Nathan Sykes

March 7, 2021

It Was All Started By A Mouse

I love theme parks. Unapologetically.

They're so cool! For an entire week, I get to leave Maine behind and travel to an intriguing, immersive world that's been carefully designed, down to every detail. I get to commandeer a ship for Ohnaka Transport Solutions, trying to steal Coaxium from the First Order. The day after that, I'm on the back of a Ikran (Mountain Banshee) flying over Pandora in a Na'vi ritual. I, and millions like myself, happily pay The Walt Disney Company's high prices to be able to experience this.

I do my best to forget the world while I'm experiencing a park. I really do.

But naturally, while I'm waiting in line, my mind starts drifting towards the business side of these amusement enterprises. And I find them really interesting.

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MagicGuides estimates that most families spend anywhere between $3,000 to $6,000 for a Disney vacation, just as an average point. When you start to factor in some of the higher tier entertainment and dining experiences, the number can inflate quite rapidly.

Let's cross-reference that number with your average state fair. How much do you think they can get away with charging you? $60 for a weekend? More than $100, and you're probably walking back to the parking lot.

Why is that? When you remove all context, state fairs and theme parks are practically providing the same service. They both have rides, they both have unhealthy food, and they both are fun (in their own separate ways). The reason why Walt Disney World can justify charging you 30x-100x more than a state fair is because of their attention to guest experience.

Every single guest touch point, from the moment you land on WaltDisneyWorld.com to book your ticket, to the moment you step foot on the ground at the Walt Disney World resort, has all been mapped out, optimized, and designed to make your experience amazing.

For example, let's look at the guest flow to purchase tickets for the Bangor State Fair, and for an Orlando vacation at Walt Disney World.

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The Bangor State Fair's page is unorganized, not themed, and redirects to a third party payment processor to actually handle the payment. Not great! $60 experience.

Disney's page, however? It's giving you a taste of the magic before you walk through the gates of the Magic Kingdom. It's getting you excited for the experiences you're about to embark on. It's a guided, step by step experience on its own that walks through all aspects of your vacation so you don't have to. Tickets? Check. Hotels? Check. Transportation? Check. What about a dining plan? Have you heard about our shows? What about early park entry? Check. Check. Check. I don't know if that experience is worth $3,000, but it's certainly worth more than $60 bucks. It gets folks excited about pulling out their credit card.

Disney's attention to detail follows the guest as they travel to Florida and step foot into the Transportation and Ticketing Center, on to a monorail, and into the parks. Everything is thought through. The entrance to the Magic Kingdom takes you into Main Street USA, with Cinderella's Castle acting as magnet for guests to go further into the parks. On each side, themed shops, restaurants, and activations are waiting for guests, watched over by janitorial cast members who are quick to pick up any trash. That's normally not required, however, because Disney's done research on how long people are willing to carry trash before dropping it - 29 steps - and have placed trash cans fairly close to those distances. Everything's thought through. Everything just works.

Then, we have the Bangor State Fair. The entrance to the fair leads you into what seems to be a hastily constructed set of attractions in a parking lot somewhere. There's no rhyme or reason. Dirt and trash builds up quickly, and there are trailers and behind-the-scenes stuff scattered about. $60 experience.

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I'm not saying the Bangor State Fair should start laying groundwork for their own Main Street USA. Even if it is the closest comparison, it's not what the Bangor State Fair is looking to become. That's fine!

The mantra of this short story is that you can justify charging more if you think through your guest's experience, end-to-end, and pay close attention to detail.

Think everything through. What does your customer first see when they land on your page? Have you tested it with every phone and every browser? What does your support look like? What do the emails and communications you send with your customers look like? Are there hidden features or ways for your customers to get engaged with you and your products, if they've demonstrated interest in your business? How do you reward those customers? What does delivery look like? How fast are your shipping times? How often are customers returning to deal with you? Why are they returning? Are they bringing friends? Why not? How easy is it for them to refer people? How can you get folks who've demonstrated interest to spend more money?

All things to consider.