Episode 24


What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… DISNEY

Show Notes (click to expand)

Walt Disney once said: 

“You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.” 

…and as incredible as a vacation at Disney World can be, in my experience, the reason it’s so memorable are those very people who put on a show every day.

In 2008, when I worked at Godiva, I was on the Brand Experience Team and had the privilege of attending the Disney Institute, the professional development and external training arm of The Walt Disney Company. The Disney Institute transforms organizations through custom solutions based on the time-tested success and insights of The Walt Disney Company.

This one week course was truly mind-blowing – especially the experience of walking the underground tunnels that move employees across the entire theme park. I left the Institute with a clear understanding of why Disney has been able to “WOW” its fans and captivate customers for decades.


I will never forget vacationing with my kids, shortly after attending the Institute, when the young lady cleaning our hotel room said, “Have a         ”MAGICAL” day as we were leaving for the Magic Kingdom. That phrase has stayed with me to this day because that’s the moment I understood the power of a united team effort in performing the daily tasks associated with creating a superior customer experience. Every employee at Disney understands they’re part of the show – no matter what level they are in the Organization. 

Employees, who are called Disney Cast Members, are trained from day one to understand that their mission is to create “MAGICAL” moments so guests leave with memories they’ll have for a lifetime…don’t we all want that?


If there’s one thing Disney knows better than any other brand out in the world, it’s this: Provide a great experience, exceed expectations, and customers will keep coming back for more.

That’s what I call customer service…with a “MAGICAL” touch.

Disney walks-the-talk when it comes to delivering on their customer service ethos…here it is Seven Dwarfs style:

Dwarf #1: Be Happy: Make eye contact and smile!
Dwarf #2: Be like Sneezy: Greet and welcome every customer. Spread the spirit of Hospitality. It’s contagious!
Dwarf #3: Don’t be Bashful: Seek out guest contact.
Dwarf #4: Be like Doc: Provide immediate service recovery.
Dwarf #5: Don’t be Grumpy: Display appropriate body language at all times.
Dwarf #6: Be like Sleepy: Create dreams and preserve the “MAGICAL“ guest experience.
Dwarf #7: Don’t be Dopey: Thank every Guest!
I left the Disney Institute with a profound sense of what it takes to become an iconic brand, and it’s this: SWEAT THE DETAILS if you want to deliver a superior customer experience. It’s not only what the guests see, but also what they don’t see behind the scenes that makes the experience at Disney “MAGICAL.”

If you look around at Disney World, it’s clear that they have an obsessive attention to detail – from garbage cans placed every thirty steps a customer takes (no joking), to their focus on ride lines with Fast Pass and characters who remain in character until they take their costumes off, every detail is intentionally considered to deliver the Disney “MAGIC.” 

My once-in-a-lifetime experience at the Disney Institute solidified my belief that Disney creates memories in a way that no other brand can match.  Whether it’s dancing with Mickey and Minnie Mouse at the three o’clock parade down Main Street USA, photos with Winnie the Pooh and Friends at your favorite character breakfast, the Perfectly Princess Tea party at the Grand Floridian or the spectacular fireworks at sunset, Disney World is one of the few places on earth where “MAGIC” is possible, making you believe that dreams really do come true.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

Your product is NOT your brand.
Your brand is your Core Value…AND
You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.
Disney uses their theme parks to drive their Core Value of “MAGIC.”
I’ll end with another inspiring quote from Walt Disney: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

So the next time you’re looking to sprinkle some pixie dust into your business or personal life, remember….”MAGIC” is how Disney SCORES. 

I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

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