Marketing Book Summary: Inside the Magic Kingdom

Marketing thought leaders are prolific, and it can be hard to keep up with the most recent developments in marketing. That’s why, each month, we bring you an in-depth marketing book summary. This month’s summary is Inside the Magic Kingdom, by Tom Connellan.

7 Keys to Disney’s Success

The Walt Disney Corporation is a household name. From small beginnings and widely loved animated characters, Disney has grown to become an entertainment powerhouse, supporting their home-grown films with acquisitions of franchises such as Star Wars and Marvel (for $4 billion each).

Inside the Magic Kingdom, by Tom Connellan, tells the story of Disney’s physical kingdoms: Disney World. Although some aspects of Disney have changed since the book’s publication in 1996, the principles it covers are indeed timeless.

In the book, Connellan uses a fictional tour of Disney World to make a simple point: everything you do matters to your customers. As he notes, 80 percent of park business is repeat customers, a phenomenon only possible because of the pursuit of excellence.

In this Marketing Book Summary, we’ve stripped away some of the narrative to deliver the seven key lessons to Disney’s success.

Lesson One: The Competition Is Anyone the Customer Compares You With

Competitors are usually considered competitors because they produce similar products or target similar customer bases. At any given moment, members of the life science and healthcare community can likely name several companies that compete with one another.

Connellan argues that the definition of “competitor” should be much larger than it is. Even if you are not literally competing with a company for business, customers often compare their experience with one company to their experience with another.

If your customer calls you because they are having difficulty implementing your inventory management software, your competition suddenly becomes every company that has ever given that customer tech support.

Again, in many instances you are not literally competing for business. But customers coming away from an interaction with a positive experience will be more likely to develop a long-term relationship with your company.

Lesson Two: Pay Fantastic Attention to Detail

How often should Disney repaint the hitching posts at Disney World?

You could answer this question by thinking about the lifespan of a coat of paint, explore the costs of extra coats, and examine various paint manufacturers for price and reliability.

Or, if you’re Disney, you could repaint the hitching posts every time the park closes.

Paying fantastic attention to detail filters through every interaction with your customer. Will most park visitors notice if the paint on one of the posts is peeling slightly? No, of course not. But if you’re putting that much effort into a hitching post, you had better put as much effort into everything else.

This commitment to detail is borne out throughout the entire park. Murals are fantastically detailed, to the point where a visitor could see a mural dozens of times and still discover something new.

By providing a superlative experience that leaves nothing to chance, Disney was again able to foster long-term loyalty.

Lesson Three: Everyone Walks the Talk

At Disney World, everyone from the cleaning staff to the costumed performers plays a role in maximizing the customer’s experience.

As importantly, everyone at every level of the organization pitches in to support the company’s stated value. If the organization values park cleanliness, even a top executive will pause to pick up a piece of trash.

The lesson here is actually twofold. On the one hand, as Connellan says:

“Every time a customer comes in contact with your company, you have an opportunity to create value.”

Every interaction, every moment of every day of your company’s work needs to reflect your best effort to maximize value.

At the same time, people high up the chain have the opportunity to set a fantastic internal example. If even an executive vice president pauses to clean the park, what message does that send to everyone else?

Generating internal buy-in is often a matter of setting internal examples.

Lesson Four: Everything Walks the Talk

In a slight overlap with lesson two, lesson four focuses on attention to detail.

At Disney World, everything is as authentic as possible. The brass buttons on a uniform jacket are actually brass, rather than painted plastic. The carousel is actually covered in 23-karat gold leaf, rather than just gold paint.

Most customers will never notice this level of attention to detail. Of course, the few that do are likely to appreciate it, but the real benefit here is similar to the benefit in lesson three: your team will know.

The team at Disney might not be able to recognize the difference between gold leaf and gold paint, but they all know that the carousel is painted with real gold.

Having “everything walk the talk” is an expression of your company’s values. When every aspect of your organization reflects your key principles, your team is far more likely to commit to excellence.

Lesson Five: Customers Are Best Heard Through Many Ears

No, this lesson is not just a joke about Mickey Mouse.

The key takeaway from lesson five is that your customers are speaking to you through multiple channels. You can of course conduct the standard customer satisfaction survey, and you should.

But what is your sales team hearing from customers? What events are your customers attending? Which products do they buy more of, and how often do they make repeat purchases? How many of them are opening your emails?

All of these data points, and more, can give you insight into your customer’s key goals and challenges. The more sources of listening you have, the more value you can add to your customer (even if you don’t want to create a position called “Chief Listening Officer”).

At Disney World, team members of course conduct formal surveys. But they also make an effort to listen to customers as individuals at every conceivable opportunity. After each shift, teams will come together to discuss positives and opportunities for improvement.

Ultimately, using every piece of information available results in a more valuable product (whether this is a marketing message or an actual product) and customer experience.

Lesson Six: Reward, Recognize, and Celebrate

People do better when they are rewarded.

But Connellan is quick to point out that these rewards can come in several forms. When park visitors fill out cards praising individual team members, the cards are posted visibly in the break room.

Rewarding good work with recognition and praise is a critical component of a highly motivated team. Disney World is known for the “magical” stories and experiences it produces, and these experiences are only possible if team members go above and beyond the call of duty. Recognition of those efforts goes a long way toward repeating them.

In his book Turn the Ship Around, Lieutenant David Marquet makes a similar point about rewards and leadership:

“Immediate recognition means just that, immediate. Not thirty days. Not thirty minutes. It should be immediate.”

Marquet builds on Connellan’s point about recognition: not only is recognition critical to a high-performance team, it must be immediate to be useful.

Lesson Seven: Xvxryonx Makxs a Diffxrxncx

This somewhat oddly worded lesson is introduced by this paragraph:

“Somxtimxs I gxt to thinking that what I do doxsn’t mattxr. But whxn I start thinking that way, I rxmxmbxr my old typxwritxr. Most of thx kxys workxd finx most of thx timx. But onx day, onx of the kxys stoppxd working althogxthxr. And that rxally mxssxd xvxrything up. So whxn I’m txmptxd to say I’m only onx pxrson, it won’t makx a diffxrxncx if I don’t do this quitx right, I rxmxmbxr my old typxwritxr. Thxn I say to mysxlf ‘I am a kxy pxrson and nxxdxd vxry much.’”

The lesson, of course, is that every piece matters. This final story serves to pull together the previous six lessons into an overarching theme: every piece of your organization, every aspect of your business, contributes to your ultimate mission.

In order to achieve wild success, an organization must be consistent from top to bottom. It must listen to its customers and rewards its team members. And it must constantly, perpetually strive to add value.

That’s the key lesson from Inside the Magic Kingdom.