(Photo composite with apologies to Disney and Apple, Inc.)

 

We recently took our family on a trip to Walt Disney World. On the return flight, as I reflected on our stay, I couldn’t help but think about how that organization continues to uphold Walt’s dream more than 50 years after his passing. Walt Disney was a visionary who always aimed high. He never saw barriers; only opportunities. And he never put any limitations on his own imagination as he challenged ours. And, in doing so, he created a frame of mind to help shepherd the Disney brand into the next century and beyond.

More than Just a Dream

Walt Disney’s greatness was about much more than wishing upon a star. It was about setting an expectation (or Brand Promise) for others to embrace and live by. If you’ve ever visited central Florida, you know that frequent rain storms are a part of everyday life. We experienced our share of them during our stay. During one downpour, we found ourselves trapped in a gift shop with hundreds of fellow tourists. As Disney associates maintained order and safety in an increasingly crowded setting, they never exhibited any frustration. They never got exasperated with the throngs of patrons crowding the aisles and blocking the entrances. They kept smiling and remained polite during the entire ordeal. I declared to one young woman who was directing the nonparticipating traffic, “They must train you folks to be so polite.” I was mistaken. She said there was no such training.

The positive culture and philosophy that Walt Disney created attracts like-minded people who share it. No training necessary.

What are you doing to attract those who share your dreams and aspirations? Are you networking with like-minded individuals? Are you joining online communities that share your values and challenge your thinking? Are you engaging your co-workers to contribute in positive ways to your common goals? If you’re a supervisor, are you empowering your subordinates to broaden their skill sets in order to distinguish themselves and add value to your customers’ experiences?

Brand Loyalty and Brand Equity

A recent purchase of new computers provoked similar thoughts. Our company needed to upgrade some MacBooks. We never even considered switching platforms to something “more affordable.” This is the work of Steve Jobs, still going strong nearly a decade since his passing. You see, Jobs knew that, if he defined a Brand Promise that was meaningful and stuck to it, people would remain loyal to Apple products. As long as the company continued to deliver on its promise of plug-and-play accessibility, innovation, elegance and “coolness,” people would be willing to pay a premium for their products. Sure, we could have purchased other laptops for half the price, but it never even crossed our minds. True value means a whole lot more than economics.

What are you offering that makes others willing to pay a premium for it? How are you delivering on your Brand Promise to build customer loyalty? Are you adding the little extras that make their lives easier even at your own expense? Are you setting realistic expectations and regularly exceeding them? Are you being responsive and offering advice instead of just taking orders? Remember, your expertise has real value and is worth sharing. All of this transcends widgets to create a frame of mind that builds positive Brand Equity.

When you think about your brand, remember that it’s more than just your identity. It’s not limited to a name, logo and tagline. It’s the mindshare that your business creates. It’s what people think of when they hear your name. And, as Disney and Apple demonstrate, it’s something to be embraced and nurtured. There’s no reason why it cannot endure long after you’re gone.

Are you Brand-Ready for Next Year?

As the year closes, ask yourself how your current challenges and objectives align with your overall vision. Have you lost your way, or are you sticking to your Brand Promise? Is it still meaningful to your customers and prospects? Have you allowed yourself the room to evolve with their needs, or have you boxed yourself in? Engage your employees to stay involved and help maintain the focus on the guiding principles that distinguish you. Consult with customers and colleagues to learn how others are viewing your business. You might find that a little change is in order for the coming year, and that’s okay.

If you get stuck, ask yourself, “What would Walt and Steve do?”

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