Be Like Disney: Why You Should Embrace Imagineering Principles in Branding

Annisha Lashand

Annisha Lashand

Annisha is a writer and content marketer based in Toronto. She's produced SEO optimized work for both the B2B and B2C space, focusing on real-estate, branding, entrepreneurship, and travel. When she's not producing content for businesses, you can find Annisha writing poetry on her Instagram @annishalashand.

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It’s no coincidence the most creative brands tend to be the most beloved by fans. Brands like Coca-Cola, Virgin and Apple are famous for their creativity and storytelling, and their customers love them for it. 

But when it comes to taking creativity and brand loyalty to the next level, there’s no denying Disney takes the cake. 

With a market capitalization of more than $200 billion, Disney has captured minds and hearts since 1923. Cartoon creatures and heart-warming stories aside, Disney’s strategic creative choices are why it’s gotten where it is today. So, what’s going on behind Disney’s glittering facade? How do they do it?

Disney leads with storytelling 

Disney sells you a story, an ideal, a dream, a vision, an alternate world to call home. Then it sells you products. This has always been the Disney way. It began with Mickey Mouse, a loveable post-war character who represented joy and happiness, and who unified American families to Disney World — a land where dreams come true. Mickey Mouse is now the fourth-highest-grossing media franchise worldwide, with a net worth of over $70 billion that includes retail sales, comic books, and box office sales. 

Consumers immerse themselves into the Disney brand through its heartfelt characters, gripping plot lines and alternate realities. Where other companies make products first and sell  stories around them, Disney takes the reverse approach. Stories first, products second. And it works. 

Disney innovates with their market in mind

Disney knows what its audience wants, and part of that is nostalgia. No wonder Disney has launched a series of live-action remakes of their originals: Maleficent, Cinderella, Jungle Book, etc. to great success. 

Still, other Disney fans want to be immersed in  new worlds, stories and characters. Disney bought Marvel, known for superheroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and The Avengers, to satisfy fans’ desires for rich and complex storytelling. 

In 2016, the $5.5 billion Disney Shanghai resort opened, extending the brand’s path to growth in China.

With the launch of its new streaming service, Disney became the number one most-loved brand in offline consumer conversations.

Creativity is at the center of the Disney process

The Disney Method was developed by Robert Dilts in 1994. It tests an idea through three styles of thinking to evaluate it’s worth. First, the creative perspective, where dreamers conceive of big, ideal, untamed concepts. This idea then moves through the realist perspective, where it is pragmatically considered— is it doable? How? Lastly, the idea is tested by the critic, who reviews the plan made by the realists to pull it apart and define its flaws and weaknesses.

“Walt Disney’s ability to connect his innovative creativity with successful business strategy and popular appeal certainly qualifies him as a genius in the field of entertainment. In a way, Disney’s chosen medium of expression, the animated film, characterizes the fundamental process of all genius: the ability to take something that exists in the imagination only and forge it into a physical existence that directly influences the experience of others in a positive way.”

Robert Dilts

If an idea successfully made it out the other side, it was one worth pursuing. 

Imagineering as innovation

“Imagineering” was a concept coined in the 1940s to describe Disney’s approach to building Disney theme parks. Originally, it was a structured way to merge strokes of imagination with the technicalities of engineering and design. Today, it is the engine behind Disney theme parks, cruises, resorts, and product development. 

“There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward – opening up new doors and doing new things – because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting. We call it Imagineering – the blending of creative and imagination with technical know-how.”

Walt Disney

Imagineering was laid out in a pyramid structure, with five tiers. The first and bottom tier includes all foundational aspects of the concept: the theme, story, attention to detail, etc. These decisions are used to influence the concept as it progresses. 

The second tier focuses on ways to guide and navigate the audience’s attention. For a theme park, this means determining ways to lead audiences to and from an attraction seamlessly.  Considering ways to reinforce the park’s story is also a part of this second tier.

 The third tier spotlights visual communication: how to use size, shape, illusion, and kinetics to create one singular perspective of a place. 

The fourth tier delivers impact through memorability: how can you reinforce your message in engaging ways that makes the audience’s experience memorable?

Lastly, the final fifth tier was Walt Disney’s Cardinal Rule — what he defined as “plussing,” which ultimately means asking over and over again, “how can we make this better?” Focusing on constant improvement was how the brand innovated time and time again. 

Using Imagineering

castle
iStock.com/EnchantedFairy

Interested in using the Imagineering process in your own brand development? If you’re building a retail space or developing a product you can apply this structure. Imagineering puts a focus on storytelling and creating memorable moments for customers. Interestingly, it also looks to strategically direct a customer’s attention.

Where do you want your customers’ eyes to go when they first walk into a space? How do you want them to move from one section to another? What elements of your space continue to tell your brand story? All of this can be determined by applying the Imagineering method. 

Applying the Disney Way

You don’t have to be a multi-billion dollar empire to infuse your brand with creativity. Even the smallest, humblest brands have found success through leading with creative vision.

Imperfect Foods sells ugly produce that mainstream grocers aren’t willing to sell. The brand leads with the mission to end food waste in supermarkets — a problem that sends about 43 billion pounds of food into our landfills every year. 

But Imperfect Foods found a creative way to fix this problem. Knowing that a thoughtful mission wouldn’t be enough to grab the attention of the masses, they came up with a brilliant idea to personify their ugly fruits and vegetables. 

Like pet adoption, we’re made to sympathize for these adorable, poor creatures. We want to bring them home. Imperfect Foods targets our emotions, pulling at loneliness and the chance for redemption. It’s not the food that’s positioned at the centre of the brand story, it’s the heroic customer opting to bring home lonely, abnormal-looking foods. 

Brands interested in longevity should take the time to invest in creativity. By putting storytelling and creative thinking at the center of your brand experience, you will surface new and unique ideas that will help you engage the emotions of your audience, and differentiate you from competitors. If we’ve learned anything from Disney, it’s that creativity goes a long, long way.

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One Response

  1. Woot this girl is happy – I have been a long time fan of Walt Disney creative approach and own the Imagineering group book full of plans and how these were implemented. They are the doers for the dreamers and yet – they had to overcome a lot of obstacles – one being irreversible: gravity!

    I have learned more and I thank you Ammo for writing it.

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