Building a Better Business Through the Eyes of Walt Disney
December 27, 2023

By Ryan Rosenbaum, Executive Director

I have always been a fan of Walt Elias Disney. As an executive myself, I value and admire his innovation, ingenuity, and vision. How incredible it must have been for Walt to fly over a swampy land that’s about 27,000+ acres, secretly purchase it on the cheap, and develop it into an empire of theme parks, which would later then leverage into movies, merchandise and a symbol of entertainment joy that can turn a person from Grumpy to Happy in an instant. See what I did there? Even if Walt died before the gates of this Florida kingdom opened, he planted the seeds to create the parks into what exists today. How does this aptly apply to the standards of business excellence? As it turns out, quite a bit.

To understand how to set your business apart in the region, we must apply some of the key subtle rules that the world’s most visited theme park utilizes today.

It starts and ends with the words they use to describe what they do. Perhaps you can shake yourselves of the words you use to describe your purchasing base. Let’s change the dynamic and call them “guests.” Just like they do for all of us who go to Disney World. The word “guest” has a completely different connotation. It makes the purchaser less of a transaction and more of a welcoming person who advances your business. Much like welcoming a friend into your home, you offer them a drink, a place to sit and a warm sense of comfort. This is applicable to any of your businesses. For example, if you are a realtor (R), your subconscious mind can lead you to calculate what type of commission rate you may generate from a potential buyer or seller. However, by envisioning those buyers and sellers as “guests,” it removes the nuances and stigma of the transaction itself. It’s that same warm feeling that I feel when I’m traversing into a Disney Theme Park and spending $10 for a bottle of water. I am so enamored by the warmth and ambiance of being a “guest” that I don’t realize how much money I’m spending.

This same rule can apply to the item in which you may be selling. Instead of a promotional good or law advice or a mortgage or beer or a car service or a beauty product (just a few examples of what businesses that are representative of the chamber), let’s reclassify and reimagine our product or service as an attraction. When you are a “guest” at Disney World you are not seeing a show or going on a ride, you are purposely experiencing an “attraction.” The definition of what we are outputting matters.

In 2012, I was managing a membership organization dedicated to the regional remodeling industry. I was giving a workshop on a topic very similar to what you are reading here. One of my members had a business that sold sunrooms. I recall telling him that no one really understands what a sunroom is. Can it be used on days when it’s cloudy? He then thought about the various benefits of a sunroom and began marketing it as an “attraction” for a home.  While I admit it still doesn’t fully explain the value of this kind of addition to a house, the term “attraction” was something he purposely began to market and it peaked people’s interest. It was a more appealing way of describing what they sold. The word association of attraction began to set the imagination in motion into how this area of a house can set itself apart.

The last term I would challenge you to utilize in building a better business is the words we use to characterize our employees. In Disney World, the term, employees, simply doesn’t exist. They use the adjective of “cast members.” The implication is that the 77,000+ people who work at Disney World are part of a production, where they play the starring role of ensuring an enjoyable experience for their, yep you guessed it, “guests.” They are also charged with the responsibility of making sure everything runs smoothly with their attractions. What if the perception of your employees had changed and they were now viewed as “cast members?” Perhaps the way you would think of their value to your company would suddenly change, the way they feel about working for you could suddenly change, and the productivity and satisfaction of your “guests” towards your company could also change. Maybe you don’t literally call them cast members, but simply view them and treat them as such. It can suddenly elevate and positively reflect the betterment of your business.

As we dive out of 2023 and into 2024, I challenge you all to think about these terms as you continue to grow. It is my hope that these new terms will help create a more MAGICAL experience for you moving forward.