“Mickey to Mickey”: Marketing Lessons from Disney World

I recently took a family trip to Disney World, and my experience as an adult was very different from what my nine-year-old self remembers from my first visit there. And it wasn’t just different because I was seeing the park through adult eyes. It was different because of one element that persisted during our visit: “Mickey to Mickey.”

What is “Mickey to Mickey”? It’s the simple direction for using the very complex, very “magical” Disney MagicBands.

MagicBands are the wearable wristband wonders created by Disney to cover virtually every possible experience during your Disney World trip. The bands give entrance to the park, serve as hotel room keys, allow riders onto Space Mountain, are an accepted form of payment – and that’s just naming a few of their capabilities. To use them, you simply need to hold the Mickey image on your wrist to the Mickey image on various access points across the park and resorts – “Mickey to Mickey” as all of the Disney employees would say. The bands also include long-range radio sensors that transmit signals to other sensors stationed around the Disney compound.

Experiencing these wristbands first-hand is impressive, and after my trip I dug into the background on how they were created and how Disney is using them. Here are a few lessons I learned:

Change is overwhelming in any business – especially technology-driven change.

Disney holds the story of the MagicBands creation close to the vest, but there is one deep dive account in Wired that provides some detail (and is very much worth the read). What’s clear from this article is that even within Disney – a company known for imagination, creativity, and breaking boundaries – the prospect and reality of creating the Magic Bands was overwhelming for its employees, arguably some of the brightest people in the world. But the investment in MagicBands is already paying off for Disney, and the potential for how they stand to benefit is remarkable.

This immediately brought to mind parallels with implementing marketing technology like a customer data platform – it sounds great, but can leave marketers with a sense of “where do I even start, and how could I ever get there?” But as the story of the Magic Bands teach us, any technology-driven change is going to be hard for an organization. However, when the change promises to improve your business in such a substantial way, it can’t be ignored.

Consider every detail.

At one point in my trip, one of the kids in our group said: “Cool! I can take this gray part off of my band and make it small enough to fit my wrist.” I thought that it must’ve been a design flaw – Disney tried to cut costs with cheap plastic that came apart easily. After researching the MagicBands I found out quickly how naïve I’d been. The bands’ tear-away design is meant to do just that – tear away depending on the size the wearer needs it to be. This design took six months to perfect so it would be easy to tear but durable enough not to come apart on accident.

Even more interesting is that the design is meant to reinforce two of Disney’s key values: equality and openness. Everyone can wear a MagicBand no matter their size, meaning everyone is welcome at Disney no matter who they are. And it works – everyone in our group wore their bands with ease, almost to the point that we forgot they were even on our wrists. The level of detail that went into the band’s design is a good reminder that every single detail and every single touchpoint in a customer’s journey needs to be addressed, no matter how seemingly small those details are.

There’s value in understanding your customers even beyond delivering better experiences.

There’s no question that the MagicBands improved our Disney vacation experience. Using the bands meant less friction in the entire experience – we didn’t have to worry about carrying tickets and hotel room keys and credit cards and Fast Passes. They were all right there on our wrists, just a “Mickey to Mickey” away.

But what about those sensors stationed throughout the park and resorts that weren’t directly tied to the transactions I just mentioned? This is where the MagicBands story gets even more interesting. Disney can use all of that transaction data combined with data on how guests travel through the park to understand the customer journey in a way they never could have otherwise. The company is using this data to understand where they might need to put more food stations, when someone stands in line for a ride too long, or how long visitors spend at each park. This information is helping Disney improve the customer experience and delight their guests even more.

Not every company is Disney, but there’s a lot of marketing inspiration to be gained from an ambitious effort like the MagicBands. What’s the “Mickey to Mickey” moment that your brand can create?

Originally published April 30, 2015

Kari Brownsberger

Senior Director, Integrated Communications

Kari Brownsberger is the former Senior Director, Integrated Communications at Signal. Prior to Signal, Kari worked in the PR agency world, specializing in marketing technology. She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago and originally from Ohio.

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