Theme Park Magic – Branding Experiences on Twitter

We just returned from a three-day trip to Disney World.  We were there to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday and had three generations of our family on the same rides I went on as a child – It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Peter Pan.  On the first day we all wore t-shirts in celebration of my father’s birthday.  It was amazing the number of people who stopped us to say “Happy Birthday” or “Where’s the birthday boy” or who congratulated my father on making it so far and looking so fit.  While some of those people were Disney employees, the vast majority were other visitors to the parks.  Disney World is a place where people actively engage and interact with their environment.  They come to the park expecting a hands-on experience, and expecting to be in touch with the people, characters, rides, and other visitors.

This same spirit of interaction is evident in Disney’s Twitter strategy.  Look at only the official Disney presence on Twitter:

Handle Description Followers
@WaltDisneyWorld The official Twitter feed for the Walt Disney World   Resort 338,187
@Disneyland The official Twitter feed for the Disneyland Resort-covering   Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure Park, Downtown Disney and   Disneyland Resort Hotels 215,476
@DisneyCruise The official Twitter feed for Disney Cruise Line 69,971
@DisneyParks The official Twitter feed for Disney Parks & Resorts-covering   Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World, Disney Cruise Line and properties   worldwide 251,989
@DisneySports The official Twitter feed for sports across all   Disney Parks 19,196

 

This list does not even include more specific Disney handles such as @runDisney, or fan threads such as @DisneyWorldMom.

Compare Disney’s Twitter profile to Universal Studios:

Handle Description Followers
@UORnews Official Twitter for Universal Orlando Resort 32,586
@UniStudios The official Universal Studios Hollywood (Theme Park) Twitter 42,483
@UniversalPics Welcome to Universal Pictures 201,836

 

Both Disney and Universal are multinational media empires.  The Walt Disney Company owns all of the Disney brands, Touchstone, Pixar, ESPN, and the ABC News brands (The Walt Disney Company).  However, the Disney theme park’s social media presence emphasizes the many types of family-oriented experiences that guests can have through the Disney brand.  They offer everything from theme parks, to cruises, to sporting events.  Disney’s strategy is to focus on the interactive experiences that guests can have in multiple venues through Twitter (and of course its other online vehicles, including its website, YouTube channels, and blogs).

Universal (part of UniversalNBC) is a subsidiary of Comcast, whose brands also include all of the NBC franchises (MSNBC, CNBC), Telemundo, Bravo, Sprout, Xfinity, Oxygen, and hosts of popular TV shows and films (2011 Annual Review).  Universal’s strategy is to cross-promote its familial brands.  Hence, the theme parks become forums through which to sell the other entertainment offerings.  The difference between these two brand strategies can be illustrated by comparing the Twitter image associated with @WaltDisneyWorld and @UORnews, and the “following” lists of each profile.

@WaltDisneyWorldhttps://twitter.com/#!/WaltDisneyWorld/following has only 77 follows, including bloggers on Disney, news about Disney, travel advice, and a few Disney staff.  The banner image is the iconic centerpiece of the Disney brand, Cinderella’s Castle, paired with the “W” from Walt Disney’s signature as the tweet image.  In fact, all of the Disney images are variations on the official Disney logos.  They do not explicitly reference the popular characters.  Rather, the inhabitants of the Disney films and parks maintain real-world  existences in action films, games, toys, clothing, and of course in the parks themselves.

 

 

In contrast, https://twitter.com/UORnews has 407 follows.  However, sprinkled among the bloggers and fans are celebrities, characters, and films under the Universal/Warner Brothers umbrella, Despicable Me 2including @ConanO’Brien, @DespicableMe, @SpongeBob, and @kelly_clarkson.  Furthermore, the media connections of the brand are expressed in the fact that it follows major news and television outlets from around the world.  The image displayed (currently) on the Orlando theme park is a shot from the current film Universal Studios is promoting, next summer’s release of Despicable Me 2 (slated for June 2013).  The connections between these different aspects of Comcast (the different personalities, artistic products, and news feeds) help to create relationships that extend interest and loyalty from one brand to another.  It also leverages the highly popular personalities to make consumers aware of other aspects of the company.

 

 

Disney has a cohesive brand focused on family entertainment that enjoys instant recognition.  Their diversification strategy, therefore, has a common center that holds the pieces in place.  By contract, Comcast is in multiple, related, media areas, and needs to more actively connect the dots for the consumer.

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Book Buying and Beyond

One of the great traditions of elementary school in the US is Scholastic books.  I remember bringing home the paper catalog, choosing a book, placing my order through my teacher, and a few weeks later getting my book at school to bring home to read.  It was a real treat.  Of course, these days, Scholastic books are a huge online extravaganza.  Although my child still brings home paper catalogs, the ordering can happen online.  The order goes to the teacher, I pay with my credit card, and the book comes home same as always.

The website has some tremendously valuable attributes.  First, it can be searched via a number of methods, including by the paper catalog issue/page, by author or main character and by age/school level.  Second, the site includes educational and instructional materials for parents, as well as expanded merchandise selections.  Third, the site allows teachers to interact with parents.  The teacher can suggest books that the students in the class might use, and teachers receive points that they can use to purchase instructional items for the classroom based on the amount of money that parents spend that year.

Scholastic has moved beyond books and into learning with a capital L.  Recommended reading lists that blend marketing with information are posted, but they are enlivened by commentary from actual parents.  See the comments on the Top 100 Books listing, including suggestions of books that are missing (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Roald Dahl titles, and no Laura Ingalls Wilder).  Blogs include advice on how to help children attain reading and writing literacy.  For example a recent article found via the parents Scholastic Facebook page (but hosted on Scholastics’ website) shows how to set up a writing center for children 5-7.  Beyond that, however, photos make the Scholastic Facebook timeline bright and helpful.  Children’s cardboard box structures, dog photos, and book covers illustrate the creativity that accompanies child critical thinking and literacy skills.  Click here for a great example of what kids can do with boxes!

In fact Scholastic is moving to compete with Kindle and the Nook.  Their website includes links to different apps that allows me to use the Scholastic books with my child in a few formats (including a mobile app that records the amount  of time the child reads as part of a summer challenge to motivate reading, and an e-book app).  The e-book app just won the “2012 Editor’s Choice Award” from The Children’s Technology Review (PR Newswire).  According to the company’s summary of the first quarter of 2012, e-Book sales were a large part of its 10% growth (Scholastic reports).

A 2010 Harvard Business Review story overviewed a new model of consumer behavior called the “consumer decision journey” (CDJ) which was originally introduced in a June 2009 issue of McKinsey Quarterly (Edelman, p. 1).  The CDJ model replaces the sales funnel model, showing that consumers spend more time in the evaluate, enjoy-advocate-bond parts of the purchase process than in the traditional winnowing process the funnel model emphasizes (Edelman, p.8).

CDJ ModelFigure A (Edelman, p. 8):  CDJ model – the post-purchase phase is extended and retains a relationship with the product.  Consumption is not limited to the immediate purchase, but includes more emphasis on the emotional connection the consumer feels to the brand through the social process of sharing the experience with others.

 

 

 

Figure B (Edelman, p. 8):  Traditional sales funnel – all of the emphasis is placed on the movement from awareness to decision in the pre-purchase phase.Funnel Model

The new open-ended relationships that consumers have with products, created by easy access to information sharing, means that retailers need to renew focus on creating a reliable, coherent message that aligns in reality with their product.  Scholastic’s entry into the book app market, with its track-record of helping parents help their children, is another win for parents who want to foster literacy and creativity within our upcoming generation.

Sources:

Edelman, D. (2010).  Branding in the Digital Age:  You’re Spending Your Money in All the Wrong Places.  Harvard Business Reviewhttp://hbr.org/2010/12/branding-in-the-digital-age-youre-spending-your-money-in-all-the-wrong-places/ar/1

Scholastic, Inc. (2011, September 22).  Scholastic Reports Strong Fiscal 2012 First Quarter Results.  Scholastic Media Room, Retrieved from http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/node/498

Scholastic, Inc. (2012, May 24).  Scholastic Storia Awarded The “Editor’s Choice Award” by Children’s Technology Review.  PR Newswire, Retrieved from http://finance.yahoo.com/news/scholastic-storia-awarded-editors-choice-170600046.html