This is how your brand story becomes magical

One of my favorite experiences at Walt Disney World didn’t happen in Walt Disney World.

Let me set the stage. Like many parents, my wife and I made the pilgrimage to the house of the mouse with our boys. We had scrimped and saved. We even drove the umpteen hours from the middle of America down to Orlando rather than pay the airfare for 5. You see, we wanted to spend our money on the things that would result in the best experience, and multiple friends had told us that it was worth staying at one of the Disney World hotels instead of opting for a much cheaper hotel off the property. Even though it felt smarter to stay a few more minutes away, we bit the bullet and ponied up the extra for the Disney World hotel.

Now my three boys were just little guys back then. Which meant that when we went on a family road trip, we were accompanied by a menagerie of stuffed animals. There were Muttsy and Barkus and Puppy (Puppy got the short end of the stick when it came to naming). And there was a whole supporting cast of Beanie Babies and other characters. Of course, the whole entourage accompanied us into the hotel room.

Leaving for the park the first morning was an exercise in organized chaos, getting everyone dressed and out the door while trying not to leave the room a total mess for the hotel staff. I felt bad about the rabble of stuffed animals that the staff had to corral or work around. I vowed to do a better job of gathering them in the next day. That is until we returned in the evening.

The business of happiness

Disney has referred to itself as ‘The Happiest Place On Earth’. This points to the Big Audacious Meaning of the organization. There is a great quote in The Disney Institute blog that elaborates:

As he was preparing to pitch what would become the purpose of Disneyland to Walt and Roy Disney, Van Arsdale France once said, “My goal, as I saw it, was to get everyone we hired to share in an intangible dream, and not just working for a paycheck.”

Van recounted the experience…”And here were top executives, all of them right there, and I had to get up and say ‘And now our theme: the purpose of Disneyland is to create happiness for others.’ And you see, the beautiful thing about saying, ‘We’re going to create happiness’ was then I could say, ‘Look, you may park cars, clean up the place, sweep the place, work graveyard and everything else, but whatever you do is contributing to creating happiness for others.

Surprise & delight

After our first day at the park, we returned to our hotel room to get everyone bathed and in bed so my wife and I could pick up and prepare for the next day. Not something we particularly looked forward to after an exhausting day of sun and fun in the magic kingdom.

We opened the door and stepped inside the hotel room only to be stopped in our tracks. There was a moment of speechlessness. The whole menagerie of stuffed animals had been transformed into a hilarious diorama on the bed. Muttsy had his arm around Barkus. And Puppy looked to be in a deep discussion with Goofy about some matter of great importance. The whole motley crew of stuffed toys had been meticulously arranged in the scene. We didn’t want to touch it because it was so….magical.

I couldn’t believe that among the drudgery of tidying up after families like us that the hotel staff would have done something like this. To create this wonderful little piece of surprise and delight.

The magical realm

There are plenty of stories of the things Disney has done to live its brand story of creating happiness. Most notable are the actors who portray the Disney characters in the park and never break character when present among the visitors. But there are lots of little things that can easily go unnoticed. Like how they keep the place amazingly clean despite the throngs of people that flow through the park. Even how the trash is discreetly handled. There is example after example at the park. All of it is intentional in helping bring that brand story to life.

It’s one thing to talk about who you are and the difference you make in a life, a community, or even the world (your Big Audacious Meaning). But when you marry that with actions that amplify the story, the brand becomes truly remarkable. And something wonderful happens. Because you live your brand, people start to tell the story for you. It is the reason that my stuffed animal tale has become my favorite way to capture the specialness of Disney for those who have yet to visit.

Imagine people telling your story this way. That is a magical realm for any brand.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.

Originally published at on May 22, 2019.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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