Does Disney “Get” Virtual Worlds?

Second Life is looking for it’s Second Wind. There.com isn’t quite there yet. The media hype that surrounded virtual worlds just a year ago has ratcheted way back. Real world companies who came in not understanding what they were getting into quickly faded away after they didn’t get what they were expecting.

But one demographic seems to be doing quite well in the virtual space: Kids. If you have one of these living under your roof, you probably know that they are actively participating in online virtual/social networking spaces. They are joining online social networks at increasingly early ages (pre-school in the case of Club Penguin) and in those spaces, they are forming relationships that are very real.

This high level of participation has made kid-oriented worlds like Habbo, Gaia Online, Neopets, Webkinz and Nicktropolis more successful that adult oriented virtual worlds. Disney’s launched Virtual Magic Kingdom in 2005 with a target audience of 8 – 14 year-olds. Seeing business opportunity in the virtual space, they paid $350 Million to acquire Club Penguin last year. This year, Disney launched Pirates of the Caribbean Online to attract a somewhat older, but still teen aged audience (mostly boys) and Pixie Hollow (targeted at girls) is set to be launched later this year. The longer range plan, according to Mike Goslin, VP of Disney’s Virtual reality Studio, is to “have a large number of virtual world for a range of different audiences… sort of like a theme park.” The strategy also includes making the different worlds “feel like a common experience” including the ability to move your social contacts between virtual experiences.

Last Week, Shel Israel posted an fascinating video interview with Goslin and other senior team members from Disney’s Interactive Studios.

In the interview, the Disney team talks about the differentiators that they bring to the game. The most interesting one for me was the idea of Context. Like physical playgrounds, Disney sees their virtual worlds as socializing environments. In them, kids are learning collaboration skills, communication skills and social skills, but as with most everything Disney does, these interactions and communications are done in the context of a story. Disney believes creating social environments and communities around a context adds value to both consumers and business. On the customer side, building environments around a theme drives engagement by communities of interest who are passionate about that theme (think “ESPN Fantasy Football”). This leads to large communities that are defined by their common interest as opposed to the relatively small number of people that may be in your friend list. Those large communities with common interests provides a context for a business model like advertising. Because the community is all there for the same reason, they will likely engage in predictable ways (i.e. minimize random and inappropriate behavior).

Conspicuously absent from the interview was any mention of Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom (“VMK”). VMK was launched in 2005 as part of the Disneyland 50th year celebration. In it, participants create rooms themed after Magic Kingdom attractions, play mini-games, collect inventory and make friends. Just seven months after launch, Disney announced the game surpassed one million players and over 1.3 million personalized in-game rooms. Last month, with no advance notice, Disney announced that they would be shutting the doors on this virtual theme park on May 21. Predictably, the outcry from the “community” has been loud and is growing as the date approaches. A number of petitions have collected thousands of signatures, boycotts are being threatened and one group, VMK Kids Unite, is organizing a protest at the gates of Disneyland on May 10 which may be covered by CNN and CBS. Obviously, adults are helping to organize these efforts, but the kids are the driving force. Kids who are already comfortable with the participatory web and who want to have their voices heard.

So here’s my takeaway. From the interview, its clear that Disney understands the business opportunity in Virtual Worlds & Social Networks. The also have a pretty good idea how to build communities through contextually engaging virtual experiences. On the other hand, Disney’s decision to shut down VMK demonstrates that perhaps they don’t really get the “social” component. In these social environments, Disney’s role is to provide the frameworks (architectural, security and creative) and the context, but the real content is created by the participants. In shutting down VMK, they aren’t just closing an amusement park attraction. They are throwing away the work of the thousands of dedicated, passionate kids who have spent countless hours building and sharing wonderfully imaginative experiences, and in the process, will be alienating many of their most dedicated and influential advocates.

What do you think? Is closing VMK “just business”? Will the kids get over it? Is this consistent with Disney’s brand?

Update: Per my daughter’s advice, here are links to http://www.savevmk.com and http://www.savevmktoday.com

Update #2:  My daughter wrote a song and created a video about saving VMK.  Check it out here.

Marketing to Youth in Social/Virtual Worlds

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As I sit here in my kitchen looking for a job, my daughter Tyler and her friend have the big HP notebook fired up and pointed at Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom. Tyler, who just entered her teen years, has been playing around in virtual worlds for a few years now. She has as many friends in these communities as she does in real life and she is not alone. Millions of younger kids are spending significant time in virtual worlds like Disney’s Toontown, VMK, Club Penguin, Webkinz and Whyville. The market for “safe” teen social sites and virtual worlds continues to grow as well with MTVs virtual worlds, There.com, Doppelganger and others.

According to a recent study, 71 percent of tweens and teens between the ages of 9 and 17 visit social/virtual world sites weekly. There isn’t a clear tally of the virtual world population, but the number of registered users for kids and teen worlds is growing. From the study:

Urban teen environment Doppelganger has nearly 150,000 registered members, while PG-13 site There.com has 1 million members, 70 percent of whom are between the ages of 13 and 26. Self-described “edutainment” site for tweens, Whyville, has 2.3 million users.

As has been pointed out in numerous studies, many kids are watching less television, preferring instead to spend time on the internet. In the last week alone, my daugher has watched maybe 6 hours of TV, but has spent three times that much time on YouTube, VMK and other social sites. I’m beginning to think the computer is somehow physically attached to her as she takes it everwhere.

Enter the Marketers

Over at ClickZ, Matthew Nelson published a good article last month which discusses the the marketing landscape in youth oriented virtual worlds. He points out that in the PG-13 worlds, marketers are quite active in promoting specific items that appeal to todays teens (clothing, music, electronics). The challenge here is to find ways to engage them. As Nelson points out, this audience has been the target of sophisticated campaigns since they were babies. They recognize when they are being marketed to and will simply ingnore the message if it doesn’t add value to them.

To appeal to teens, advertisers and virtual worlds often team-up around themes that are clear fits, such as music, entertainment, clothing and electronics, but marketers need to engage their audience to keep them coming back. Recently, There.com signed an agreement with Capitol Music Group to bring music artists into its world, and created a series of virtual nightclubs for them to play in. More than that, users will be able to watch videos and interact with band members.

“The artists are realizing they need to be more involved with their market,” said Michael Wilson, CEO of There. “And this is a more efficient way to meet a fan, to change the engagement with them from a few moments to minutes.”

Nelson points out that there has been conscious decision among the young kid oriented sites to disallow all in-world advertising, but that’s not to say that the sites themselves aren’t powerful marketing vehicles for the brands that own them. The point of sites like Nicktropolis, Toontown & VMK is to get kids to interact and engage with the brand. Spend any time in VMK and you will see all kinds of in-world ad for Disney properties.

Youth Are Receptive to Marketers IF….

A recent study conducted by Grunwald Associates found that kids (9 to 17-year olds) are not only spending significant time in social sites, but are willing to engage with advertisers in those spaces is they are approached in the right way (i.e. must be relevant and perceived as adding value).

Disney obviously understands the attraction of social/virtual worlds to their target consumer (kids) and are aggressively moving to expand their presence. They are planning new virtual worlds around specific properties like Pirates of the Carribean and just this week bought Club Penguin. By simply renaming it “Disney’s Club Penguin” club penguin fans become Disney fans. Others brands, such as Capital Music Group, are partnering with virtual worlds to build persistent experiences for their consumers to interact with. If you market products to youth, social/virtual worlds are clearly channels that you need be exploring. These are two examples of what I think are successful approaches to marketing in social/virtual worlds.

Do you have some examples to share (good or bad)? What are the big pitfalls of marketing to youth through these channels.

Discuss……

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 3

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I’ll be picking up my wife and daughter at the airport this evening.  They wrapped up their marathon 9-day Disney vacation today and I’m sure they will have lots of stories to tell about all the things I missed.  Some I’ve already heard about, like the characters in the latest Castle Court show have mouths and eyes that move.  My daughter said it was “a little freaky”, but to me, adding animation to the typically static character costumes, makes them seem more expressive, more real, especially to the younger guests.   People like to talk about their experiences, both good and bad.  It’s the sharing of these experiences that can make or break a brand over time.  If people tend to talk negatively about their experience with you, you better listen to what they are saying and respond accordingly.  Disney Guests generally have very positive things to say and that reflects the fact that they are externally focused on the customer and their experience.

In this third and final note on my recent Disney experience is going to be a bit of a meandering catch-all, but hopefully you will like it.  The first topic on the agenda is:

Make It Easy For Me

disney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgThere is nothing relaxing about spending a week at Disney.  You are on the go from the minute you wake up (early if you going to that character breakfast at another resort), to the minute you crash following Extra Magic Hours.  Disney has been quite innovative at designing and implementing programs that make it easier for me to get the most out of my experience and gives Disney more opportunities to generate more revenue.  I already mentioned the Magical Express program which, when it works well, makes it really easy to get to and from Orlando airport and saves me lots of cash.  My 40 minutes on the bus each way also gives Disney the chance to market the cruise line or the vaction club to me (in an entertaining way, of course).   

fastpass2.jpgfastpass1.jpgDisney’s Fastpass system is one of the best innovations I have ever seen in an themepark.  If you aren’t familiar with , it is a system introduced in 1999, that allows guests to avoid long lines at Disney theme parks. At an attraction featuring FASTPASS, guests can use their park admission ticket to obtain a FASTPASS ticket (essentially a reservation) with a return time later that day (an hour-long window) printed on it. If the guest comes back to the attraction during the specified return times, the guest can wait in a special line called “FASTPASS Return” and be able to ride on the attraction with a much shorter wait time than normal queue.  This is a “win-win” for both you and Disney.  A guest standing in line is a guest not spending money in the giftshops or restaurants.  By giving me a reservation. I can go do other things, which Disney hopes will involve spending money.

The third Make It Easy For Me innovation is called PhotoPass.  If you’ve been to virtually any big theme park, you know about the gauntlet of park photographers that you have to get past to get into the park.  Disney wasn’t any different until a couple of years ago, as described by Deb Wills on her excellent AllEarsNet website:

Prior to December 2004, Disney photographers were easy to spot and eager to take your photo as you entered the theme park. In fact, their eagerness and zeal could be found quite annoying after a while. I know that some folks really did like this photo opportunity, but to me, there was something about this process that just wasn’t “magical.” Once they took your photograph, you were given a paper card with a number on it. You were instructed to return to the Photo Center in a few hours for the viewing and purchase of your photo. At each location where you had a photo taken, you received yet another paper card. If you were like most people, and waited until the afternoon or, worse, closing time to get your mementos, you found yourself crowded into a small store with the anticipation of a long wait.

Theme Park Photo Pass MachineWith Disney’s PhotoPass system a Disney photographer gives you a plastic PhotoPass card with a magnetic strip and an ID number on the back. Each time you see one of the roving photographers and want a photo taken, just go up and hand them your card — they’ll get you situated, snap the pose, scan your card and off you go.  When you’re ready to view your pictures, you can either go to the Photo Center at the park or wait until you can get online at your resort or back home.

These guys are really good and will often get you in creative poses.  While I enjoy taking my own pictures, we hardly ever get shots of the whole family.  PhotoPass makes it easy to get great family pictures.  The cost per print is a little high for me, but there is no obligation to buy any of them. 

I should point out that Disney has been listening to their customers and has made several significant improvements to the program over the last 2 years including integrating the system into the several major attractions like TestTrack.

No Negative Surprises

We experienced two of these on this trip.  First, we went to MGM Studios of Father’s Day because I am totally addicted to Rockin Rollercoaster.  I have been known to ride it back to back for hours on a slow day.  We came through security, ran our passes through the scanner and entered the park.  Once we were inside there was a sign posted saying that Rockin Rollercoaster would be closed all day…….  on Father’s Day……. when dads should be able to do what they want like ride Rockin Rollercoaster!  I later found out why it was closed, but they really picked the wrong day for it.  What’s worse is that they didn’t have the notice posted outside of the park.  I’m sure there were people who used up a day on their pass only to be disappointed.  The reason it was closed was that they were adding a single rider line.  I came back the next day and was able to ride it 6 times in an hour – w00t.

Second, Disney notified us the night before we left that they would not be able to honor our reservations for the second half of the week at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Althought the reservations were made months ago, the construction of the new Vacation Club villas has closed parts of the resort.  Disney offered to put us in villa accomodations in the Downtown Disney area, but having a kitchen is not the same experience as having giraffes outside your balcony.  They eventually upgraded us to a better room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but we didn’t have this resolved until the day we were supposed to move.

Be True To Your Brand

I was in the Magic Kingdom and had just watched a stage show at the castle.  All of these shows follow a similar formula:  The good guys vs. the bad guys with Mickey saving the day plus a princess or two thrown in for good measure.  Like the show format, the musical style for these productions hasn’t changed much from what was typical when Disneyland opened in 1955.  While there have been a number of attractions replaced or updated through the years, the feel is still the same.  Disney has built some pretty intense attractions in the other Disney World parks, but not in the Magic Kingdom.  Traditionally, the Disney brand begins to fall off for boys at about 9 or 10 years old and girls a bit older. This is a hole in Disney’s guest demographics that they would love to fill.   I was Twittering pretty much through the trip and posed the question:

Would putting a hyper-coaster in the magic kingdom make it more attractive for teens or would it be inconsistent with the park’s brand?

I got a couple of responses with opinions on both sides, but in general, the feeling was that it would fundamentally change the park and that would not be a good thing (can you say “New Coke”).  As Tim Siedell pointed out, “Universal caters to that age and crowd (thrill coasters) and the Magic Kingdom pounds them in attendance.” 

So a couple of takaways from this final post on Disney World:

  1. Look for opportunities to make it easier for your customers to enjoy their experience.  Don’t assume these will add costs to you operation.  As Disney has shown, “Make It Easy” innovations can be win-wins.
  2. While Surprise and Delight is good, Negative Surprises are not.  Be vigilant about identifying and addressing potential negative surprises before the customer encounters them and when they do happen, have alternatives and solutions ready that will meet or exceed the customers needs.
  3. Be careful about introducing changes that fundamentally change your brand.  You may be able to attract some new customers, but you may also lose some of what makes your experience special in the first place.

As I mentioned in Part 1, Walt Disney World is a great case study for people passionate about customer experience design.  I’d love to hear your thought on Disney World.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 2

Disney’s parks and resorts have a well deserved reputation for delivering great experiences. In tonight’s installment, I’ll give you a few more examples from my recent trip and also examine some experiences that don’t measure up to the Disney standard.

Extend the Experience

wdw_magical_express.jpgI have written about Disney’s Magical Express before. This is the service that basically extends your Disney experience all the way back to your home airport. It’s absolutely great when it works, but on the inbound leg of this trip, it did not live up to the Disney standard. I think the problems can be traced back to the fact that Disney does not operate this service. It is outsourced to a local transportation company and therefore is not directly managed by Disney. It’s not unusual for companies to outsource parts of their operation, but they need to be very careful about ensuring that the service provider is consistently delivering an experience that lives up to your brand. My wife and I came in on different flights. English was apparently a second language for my driver and so he was silent for most of the trip. The buses have TV screens and on previous trips, there has been either a movie like Snow White or a video marketing the Disney Vacation Club. On this trip, there was nothing. It was just a bus ride.

My wife and daughter arrived around 3:00pm. While their trip seemed to measure up to the Disney Experience, trouble was just around the corner. Knowing that their luggage was tagged and would be delivered to the room, we went to the Magic Kingdom for the evening. When we returned to the room at 1:00am, we discovered that our daughter’s suitcase was missing. With her in tears, we called the Magical Express people who were able to locate the bag at the airport in about 5 minutes. They brought it to the room around 3:00am.

There are controls built into this system that should have prevented this from happening. The bag had the Magical Express tag on it indicating who it belonged to and what resort we were staying at. It should not have taken a phone call for them to recognize and resolve the problem. Disney needs to do a much better job of ensuring that their service providers are consistently delivering an experience worthy of the Disney brand. On the positive side, my return trip to the airport was wonderful. The driver was one of the better entertainers that I had seen all week. Oh, and about the lack of movies on the inbound trip, the driver explained that it was a brand new bus (styled for the Disney Cruise Line), and the video gear had not been installed yet. Setting expectations is a good thing!

Let Me Co-Create the Experience

monsters-inc-laugh-floor-co.jpgIn recent years, Disney has incorporated more and more interactivity into their attractions. EPCOT’s Mission Space, for example, assigns roles and tasks to each of the riders on “the mission”. The Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride in Disneyland allows you to not only rack up the points when you’re riding it in person, but also to participate through an online component. The Turtle Talk with Crush attraction uses digital puppetry to create a verbally and visually interactive animated character. A new attraction in Orlando’s Tomorrowland is Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor Comedy Club. Like TurtleTalk but on a much larger scale, the Laugh Floor features interactive animated characters, but in this attraction, Disney has gone one step further by integrating the use of cell phone text messages into the attraction. While you wait in line for the next show, you are asked to send text messages from your cell phone to the monsters, offering your jokes for the monsters to tell. I saw lots of people, mostly kids, texting jokes while waiting for the show. We did it; they used our joke and gave credit to our daughter. What’s really different here is the use of an independent, guest-owned electronic input device to influence the content of an attraction.

I’ll post the rest of my observations tomorrow, but in the meantime, think about how these points might apply to your business. If you are in the business of delivering experiences (hint… you are!), what are you doing to extend the brand experience beyond the boundaries of your physical or digital space. If you are using partners to deliver some of you brand’s experience, are they executing consistently and at a level that your customers expect? Are you engaging your customers by allowing them to help you co-create the experience? You should be.

Part 3 of this series is here.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 1

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I’ve been computer-free for the last week spending time with the family at Walt Disney World, hence the absence of new posts. I was Twittering throughout the trip, much to the dismay of my wife and daughter, and even raised the ire of our waitress at the Prime Time Cafe (more on that later). You can go to my Twitter page (see link in the sidebar) if you want to relive my vacation tweet by tweet.

Disney is one of the world’s greatest marketers and their parks and resorts make great case studies in a number of areas including engagement and customer experience design, marketing and new media. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to discuss some of my recent experiences, both good and bad.

Surprise & Delight

Every year, Disney selects a theme and aligns all of their park and resort operations around it. This year, is”The Year of A Million Dreams” and to help “make your dreams come true”, Disney is having their cast members randomly give out over a million “dreams” including chances to spend the night in Cinderella’s castle, “Dream Fastpass” badges which gives you unlimited access to all major attractions bypassing the waiting line and a Grand Marshall Tour of Disney parks around the world.

There are no contests to enter, or disclosing of contact information. Someone just walks up to you and makes you a winner. You just need to be in the right place at the right time and even the cast members don’t know the when, where or what of the giveaway until just before it happens. I met several people who were given dream Fastpass badges and they were ecstatic about it. The really enjoyed telling their stories to anyone who would listen. And consider how much fun it is for the cast members to be able to execute the giveaways. That has to help with cast member engagement. Surprising & Delighting your customers is an important ingredient in the creating great experiences that your customers will tell others about.

Make Individuals Feel Special

Speaking of engagement, Disney cast members are almost universally programmed to react to badges that special guests wear, My daughter had her 13th birthday while we were there and so we went to the City hall in the Magic Kingdom to get a birthday badge. From that moment on, virtually every cast member that we encountered made it a point to wish her a happy birthday. Every table service restaurant that we went to, brought out a birthday cupcake without us having to ask. Of course, my daughter loved the attention so much that she continued to wear the badge long after her birthday. This is a great example of how to make a customer feel special without having to spend a lot of financial capital.

Reward Me For My Patronage

At Disney, different levels of commitment come with different perks. For example, purchasing an annual pass (which is roughly the cost of 8 days in the parks), gets you some serious discounts on Disney Resort hotels. Staying at Disney resort hotels comes with their own set of rewards, not the least of which is convenience. A couple of years ago, Disney started offering Extra Magic Hours at the parks for guests staying at Disney hotels. The program gets you into the parks an hour earlier and allows you to stay up to 2 hours after closing. Disney gets 3 additional hours of access to your wallet and you get a couple of extra rides on your favorite attraction. To the uninitiated, this is a pretty good reason to stay on Disney property. If you are a regular guest like I am, you know the real secret is to stay away from the park that has early entry because that’s where the crowds are going to be. With this program, Disney rewards their Resort guests with a tangible benefit.

Tomorrow, I’ll get into some other topics like how Disney is involving the customer in co-creating the experience. In the meantime, think about the experiences you create for your customers. Do you Surprise & Delight? Do you make your customers feel special? Do you reward them for their patronage? If you do, great. If you don’t, perhaps you should take a trip to Disney World and learn a few lessons from Walt and Mickey.

Part 2 of this series is here.

Brand Engagement – LOST

I love ABC’s LOST.  The characters are full of flaws (human) and maybe that’s why its easy to get attached to them.  The show’s production is excellent and the storyline carefully allows the mysteries to age before revealing the truth (which often comes with another mystery).  I’ve written before about the many channels used by the producers to extend the Lost experience and the amazing amount of user-generated content related to the series.  OK, hold that thought.

My daughter will be 13 next week.  As someone who loves to observe marketing and consumers, it’s been fascinating to watch her develop as a consumer.  Like most young girls, Disney princesses were a big part of her young life.  She had the costumes and pretended to be them (Snow White was her favorite).  As she grew up, she moved through other branded entertainment properties, many of which got the same high level of engagement.  She practiced singing Britney Spears and Michelle Branch songs, learned all the lines and songs from Wicked, and with each brand that she became engaged with, her friends usually got engaged too. 

Last year, I got her to watch the LOST series premier on DVD.  After ten minutes, she was hooked and we proceeded to watch the first 2 seasons at a clip of 3-4 shows a night.  This season, LOST is her obsession.  She reads the blogs and Wikis, buys magazines with LOST stories, and has uncovered connections in the plot that I was not aware of.  As with everything in her life, she has shared her obsession with her friends and many of them are now hooked.

A few months ago, she made a movie about the Apple store and I wrote about it here.   Yesterday, she made another movie.  This time its short montage about a character from LOST named Charlie Pace who died in the season finale.  I’m sure that there is a fair amount of parental pride influencing my assessment of her work, but I think it’s really good.  She has mixed music, images, words, and footage from the series together to tell a story about Charlie as if he were a real person.  After she loaded it up to YouTube, I did a search to find it and was astonished to see that there were over 6400 user generated videos tagged with “Charlie Pace”! 

To me this is real brand engagement.  It’s one thing to have original user generated content, but for entertainment brands to have their consumers turning out content about their content, something special is going on.

Is this just me or do you see examples of this too?  If it’s a real phenomenon, what should the entertainment brands be doing with that content and it’s creators?  Can they drive the engagement even higher by interacting with these mavens?  How much could the brand grow if these people were encouraged to be advocates for the brand? 

Where Does The Customer Experience Begin and End?

Back in Virginia after a chilly spring break in NYC. The bad weather yesterday morning cause the usual air traffic delays, so the family got to spend 4 hours in JetBlue’s JFK terminal. I wrote earlier this week about my JetBlue experience at the start of the vacation and the time spent waiting to come home provided additional fodder for a continued discussion (sorry Jet Blue).

At 1:30 pm, just prior to leaving the hotel, I checked JetBlue’s website to see if our 4:40 flight was delayed.  The site said it was on-time, but upon arrival at JFK, I learned we were delayed until 6:00pm. No problem, other than the fact that I never received a notification of delay from JetBlue as promised in their “Customer Bill of Rights“.  JetBlue is building a new terminal at JFK, but until then, they are in an older, temporary facility. Nevertheless, JetBlue needs to keep this area maintained. We experienced broken tables, poorly maintained restrooms, very limited seating, and there was apparently no heat at our gate.

Point 1: Your customer’s experience with you starts well before the actual service that you provide.

One of JetBlue’s “reasons why you’ll like us” is their free Wireless HotSpot service Unfortunately, it hardly ever works at JFK. You can see it as an available network, but your computer rarely connects. So there I sat along with hundreds of others, for 4 hours, trying to get my computer to connect to their network.

Point 2: When you advertise something and set an expectation with your customers, failure to deliver damages your brand.

This was our second spring break trip to NYC. We usually go to warmer, more Southern destinations for spring break as well as other vacations, and we are certified Walt Disney World junkies. As I was sitting at the Jet Blue gate following 5 days of chilly vacation, I thought a lot about how a Disney vacation would have been different.

If you have experienced Disney World, and especially if you have stayed in one of their better resorts, you know that they really focus on delivering a “magical experience”. For many years, the worst part about going to Disney was getting to and from the resort. You could take a group shuttle, which would cost our family about $60 round trip and, if you were the last stop, could take about 2 hours. Alternatively, you could hire a limo for $80-$100 plus tip. You still had to claim and lug your luggage both to and from the airport and if you were coming in before check-in time, you had to go to the hotel and arrange for your luggage to be stored before going to the parks.

Last year, Disney started a new service called Disney’s Magical Express. It gives guests staying at Disney resorts complimentary, round trip transportation and luggage handling. When the customer reserves a pass on the Magical Express, they are sent special tags to attach to their luggage. When you arrive at the Orlando airport, you bypass baggage claim and head straight for the Magical Express bus destined for your hotel. Most airlines participate in the program and they, along with Disney take care of getting you bags to your hotel room. You don’t have to lug you luggage, the buses are really nice touring-style vehicles and on the trip, the kids get to see Disney videos. Oh yeah, you also get a liberal dose of advertising for Disney’s Vacation Club. Using this service also allows you to get to the parks (where you will spend money) sooner.

Departure is just as easy as you check your bags in to your airline and also get your boarding passes at the hotel. The next time you see them is at your home airport. You just get on the bus with your carry-on bags and when you get to the airport, you go straight to the gate. This makes it easier to carry all those things you purchased while on vacation. With addition of this service, Disney has extended the beginning and endpoints of the Disney World experience all the way out to your home town!

The way Disney approaches the customer experience problem is a great example for other companies to follow.  They don’t see the experience happening just on their property.  They look at the entire vacation from the customer’s perspective and find ways to integrate the Disney brand into as many touchpoints as possible.  Then, they ensure that the experience delivered consistently exceeds expectations.  These are two elements for my prescription for building loyalty and Disney delivers these at every turn.  Companies like JetBlue should take note.