Marketing the Magic

Lessons in Story-Driven Marketing Strategy Inspired by Disney

by John DeLancey | Release Date: July 20, 2017 | Availability: Print, Kindle

Mickey Laid Bare

Disney makes it seem so easy. It's the best-marketed brand in the world, and everyone wants to do what Disney does, in selling their own product or service. It's not easy. But you can do it. As long as you know it starts with a story....

Story is the basis of the Disney marketing machine. Disney always tells a story, and it's the story that makes the sale.

How can you start telling stories, the kind that will bring your brand exposure, profit, and success?

In Marketing the Magic, John DeLancey strips Mickey to his bare essentials, looks at what makes him tick, and then builds a game plan that you can follow to put the power of Disney story-telling magic to work for you.

Table of Contents


Part One: The Importance of Story

Chapter 1: Inspirations

Chapter 2: The Importance of Story in Marketing

Part Two: Defining the Protagonists

Chapter 3: Who ARE the Protagonists?

Chapter 4: To Niche or Not to Niche

Chapter 5: Developing Your Buyer Personas

Chapter 6: Discover Your “Buyer’s Journey”

Part Three: Meet the Villains

Chapter 7: Our Customer’s Problem

Chapter 8: Our Inner Demons

Part Four: Telling the Story

Chapter 9: What Is Digital Marketing?

Chapter 10: Crafting and Launching a Marketing Plan

Chapter 11: The “Twist,” or “Why Isn’t This Working?”

Chapter 12: Vanquishing the Villains, or What Success Looks Like

Part Five: Happily Ever After

Chapter 13:From Customer to Evangelist

Chapter 14: There Is No “The End”

Chapter 15: A Few Final Thoughts

“Marketing the Magic.”

What a pretentious title.

It assumes in just three words that I am not only offering you marketing advice that could change your business, but that there’s something unknowable and mysterious about it, as well. That perhaps I hold a secret that could, if you only knew it, unlock riches beyond your wildest dreams.

Well, as in all magic, there is both truth and illusion here.

The illusion, of course, is that there’s a simple, secret magic word that will fix everything for you. There is no such thing. Finding success in marketing—as in any venture—is the result of mindful study, careful planning, and hard work in the face of risk.

The truth is that there is magic to be found and studied and put to use in our businesses, and for we Disney enthusiasts, it’s a truth we know and love well. The big secret we all know as Disney lovers is that there’s no “real” magic to it at all. Rather, Disney merely does things so well that it seems like the company must have some supernatural power.

The Disney company exemplifies an entity that makes the impossible real. It creates magic every single day through its movies and television shows, theme parks, merchandise, and other products. And they do it all through a vast menagerie of companies and divisions that work together in such a seamless, cohesive manner as to make even accomplished business leaders scratch their heads in wonder.

As my love for all things Disney has grown over the years, and as I’ve ventured forth into business, I find myself studying Disney in all its facets. In my studies, I’ve begun to unearth practical lessons that I’ve been able to apply in my own company—a marketing agency, software consulting firm, and continuing education provider. I’ve decided to distill these lessons into what I hope will be a resource for other business owners and marketers.

I set out (at my wife’s suggestion) to write this book in order to establish a few things:

  • A firm grasp on this concept of lessons in marketing inspired by the Disney company
  • An excuse to study Disney and call it “work”
  • From my results, a foundation on which to build a community of like-minded business and marketing thinkers and Disney enthusiasts

And so here I am, writing the introduction to this book which I hope will be of some use to a small business owner trying to establish her brand, or a marketer looking for a context in which to build a strategy for his company or client. I hope to do this through practical lessons inspired by a Disney marketing campaign, movie, or attraction.

The title of this book and project, then, reflects two goals.

First, to uncover the secrets behind some of Disney’s magic by studying the company I know and love well. Second, to teach you, the reader, how to use these secrets to uncover the magic in your own company and its marketing.

It is an ambitious project.

To that end, let’s talk about what this book is and who it’s really for.

What This Book Is (and What It Is Not)

I’ve wrestled with this idea for months now, and I suspect I will continue to as the book turns into an online blog and a video series/podcast. I believe, however, that I’ve identified a few things the book decidedly “is,” and a few it decidedly “is not.” Let’s start with what it isn’t.

First, this book is not a guide to specific tools or marketing channels. I won’t discuss the details of using the Facebook Power Editor, or the merits of link building for search engine optimization, or how to correctly structure Google AdWords campaigns. Each of those are worthy concepts for study, of course, but there are two big problems:

  • They’re beyond the scope of what I want to convey in this book
  • The minute I sent the draft of this manuscript to my publisher, the information would almost certainly be out of date

Rather, I want to focus on the “big picture” (which I’ll get into in a moment).

Second, this book will not cover the sales side of customer acquisition. There is a difference between marketing and sales, and I’m terrible at sales. I won’t, therefore, waste your time offering bad advice or parroting good advice that I heard somewhere else.

Third, this book won’t be an in-depth dive into the Disney company, its theme parks, its movies, or any other aspect of its business. There are myriad books out there worthy of your time and money if you’re interested in that, but I am neither a proper Disney historian, nor is it really important to what I do want to write about.

Along those lines, if you are interested in a much deeper look at Disney’s marketing in and of itself, I recommend one of the books that inspired this project: Inside the Disney Marketing Machine: In the Era of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells by Lorraine Santoli and published in 2015 by Theme Park Press. It is an amazing resource from one of the key players in the growth of the Disney marketing machine as it developed from the 1980s through today.

So what is this book?

First and foremost, it will describe a way to think about your own marketing—that “big picture” thing I mentioned a few paragraphs back.

It will help you develop a digital marketing strategy for your company or client based on storytelling techniques. I’ll be using lessons from across the Disney company, including some of its marketing campaigns, movies, and theme parks to provide context along the way.

It’s worth mentioning here that much of what I hope to share is also heavily influenced by the “inbound marketing” movement, a paradigm shift that focuses on attracting customers to your company through your marketing rather than forcing a message on your audience whether it wants to see it or not.

It is at this intersection of “inbound” marketing and Disney storytelling that I hope to offer some useful insight. That said, I am not teaching or focusing exclusively on inbound methodology, but rather combining bits from here and pieces from there, with storytelling for the glue.

Who This Book Is For (and Who It’s Not For)

Now that we know what this book is and what it is not, it’s important to note whom I think it’s good for and who might be better served by another approach or author.

I have in mind a few types of people as “ideal readers:”

  • Business owners (preferably with a “niche” business; more on that soon)
  • Marketing professionals
  • Those who own or would like to start a marketing agency (a combo of the first two)

It’ll also help, of course, if you share at least some degree of appreciation for the Disney company. It’s sort of my shtick.

It’s worth noting that among “business owners,” I’m referring mainly to small business owners (small business can range from one employee to up to a couple of hundred. There’s no one universal description, but I mainly mean “not billion-dollar publicly traded behemoths.”) That’s not to say that I believe the information contained herein will be useless to any business, but rather that small business and small business marketing is what I know best.

Above all—and I mean this vehemently—I want to help professionals who care about their customers. If there was only one lesson that we could possibly take from Disney, it is that the customer—the audience—is what it’s all about.

Who, then, will this book not be ideal for?

Well, if you hate Disney, I suggest you turn elsewhere, but let’s assume that if you’ve gotten even this far, that’s probably not you. Anyone looking to make a quick buck off the latest gimmick or trick will also be disappointed.

Someone who is brand new to business or marketing is not who I’d consider the ideal reader, either. I believe that some foundation in both is necessary in order to obtain the full value of this book, what it teaches, and how it teaches it.

Now, then. I think that’s quite enough about all that. Let’s get into some marketing magic!

John DeLancey

John DeLancey is a business owner and lifelong Disney enthusiast. Beginning with the animated classic films as a child and continuing through dozens of trips to Walt Disney World into adulthood with his wife and family, Disney plays a big role in John’s life. Combining the many lessons and inspirations Disney offers with his marketing consultancy just means he has an excuse to think more about Disney and call it “work.”

John grew up in southern Mississippi where he obtained a degree in computer science before marrying Sabreya, his high school sweetheart, and setting off for four years in the U.S. Air Force. There, John served as a nuclear missile officer and command post controller before returning home in 2010 to begin a career in software development, an interest and semi-professional hobby of his going back to age 11. After a few years, John formed his own software consulting firm, and that company morphed a number of times before settling into the perfect combination of technical aptitude and “people skills” required of a modern digital marketing agency.

As John realized that he enjoyed marketing strategy more than anything, and as he began to form the connections among Disney, marketing, and a love of speaking and teaching, the idea for Marketing the Magic was born.

Today, John works to teach and consult with small businesses and marketing professionals on how story can be incorporated in modern marketing strategies. He hopes, eventually, to move his family much closer to either the Florida or California Disney theme parks. There, he plans to indulge in his alter ego as a dedicated foodie and perpetual child at heart.

To get a better handle on the things that go wrong with your marketing, the things that stand in the way of your success, think of them as villains: just as the Disney heroes and heroines must battle their foes, so must you battle yours.

Many of the best stories in history—Disney’s history included—feature a different kind of villain. This villain is more insidious than any evil mastermind could be. It creates the deepest kind of connection between the hero and the story for both character and audience.

This villain is the hero’s “inner conflict.” It’s a much more useful plot device in story than it is in marketing, but we’ll get to that shortly.

Characters who have no inner qualms or pains can end up feeling flat and disconnected from the story. Inner struggles give them dimension and a reason to push through and win the day. Disney is no stranger to the “inner demon.”

In Frozen, the “bad guy,” of course, is the dastardly prince trying to seize control of Elsa’s queendom. But the aspects that make the story different and more interesting from other stories are Elsa’s fear of her own power and the conflict between Elsa and Anna who also, as in most Disney movies, lost their parents—and their baby brother!—just as the story begins.

In Wreck-It Ralph, the initial catalyst for all of the trouble is Ralph’s desire to overcome his own nature (that of the “bad guy,” of course). In his quest to prove he can be the good guy, too, he unwittingly unleashes the Cy-Bugs which then drive the plot forward.

While these inner demons might make for great storytelling in entertainment, in marketing they add little to no value. It’s often quite the opposite.

Delays in production or delivery, in-fighting among staff, budget overruns, and other impediments only cause more pain for both company and customer. Your customers will not find “entertainment value” in these situations—they want their problems solved, and they want them solved now.

What kinds of problems are “inner demons?”

  • Budget and deadline pressure
  • Customer expectations
  • Lack of expertise to solve a specific problem
  • Bad assumptions
  • Doubts in our “message”
  • Quotas and earnings targets
  • Over-utilization of employees
  • Poor employee performance

Each of these (and others besides them) create pressures, distractions, and missteps that cost money and can harm the brand. Your business may not experience all of these, but it will almost certainly encounter one or two at the least.

We must have a plan to deal with these inner demons. We must come to recognize and understand the kinds of problems we will face so that they have as little an effect as possible (preferably none) on our customer.

If your “inner demon” is a lack of expertise, for example, how will you solve for it? Will you hire an expert in-house, or maybe a freelancer? Can you avoid the need for that expertise in some way? Likewise, if you face doubts in your message, take the time to stop, define the message more clearly, and make sure everyone on your team understands it and has internalized it. Regardless of the demons you face, though, you must deal with them or they will eat you alive.

There’s something else to note about our two types of villains: the first villain usually cares absolutely nothing about the second. In other words, your customer’s problem is completely independent of your company’s. Your customer, therefore, will not care about what’s wrong inside your company as long as it doesn’t disturb the solution to their own problem.

There is an exception to that rule, and that’s poor employee performance when that employee is interacting with a customer. If a customer has a poor sales or customer-service experience because of your inner demons, they will most certainly care about your problems, and you will have yet another issue to contend with.

Continued in "Marketing the Magic"!

Every good story has a "twist". It's one of the things that makes a story memorable. But you don't want your marketing to have "twists"; you want the plan to proceed exactly as you envision, start to finish. But there's always a twist. And it's up to you to deal with it.

Despite the best laid plans of “mice” and men, the hero’s path to victory is seldom straightforward. There’s nearly always some kind of “twist” in the plot, like the villain not being who we thought it would be.

As the audience, we wouldn’t really want it any other way, would we? “The twist” adds intrigue and detail. It would usually be pretty boring if the hero just walked up to the villain exactly according to plan, bonked him on the head, and walked out with the princess in his arms.

One of the more memorable recent examples of a twist from Disney comes from the movie Frozen. Intrepid co-heroine Anna has the good fortune to meet another younger royal sibling and seemingly perfect match in Prince Hans. They seem to be made for each other, becoming engaged almost immediately, and then: the twist.

After Anna suffers a horrible accident while chasing Elsa, Hans leans in to give “the fairytale kiss” to save her, then reveals himself as the true villain of the story. His goal has been to take control of Arendelle all along!

Now isn’t that more interesting than, “Elsa freaks out, then Anna convinces her to come back,” for a plotline? Of course.

The problem is that while the audience is more entertained by twists and turns, the heroes of these stories would most certainly prefer to avoid them. Getting back to marketing, remember that our companies are the heroes. I know that I could do just fine without any twists and turns in my marketing efforts.

Just as in good storytelling, though, the twist is generally going to be unavoidable. But what is the twist when it comes to marketing?

As I mentioned in the last chapter, we must be patient and allow good data to gather before analyzing and making changes to our campaigns. When we allow that data to gather and discover that we’re not making progress toward our goals (or not progressing quickly enough), we’ve encountered a twist.

That’s okay! Just as our beloved heroes always find a way to best the twists and turns in their stories, we can beat ours. It’s a rare situation when a campaign finds immediate success. Rather than hoping that’s the case and starting over if it isn’t, we merely need to be prepared to deal with these twists when they come. We do that by gathering great data, and we get great data by setting up great tests.

It’s not enough to merely analyze the basic data on our campaigns. Click-through rates, conversion rates, costs per click, and so forth are foundational key performance indicators—I’m not suggesting otherwise. They give us the information we need to determine what is working and what isn’t, but we need more.

More important than what is or isn’t working is knowing why something is or isn’t working. Simply being able to show that Ad #1 had a click-through rate of .5% and a conversion rate of 10% is valuable. Knowing what it was about Ad #1 that made it perform the way it did compared to Ad #2 is how we unearth marketing gold.

We determine the “why” by properly testing our marketing campaigns. This is yet another topic that I can’t cover in full detail here, but we can establish a foundation in what testing looks like and how it works (and doesn’t).

If you’re a business owner implementing your own marketing, I hope to give you at least a good starting point for honing better campaigns. If you have staff or contractors implementing your marketing, you’ll have a much better understanding of the kind of testing they’re doing (or ought to be doing) and why you might seem to be “wasting” a little more money at the beginning of your campaigns.

If you’re a marketer and you aren’t using proper testing yet, go read every book and blog post and watch every video on the subject that you can get your hands on. Your clients and fellow marketers will thank you.

Now then, how do we properly test marketing campaigns?

Most often, we’re talking about either “split testing” (also known as A/B testing) or “multivariate testing.” These are two methods of uncovering “the why,” and you’ll want to use both.

Continued in "Marketing the Magic"!

About Theme Park Press

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