The Three E’s Behind Brand Magic

Marketing Savvy


I just spent two days at Disneyland. My younger daughter turned five, and we decided to give her the same gift as my older daughter—a magical weekend with Mickey and the princesses. So after a seven-year gap, we made the trip again. My daughter was thrilled beyond description and, once again, I came away in sheer awe of the brand!

Every brand has a defined core promise and a set of differentiating brand attributes that it strives to live up to. But many struggle to translate these brand tenets into daily operations and to do what they say. Not Disneyland—Disneyland nails it. Every time. There is no better company living up to its core brand promise—the Happiest Place on Earth—and nailing the customer experience.

At Disneyland, it was once again amazing to see the core brand promise manifest itself into the actions of every person—from Princess Jasmine to the pizza counter clerk. An experience is a sum total of every customer touch, and it is ingrained so well into the DNA of every Disney employee that every touch is genuine, authentic, and human.

Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma wrote a famous book in 1997 called “The Discipline of Market Leaders” that describes three basic value disciplines: customer intimacy, operational excellence, and product leadership. Their main premise is that brands must choose—and then achieve—leadership in one of the three disciplines and perform to an acceptable level in the other two. When I examine the Disney experience through this lens, I see a brand that is the exception to this premise: Disney is superior in both customer intimacy and operational excellence.

Now Treacy and Wiersma defined operational excellence from a cost leadership perspective. For Disneyland, I am referring to it in terms of the systems, frameworks, and processes in place to train thousands of employees to become effective communicators and deliver a high-quality product in everything from the shows to the rides. As a marketer, I can’t help but admire how they’ve achieved long-term competitive advantage through this killer combination of world-class customer intimacy and operational excellence.

Focusing on customer intimacy, how do all brands achieve Disney-ish levels of success? As I reflect on my trip, here are my three “E’s” for generating brand magic:

Expectation: First, it starts with setting expectations at a corporate level. Every employee is a brand ambassador at every customer touch point, not just the leaders or the people in revenue functions. A brand has to be maniacal about this cultural mindset.

Execution: Every company now must do the most difficult part—translate its brand promise into a mindset and set of simple messages that an employee reflects on at every customer touch. In other words, help every employee become a great communicator by providing a succinct explanation of the customer experience you are trying to create at an emotional level. The brand promise of the Happiest Place on Earth is reflected both in mindset and message during every employee interaction at the park. Getting a company aligned is just not marketing’s job but the responsibility of every leader across all functions so that each employee better connects their brand to its business.

Empowerment: Setting clear expectations and having the right execution to help every employee become a brand communicator equates to an empowered workforce. Augmenting this with a set of quality standards and guidelines to shape the desired customer experience helps achieve consistency. In other words, a framework for your employees to consistently measure, recognize, and reward each other for delivering the desired experience.

 Great brands are about the customer in everything they do; not just everything they say. Great brands never leave the side of the customer, and Disney gets it magically right.

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