After a year-long delay as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, Disney held their 7th biennial D23 Expo in Anaheim from September 9-11, 2022. (D23 refers to D for Disney and 23 for 1923, which is the year Walt Disney founded the company.) The D23 Expo is the ultimate Disney event, bringing together fans to celebrate the Walt Disney Company and its beloved stories and worlds.
As a Disney fan, I was excited for an opportunity to see the new product releases, get access to new content, and experience some behind-the-scenes excitement. But as a brand and marketing professional, the way Disney awed and delighted over 140,000 of their biggest fans caught my attention and inspired me.
Here are 3 takeaways from the event for all of us who build memorable brand experiences:
1. Stay true to your roots, but always be evolving.
It would never make sense for Disney to sit back and let things unfold. It’s in the brand’s DNA to look ahead to the next great idea, trying to imagine the impossible. But one thing that Disney does well as a brand is that they consistently center themselves to their history, especially as they begin to create new stories and experiences.
Whether it’s reimagining animated favorites like The Little Mermaid as a live action film, telling the origin of Mufasa from The Lion King, or continuing Lucasfilm and the Marvel Studios stories with Willow, The Mandalorian, or Black Panther: Wakada Forever, Disney always builds upon the stories and characters their fanbase is familiar with and loves to create new magical tales. That’s what makes them timeless. So much so that Disney celebrates their 100th anniversary in 2023.
2. Go above and beyond to create magical experiences.
During the three-day event, Disney generated excitement by integrating a dazzle of star powered announcements (and the occasional pyrotechnics) that had everyone cheering and on their feet:
- In her own Doom Buggy, Jaime Lee Curtis announced her role as Madame Leota in the new Haunted Mansion film, based on the iconic ride.
- Rachel Zegler and Gal Gadot spoke on what it meant to be “the fairest of them all” and shared an exclusive preview of Snow White with the attendees, which is not available on any legal platform.
- As the live-action trailer for The Little Mermaid was released publicly, attendees in the room, including actress Halle Bailey, were treated to the entire “Part of your World” musical number as it will appear in the film.
- Even though Pixar Animation Studios didn’t release any trailers at this year’s D23, the studio wasn’t holding back. Their new film, Elemental, was announced with fire and water, illuminating the stage with special effects.
- I don’t know who was more excited, me watching Indiana Jones 5 co-stars Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge together onstage or past Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom co-stars Harrison Ford and Ke Huy Quan smiling wide while reuniting after 38 years.
- In what may be the highest-profile cast ever in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Secret Invasion starring Samuel L. Jackson, Olivia Colman, Don Cheadle, Martin Freeman, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Emilia Clarke, and Cobie Smulders unveiled their first trailer simultaneously to the audience and the actors on stage.
- So much more, but you’ll have to check out D23 for everything!
For the rest of us, we may not have confetti cannons, world-class producers, and celebrity endorsements in our marketing arsenal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t add spice to our big announcements by exploring new channels and media. Play to each channel’s strengths with native advertising that captivates users. Everything that improves your brand experience for customers deserves a celebration. It just takes a little creativity (and maybe a little pixie dust) to make it magical.
3. Let your customers be your guide.
Disney has branded itself as the only place on Earth where you can experience magic. We all know that the brilliant minds of Disney’s Imagineers create every detail of the magical moments, but that doesn’t mean you can’t provide your customers with some of your own. The first step is listening to your customers and understanding their needs.
D23 attendees were encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas with Disney at listening and feedback stations around the expo floor. The Disney execs at the D23 convention said over and over they listened to their fans when they created new experiences. During panels announcing new movies, the writers and directors said this was really for the fans. Each of the actors would thank the fans who make their work possible.
These are a few examples that show Disney values the type of experience fans want when watching their movies, visiting their parks, and how they view the Disney brand. They created touchpoints to confirm this through the entire expo experience. It is possible to apply this concept to the customer lifecycle by actively seeking feedback, sharing where feedback has led to innovation, and simply understanding that the best ideas sometimes come from those who are already engaged with your brand.