In January of 2009, I took my family to visit Disney World in Orlando, Florida. While there, we experienced something profound in the way that Disney treats its different fan bases.
See, my then eight year old daughter, had spent the better part of her years to that point loving and wanting to be a Disney Princess. Mostly she’s into Arial, probably because of that whole fish-tail thing, but in reality, all of the princesses rocked her adolescent world. Chances are, if you’ve dealt with a young daughter of your own, you know what I’m talking about. So, knowing this about my girl, I gathered as much information about Disney World and how to find princesses as I could. Turns out there this place called the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot Center where you can dine with the princesses. Belle greets everyone coming in and takes photos with the kids, and then while you eat, Cinderella, Aurora, Jasmine, and yes, even Arial, come by one at a time to visit each table for photo opportunities. The only person missing is Snow White. You have to book your reservations well ahead of time, and at $35/head for adults, its a bit pricey, but KNOWING that my daughter would get to meet all but one of the princesses sealed the deal for me. I booked our brunch with the princesses for our second day there.
So, our first day at Disney World was a lot of fun. Nothing but great experiences and wonders. We got there about lunch time, wandered around the Magic Kingdom, rode rides, ate food, and caught the fireworks show at the end of the day. All in all, a great time was had.
The second day, knowing what our first real stop of the day would be, I suggested that my daughter wear her princess outfit. Not knowing what was up (did I mention it was a surprise?) she was hesitant, because at eight years of age, she was becoming self conscious of her public dress and grooming. Between encouragement from my wife and I however, she eventually put on her gown and tiara, and we were off.
This is where our entire experience shifted about ten degrees off-kilter from our first day.
We boarded the bus from our hotel, and as it pulled away from the stop, over the speakers ran the normal safety/destination/have a nice day rigmarole. Unlike the day before, however, today it finished with “Please, be on your best royal behavior. Today, we’re riding with a Disney Princess.” I shot a surprised glance to my wife who did the same to me, then we both watched our daughter who seemed unfazed. Then after a few seconds, it registered and she looked up at us wide-eyed. “Was he talking about ME?” We both gave her our “I think so” shrugs and faces and we drove on. Everywhere we went after that, every cast member referred to our daughter as “Princess”, many actually stopping what they were doing to take the time to say hello. “Hello, Princess, can I get you something?” “Hello, Princess, are you having a nice day?” “Hello, Princess, you seem to be running out of Pixie Dust, can I get you some more?” (Out comes the wand that sprinkles glitter all over her head and shoulders).
Encouraged by that day’s events, she chose to dress up like a princess for most of the rest of the stay. After all, its not like at home where princesses might get strange glances. At Disney World, princesses were the ‘it’ girls of the land. In fact, grandpa had given her a coffee can of coins before we left, and it added up to about $90, which she was allowed to spend on anything she wanted. I had made sure to reserve a session at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on our third day for her Princess Makeover, and, feeling more like a princess than ever, she purchased a full-ensemble Jasmine outfit. From then, on, it wasn’t ‘Princess’ anymore, it was ‘Princess Jasmine’ from the cast members.
And don’t think it was just simple pleasantries, either. She got preferential treatment everywhere we went. Late on the fourth day, wandering around the Animal Kingdom, I turned a corner to see a meet-and-greet line with Pocahontas. Not a princess, but still, up there in my daughter’s ‘would like to meet’ list. As her handler saw me, he said (as he’d probably been saying for the past 5 minutes) “sorry folks, Pocahontas is finished for the day.” I then recognized that there was no one in her line and that she had just finished taking a photo with her last customer. OK, I thought. Too, bad, but nothing to be done about it. Then, probably a full 15 seconds later, my daughter, with her aunts, rounded the corner of the trail dressed in her full Jasmine ensemble. My daughter, realizing what she’d just missed, looked after Pocahontas for a moment, and the handler, who was just turning to follow Pocahontas down a ‘cast members only’ side trail, stopped mid stride, turned back and said loud enough for my daughter to hear, “Your Highness! I’m SO SORRY! I didn’t see you! Pocahontas! Come back, we have a royal visitor!” Pocahontas returned, my daughter got her photo, the rest of the visitors were turned away, and again Pocahontas and her handler headed back down their trail.
Special service? In front of other visitors? You betcha. Being a Princess at Disney World is the fast track to VIP treatment. A ‘members only’ club experience right out of the gate.
This would have impressed me, anyway, but having just finished reading Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, I was amazed to watch as Disney very simply and elegantly added the newest member to their Tribe and made her a fan for life. I have no doubt that she will eventually outgrow her enamor of the Princesses. She already dresses up less and less. However, I have no doubt that based on her experiences, she’ll remain a Disney fan for life, and based on the way I saw them making her feel, they’ve actually made two. She’s in the Tribe of Disney Princesses now, and all it cost her was the guts to wear her outfit.
So, back to business. Is there something you can do to mimic this in your own business? Something small, but special, that would make your current customers or clients feel like they’re on the ‘inside’? Something that would reward your best clients, or maybe turn your average clients into your best clients? Simple things like adding someone who filled out a survey for your to a ‘discount list’, or ‘mailing list only’ specials to subscribers of your mailing list? Those are really basic, but can you grow it from there? What if your mailing list subscribers got an unpublished automatic ‘rush’ service when they placed an order? Or upgraded to overnight delivery? If you’re running a local business, maybe they get invited to a private after-dinner party?
What you can do, will obviously depend on your business and your clients, but if you look hard enough, you can certainly do something. After all, when you break down the whole Disney Princess experience it’s this:
- Call every little girl in a princess outfit “Princess.”
- If you see a little girl in a princess outfit, bump it up a notch.
Now, how hard was that?