Lessons from Disney – The power of branding

Last Friday Disney’s CEO Robert Iger stepped down from his post. For over 14 years he has been rebuilding the Disney brand, preparing it to endure a rapidly changing future filled with mobile electronics and paid streaming services. What is the power of “brand” and what can you and I learn from this lesson?

Branding used to be only associated with advertising. Advertising agencies wanted to ensure that every time you see a set McDonald’s golden arches, you would think if a consistent quality meal for a fair price. Their golden fries were hot and tasty every time, and after eating a Big Mac you were still left wondering what was in the secret sauce that made it taste so good.

Walt Disney understood the power of branding. The Disney brand was originally associated with the emergence of cartoons. He provided leading edge technology to tell stories often associated with strong morals. This provided the foundation of the entertainment industry he and his brother Roy built.

Robert Iger entered the scene in 2005 as Disney theme parks and existing entertainment model had matured, lacking growth. The brand had become “stale.” Generation Z, their target audience, was in K-12 schools. They were quick adapters to technology and drawn to video. Disney needed to broaden its content and revamp its delivery to reengage young Gen Z’s as well as the older generations that had grown up with Disney.

As the master of storytelling, Disney explored themes that would fit into its brand. The first brand that fit was Pixar, who specialized in animation and had worked with Disney before on such projects as Toy Story. Disney went on to add Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Fox providing them Star Wars and super heroes to their stable of characters and stories. In the last year they also launched Disney+, their own video streaming service to broadcast over existing and new technologies. Disney’s has since seen increased sales and a stock price that has outperformed S&P rivals.

What is remarkable is that Disney has still stayed true to their brand. Through their acquisitions their still known as master storytellers using wholesome themes involving strong moral character. They continue to be on the leading edge of technology in their productions both at their theme parks and video.

So what can we learn from Disney? Each of us has a brand the represents who we are. Brands are hard to build because they involve consistent actions that reinforce that brand. As such, “your brand” is difficult to build, but easy to destroy with single actions that don’t conform with your existing brand.

Each of us lives by a set of values. Honesty, hardworking, dedicated, finds creative solutions, positive, optimistic, and supportive can all be elements of your brand, what you are known for. The first time you blame someone else for something you have done, lie to escape punishment, or don’t support another can destroy the brand you build for years.

Disney’s Robert Iger has worked hard to create, sustain, and their brand. They are admired by many through increasing stock price and attendance at their theme parks. As you build your brand, make sure your actions continue to support the brand you have built.

Dr. Steve Patchin is Superintendent of Hancock Public Schools. Programs he has contributed to creating include Mind Trekkers and CareerFEST, helping students explore their talents and associated careers in STEM. His research has focused on increasing development of self-efficacy in individual students.


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