Think Like Disney for Website Success

Disney balloons
photo credit: Express Monorail

After graduating from college I had the opportunity to move to Orlando, Florida and work at Walt Disney World Resorts as part of their College Program. Shortly after being hired to work for “the mouse”, you are required to attend a top secret orientation. This is when you learn the ins and outs of the Disney culture and you truly get a sense of why Disney is one of the best brands in the world.

Now, as I think about web strategy on a daily basis, I have noticed that I apply a lot of what I learned from working at The Hollywood Studios Theme Park to the way I think about websites. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you everything I know about Disney, but I’m sure some of what I can disclose you may have never noticed before.

Here are some things that I learned while working at Disney that I have applied to web strategy.


At Disney, cast members are told that whenever they get a chance to talk to a guest, to use their first name. You know those Mickey ears that all the kids wear while they are on their Disney vacation? Well, most parents embroider their children’s names on the back, unknowingly giving cast members an opportunity to personalize an experience for the child. “Hi Johnny, are you having a fun day today? What was your favorite ride so far?”

Personalization can go a long way, but it isn’t just about saying someone’s name, it’s about thinking about how you can reach out and create something specific to an individual or small group of people. Landing pages are a great chance to personalize an experience for your user. Offering specified content, possibly based on a keyword a person has typed into a search engine or a campaign you are running, allows you to gear certain parts of your website to specific people or groups.

Keep it Clean

Have you ever noticed that you can’t buy gum anywhere on Disney property? Do you know why? It’s because gum is messy and people tend to spit it on the ground or stick it under a table when it loses its flavor. There are also trash cans within about 25 feet of each other. It’s a joint effort in keeping the park clean; all cast members are required to learn and participate in the “Disney scoop.” This means, if there is trash on the ground you are to walk past it and discreetly bend down and pick it up. Guests don’t tend to notice how clean the park is, but you also don’t hear any complaints about how much trash is on the ground either. The same goes with websites, users may not ever leave your site saying, “That was a clean, glitch-free site” but they will notice poor site design and issues they have with usability.

Flow & Navigation

With so many people traveling through the park on a daily basis, the flow of traffic is extremely important. Maps are available at multiple places on the property, signs and arrows are used to direct traffic, and the parks use information boards to inform guests about wait times as to not clog traffic. Whenever you go to a show at any Disney Theme Park a cast member will signal to you which way they want you to enter and exit.

Navigation and controlling flow is vital to usability on a website; users need to be able to easily get to the information they are seeking. Plus, if designed properly, you can do some of the directing yourself by funneling users to specific places you’d like them to visit using calls to action on your website.

photo credit: hz536n

Bus? Boat? Monorail?

At each of the theme parks there are multiple points of entry. All guests are not driving their car and parking for the day, they are coming at different times from a variety of places. These different modes of transportation throughout the park encourage guests to visit more than one park in a day. Make it easy for users to find your site by offering multiple points of entry to your website. Use links within your email newsletter, Facebook page, and Twitter tweets to lead people back to your site. Optimize your website for search engines so that users are easily led to your website to find the resources they are seeking.

“The Happiest Place on Earth”

It’s no doubt that Walt Disney World is known for being one of the best places to spend a family vacation. However, that idea didn’t happen overnight, it took years of consistently going above and beyond people’s expectations to earn that reputation. The same goes for your website, you need to consistently offer great content to your visitors packed with relevant keywords for your website. If you do that, over time, both visitors and search engines will deem your site as reputable.

A mouse’s work is never done…

Sometimes when you’re visiting Disney, you may notice that certain rides or events are “Closed for Refurbishment.” That’s because Disney understands that there is always room for improvement. Many upgrades stem from feedback and even complaints from guests.  However, Disney always takes an active approach in enhancing guest experience by assessing what works and what doesn’t work for guests and making proper adjustments. Your website shouldn’t just sit on the web to become stale, it should evolve over time. You should consistently evaluate where you are in relation to the goals you’ve set for your website and make modifications to better meet the needs of your users.

There are many other examples I can think of where I have applied what I learned at Disney to the way I think about web strategy. The most important point I can make is that Disney puts emphasis on guest experience. In all decisions made, whether it is to refurbish a ride or add a new sign, Disney does so for the best interest of the guest. That is the way your web strategy needs to be approached. Ask yourself – Does the user need this? How will it benefit them? What content will be of value to them? How can I make my website fit the needs of my clients? You may not be creating magic like Disney does, but you are creating an experience for your web users and you want to leave them with the best impression possible.

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