Goofy Branding

I took my daughter to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago, and the experience got me thinking about branding.

My daughter loves Mickey Mouse and Cinderella. These are the big stars, the main brands. How can the small guys compete with the big names? I’ll get to this question if you have some patience.

We saw Mickey Mouse a couple of years ago. We waited in a very long line in Toontown to meet him. It was a great experience; we got good photos and everyone was very nice. But it was such a long line, and once you get your turn it’s time to rush a new group in.

One year, we accidentally entered a line to meet Tinkerbell. After several minutes and scarcely moving forward, we finally realized the long line wasn’t for a ride and got out of it. This year, there was what looked like a reasonable line to meet Cinderella and other Disney princesses. However, in several minutes we hardly moved at all. Fortunately, my daughter decided that her time would be better spent waiting to go on a ride.

On our way to eat lunch, we saw Tiana. There were only a few other girls in line to see her. My daughter got to see her very quickly. I was really impressed that Tiana sat down to get down to my daughter’s level. She spent good time with her, we got great pictures, and my daughter felt very special to get such personal attention from a princess. Tiana moved way up on my daughter’s list of favorite characters (and mine, too).

We got to see several characters during the parade. Goofy came over and patted my daughter on the head during the parade. He scored major points with us from this simple wow-factor.

This reminds me, if you want to see Donald Duck, Goofy, or Pluto in Toontown, you can very often do so with a very short line. You also see them at other parts of the park from time to time, and they are usually very accessible.

What struck me is that the small guys can compete with the big names. Personal attention, little personal touches, a simple wow-factor – these kinds of things can make a huge, lasting impression.

If you’re one of the small guys (like me), striving to brand your own image, personal interaction is something you can use to help stand apart. Branding is about getting people to remember your name (or the name of your product or business), getting recognized, getting associated with some quality, and the potential for word-of-mouth referrals. Personal interactions with members of your target audience can help to achieve this.

Are you just selling a product? Or are you selling an experience?

Have you ever bought a product from someone where without that interaction you never would have bought that product? Maybe you happened to walk by a shop and noticed it. If it had been a vending machine, you never would have put money into it. But after a nice experience with a sales associate, you made the purchase. Not because the salesperson twisted your arm, but you enjoyed the personal interaction. Has this ever happened to you?

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Amazon, Disneyland, and Branding

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Amazon and Disneyland are two huge, successful businesses that specialize in selling entertainment.

I love them both, but for different reasons.

Amazon has branded itself as a giant, which fits the name of the company. When I go to Amazon, I expect great selection coupled with low prices. I also expect quick shipping. Amazon has also branded itself as being a supporter of the small guy – i.e. small businesses and indie authors.

This last point works multiple ways. Third-party sellers and customer resale help to bring low prices to the customer through competition, and customers have the opportunity to support indie authors and small businesses. Amazon features indie success stories on their homepage.

Indie books and small business products also greatly enhance the selection of books and other products on their website.  Finally, most customers know indie authors (or are indies themselves), so there is inherently much support for this concept.

I love Amazon for giving the small guy such an amazing opportunity.

Disneyland has branded itself as a bringer of happiness, which fits its slogan, “The happiest place on earth.” My daughter doesn’t know the slogan, but she associates Disneyland with happiness: She was bouncing up and down, smiling in the car for a couple of hours on the way there.

The employees who interact with customers at Disneyland are obviously trained to place much emphasis on bringing a happy experience to customers. Another thing that’s very important is also subtle: Disneyland pays incredible attention to detail. There is evidently a high priority on cleanliness on their grounds. The service and ambiance are such a high priority in order to brand the happiness image that these details are vital to their success. Goofy came over and patted my daughter on her head during the parade – that’s a wow-factor.

I love Disneyland for attempting to make many people’s lives happier, even if just temporarily.

Of course, Amazon and Disneyland are huge companies which are geared toward making money. Aren’t all businesses striving to make money? The question is what goods and services they provide for the money, and whether or not it’s a good value.

Amazon supports the small guy in its aim to make money and Disneyland provides happiness in its aim to make money. Provided that the cost is reasonable, these seem like highly respectable ways – in my humble opinion – to go about making money.

These are positive images to brand.

Amazon and Disneyland aren’t perfect. Who is?

Personally, I would like to see Amazon become a little more like Disneyland. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Amazon were, say, “The happiest place online”? At least, a few steps in this direction would make for a nice improvement.

But, alas, in customer reviews, customer comments, and discussion forums, we sometimes see unhappiness. We sometimes see highly spiteful remarks (even though spitefulness is supposed to be a violation of the terms and conditions of use) or even cyberbullying.

This is odd, as it seems to contradict some of Amazon’s branding efforts. When I contact Amazon as a customer or author, they usually provide excellent customer service. If they’re so oriented toward great customer service, why not go all out and provide a great customer ambiance in the review and discussion forums, too? Why provide a rotten ambiance there, but great service by phone or email? It seems totally incongruent. So there is one way in which Amazon could improve, in my estimation.

Even as they are, I still love Amazon and Disneyland.

We can learn from their successful branding:

  • How do you want to be branded? You need this in the planning stages.
  • How do you want your product to be branded? Work toward this.
  • An image that people are likely to support on a wide scale (like supporting the small guy), which fits with your product or service, has much potential.
  • An image that people crave (like happiness), which fits with your product or service, has much potential.
  • Choose a title that fits this image.
  • Mickey Mouse is a simple image, easy to recognize, great for branding. (You can’t copy this image. Duh! But you can learn from the effectiveness of this simplicity.)
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • The product, service, marketing, blog, and even your daily personal interactions matter. Send a unified message that supports your branding.
  • Consistently brand the same image. Avoid changing the main title or picture. Choose these wisely in the beginning.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon