By Barbara Farfan, About.com Guide
None but the best and most loyal of Disney (DIS) consumers are aware that on this day in history, September 14, 1964, Walt Disney was at the White House with president Lyndon B. Johnson. Disney wasn’t there to ask for political support, lobby for business issues, or to visit an old friend who just happened to be the leader of the free world. Rather, Disney was at the White House 49 years ago today to receive the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that a non-military American civilian can receive.
It might be a stretch for some to understand how the creator of cartoon characters was chosen to receive an award that is bestowed for “meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” It’s doubtful that Walt Disney himself believed that anything he did contributed to national security or world peace. But there was no denying that Walt Disney’s endeavors were “significant.”
Forty-seven years after Walt Disney’s death, the “significant” company that he started is still receiving recognition, most recently from consumers who rated the Walt Disney Company as one of the retailing Brands with the Best Reputation Guide. Between the Medal of Freedom and the Brands with the Best Reputation awards, I believe that Walt Disney would have thought the recognition from consumers was the more “significant” of the two. That’s especially because he reportedly didn’t much care for President Johnson.
Ranked as the #3 Best Reputation behind only Amazon (AMZN) andApple (APPL), the significance of the Best Reputation recognition for Disney lies in the rating criteria that Harris Interactive used to create the list. In all, there were 20 attributes identified, such as Environmental Responsibility, Trust, High Quality, Good Employees, Growth Prospects, and Future Vision, and the sum total of these attributes was deemed to equal “reputation.”
When reading through the complete list of the Harris Interactive “reputation attributes,” what I see as the sum total of all of them is loyalty. It’s easy to understand that loyalty is the natural result when consumers think highly of a company for its social responsibility, emotional appeal, high-quality products and services, workplace environment, financial performance, vision, and leadership. It’s difficult to believe that any company leaders think they can earn that intangible, fleeting, fickle, increasingly elusive part of the business equation called loyalty without first having won that hard-earned reputation.
Many experts in the retail industry, and in every industry, believe that there is no such thing as customer loyalty any more. Inasmuch as it’s no longer possible to fool ourselves into believing that loyalty can be bought, advertised, campaigned, or branded, they are correct. But there are hundreds of thousands of consumers inside a Disney store, Disney restaurant, Disney theme park, or Disney hotel right this moment for the first time or the thirty-first time who would disagree that the notion of loyalty is completely nonexistent. You just have to know how to really earn consumer loyalty, and Disney is one of the elite American companies that still does.
So, 49 years later, what would Walt Disney think about what his company is doing today to continue to be “significant?”
I think Walt would recognize the significance of the Disney Store that opened last month in Las Vegas, and the significance of all the Disney Stores that have been re-imagined and elevated from stuff-selling stores to delightful Disney destinations in their own right. The one thing that Walt Disney intuitively understood was that if you can successfully create a feeling of happiness for customers, those happy customers will be happy to buy merchandise to rekindle those happy memories.
So I imagine that Walt would be as happy as an 8-year old with the Disney Princess Castle, the interactive Magic Mirror, the in-store theater, the storytelling, the Pixie Dust trail, and the daily opening ceremony at the front door of the newest Las Vegas Disney store. He might be most excited, though, about the technology used in the character-inhabited trees. Remembering that Disney imagineers created the technology that is still being used in the Haunted Mansion theme park attractions back in the 1960s reminds us how much Walt Disney loved new technology.
Walt Disney was the master of interactive customer engagement long before Steve Jobs became the master of interactive retailing. So it’s ironic that a decade after the first Apple retail store opened Disney began giving its own retail chain an Apple-esque makeover. Being a relentless innovator, there’s no doubt that Walt would have walked around the new Las Vegas Disney Store and been proud that today’s Disney Store leaders didn’t let brand arrogance get in the way of retail elevation.