June of 2007.

1. NEMO Creates a Sale

Disney used the first form of Coming Soon just before the opening of Disneyland’s Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage attraction in 2007. A cavalcade of vehicles, provided and fueled by park sponsors, visited various west-coast cities in May and June of that year. My partner and I caught the first stop on the tour: the Vancouver Aquarium.

The NEMO team had traveled north from Anaheim on the I-5, and was now beginning the return trip. The plan was to visit marine, science and other appropriate facilities along the way where the group could set up, draw a crowd and “bang the drum” a little.

The centerpiece of the show was a road-worthy version of the yellow Nautical Exploration and Marine Observation Institute (NEMO) research submarine. In the new Disneyland attraction, Guests would sit at a similar submarine’s porthole while the vessel traveled “fathoms beneath the surface,” letting people experience underwater curiosities including an undersea volcano.

Beyond the fun of Disneyland visiting us for a change, we got to experience a mobile version of the then-new Turtle Talk with Crush attraction.

Beyond the fun of Disneyland visiting us for a change, we got to experience a mobile version of the Turtle Talk with Crush attraction that had then just recently opened in Anaheim. And while people interacted with Crush, we got to speak at length with Mike Novak, the vehicle’s professional driver, who once drove floats in the Main Street Electrical Parade.

From that day forward, we hoped that a trip to Anaheim would be Coming Soon because we now had a personal link to the Nemo attraction and wanted to experience it more than ever.

In 1957, large Coming Soon attraction posters were located on the wall in front of Disneyland’s famous Mickey floral.

2. Posters Add Value to the Sale

The second form of Coming Soon has been a part of Disneyland since its earliest years.

Many of the people who imagined and engineered Disneyland in 1955 came to the project from the Walt Disney Studios. They were movie people who understood the art and science of making movies, and they tended to envision Walt’s new park in the same way.

This is why the Disneyland customer experience incorporates what would be called long shots, medium shots and close-ups in film, as well as transitions that are equivalent to dissolves and fades as the Guests move from area to area.

In this context, it feels somewhat natural that Disneyland features large Coming Soon attraction posters at the park entrance. Similar to the posters you see outside a movie theater, these tell park Guests what they have to look forward to that day: rides and attractions, many of them based on Disney movies.

Today’s attraction posters tell arriving Guests what they have to look forward to.

Originally located on the wall in front of the famous Mickey floral – a popular photo background for Guests – the attraction posters were eventually moved into the tunnels that lead into the park.

These posters are powerful in their emotional promise. The silk screen process used to create many of them communicates the “feel” of the attraction immediately, and the images feel “familiar,” having been used on post cards, coffee mugs, posters and pins over the years.

By adding to the “specialness” and anticipation of the attractions they depict, these Coming Soon posters increase the value of the admission-ticket purchase that a Guest has already made.

Promoted as an inside peak at what Disney Imagineers had in store, Blue Sky Cellar let Guests “see the future.”

3. Cellar Converts the Sale into a Relationship

The Blue Sky Cellar, opened in October 2008 and updated several times in the next few years, represents the third form of Coming Soon. It helped Disney build long-term relationships with its Guests.

Before each stage of the $1.2-billion construction project that brought Disney California Adventure closer to the customer experience that Guests expect from Disney, the company showcased what was Coming Soon in this small in-park location.

Promoted as an inside peak at what Disney Imagineers had in store, Blue Sky Cellar let Guests “see the future” while looking at the creative process used to develop current ideas into future attractions. Exhibits included things that Guests would not normally see: sketches, concept art, models, maquettes and a video journal documenting the creative progress.

The idea for this grew out of the fond memories that many Guests had of previous Disneyland preview centers, including one that operated when Disney California Adventure was added to the property in 2001. Its success lay partly in the “behind the scenes” access that Guests felt they had.

From the business perspective, Guests viewing the exhibits were already thinking at a subtle level about their next visit – and perhaps even the one after that. In other words, they were buying-in to an ongoing relationship.

When we start to discuss Disney promotions, marketing or advertising, someone typically suggests that it is all a matter of budget. And we typically reply that, actually, it’s not. Coming Soon, like so many worthwhile ideas, is a way of thinking – one that keeps the focus on the long-term relationship Disney wants to have with its Guests.

Now… let’s discuss the ways that you can apply this Disney benchmarking experience to increase the success of your business.

Written and photographed by Ted Topping

Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience is a unique, two-day benchmarking program. It demonstrates a service standard to which every consumer-facing business should aspire

This intense, small-group experience helps you to see the business behind the magic of Disney. Although you will be among thousands of guests, we will help you notice and study specific things – both good and bad – that most people will not see. You will interact constantly with the facilitators, and have time to discuss issues that are specific to your business.

While the Disney setting is amazing, this “learn by experiencing” program delivers practical ideas that you can apply immediately in the real world. And you don’t need to be part of a huge operation because Disney’s tactics, methods and standards work in any size business.

Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience will be most effective for people working at a level where they can influence both the service environment and the people in it, and who already “get” why those things are important.