Most businesses face ever increasing pressure to cut costs. Consumers can see the results in restaurants that raise their prices on a nine-ounce steak while offering a six-ounce cut at the prior nine-ounce price. You can also see it in “new and improved” products and packaging. Besides the look, what often is the only thing improved, and only for the company, is the smaller amount of product in the new package. The challenge is to deliver these cuts without serious impact to the customer experience.
Walt Disney Company leadership has engaged in similar practices over the years at its theme parks. This is the story of one such practice. You judge whether it effected the experience or not.
Disney used to theme everything. If Walt Disney had summarized the theory, he might have said something like, “Every detail, down to the tiniest, matters. Those details either enhance or subtract from the experience.” Walt was notorious for, before Disneyland opened, getting down to child eye level to see what Main Street USA would really look like. In the theme parks, that attention to detail permeated the experience down to Park specific and Resort specific glasses, cups, napkins, shopping bags and merchandise
In the mid 2000’s, marketing personnel discovered what they must have thought was a revelation: When you said, “Disney Parks,” people thought of their own favorite Disney Park. This finding suggested that you could create and advertise just one television commercial for Disney Parks rather than creating and advertising separate commercials for all the different parks.
Further, the findings also suggested that you could remove Park specific and Resort specific glasses, cups, napkins, shopping bags and merchandise; that people would just as eagerly purchase a “Disney Parks” tee shirt as they would an Epcot one.
One Source was born. Restaurant glasses and mugs lost their location specific logos. Park specific shopping bags were replaced with Disney Parks logoed bags. Tee shirts, hats, purses and all other sorts of merchandise went generic (see attached photo). By 2010, most Park and Resort specific merchandise was gone.
One Source saved millions of dollars in the materials that are given away: shopping bags, Styrofoam cups, napkins, etc. It likely cost millions of dollars in lost location specific logo merchandise sales. By 2015, themed merchandise was back and the generic merchandise was on sale or gone.
And the themeing? It has become a little less than it was. If every detail, even the tiniest, matters, then Disney lost something in its push to save money. Did the guests notice? Probably not consciously. But the experience, subconsciously, was watered down. And there’s the danger.
At what point does an experience lose its special and unique appeal? The little Disney touches are what makes the parks so magical and repeatable. Walt once advised his team, “Give the people everything you can give them.” Current Mouse managers do their best but feel constant budgetary pressures. Disney cannot, in an effort to save money, afford to lose it’s ‘Disneyness.’ When it does, it becomes just another Six Flags.
What about you and your business? Do you give your customers everything you can? Or, do you unintentionally undercut the experience? Do you look at the experience through your customers’ eyes and at their level? You should. Walt would … if he could.