3.17-DisneyPersonal

With $1 billion MyMagic+ bet, Disney World doubles down on multichannel personalization

There aren’t many businesses that understand the importance of showing customers a good time better than Disney.

Yeah, the mouse rules — and in fact, rocks it — when it comes to what marketers like to call engagement. It’s an easy concept that can be hard to pull off. Basically, you want people who visit your theme park, or restaurant, or gas station, or store or website to have a pleasant experience, not a frustrating one during which it’s clear you haven’t done the work to anticipate what an individual customer wants and needs.

Disney is putting $1 billion into improving park-goers’ experience at Walt Disney World in Florida by deploying big data and wearable technology as part of an experiment called MyMagic+, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Businessweek tells the story of a couple of annual park visitors who enter their lunch order on a touch screen at a Disney restaurant and then seat themselves at a table without ever talking to a host. But Voila! The server with their sandwiches knows exactly where to find them. How? Businessweek reports:

“The answer was on the electronic bands the couple wore on their wrists. That’s the magic of the MyMagic+, Walt Disney’s $1 billion experiment in crowd control, data collection, and wearable technology that could change the way people play—and spend—at the Most Magical Place on Earth. If the system works, it could be copied not only by other theme parks but also by museums, zoos, airports, and malls. ‘It’s a complete game changer,’says Douglas Quinby, vice president for research at PhoCusWright, a travel consulting firm.”

And while being able to easily find hungry guests is cool, the potential for personalization that Disney (and many other organizations, including the Dallas Museum of Art) are working on, have much bigger potential.

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MyMagic+, Businessweek explains, lets visitors use smartphones and desktops and laptops to make reservations for restaurants, hotels, and even rides, months ahead of time. The wristbands that helped the theme park sandwich server find the couple at lunch, include radio frequency chips and link to an encrypted database of visitor information. The bands work as room keys, admission tickets and as credit or debit cards, the magazine says.

“Intelligence collected using the bands coupled with what visitors input into the related My Disney Experience app and website—all voluntary—help Disney determine when to add more staff at rides, what restaurants should serve, which souvenirs should be stocked, and how many employees in costume should roam around at any given time, Businessweek continues. “Data about customer preferences could be used to craft e-mails or text messages alerting them to restaurant menu changes or sudden openings for reservations in an expedited queue at Space Mountain or the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.”

Think of it as personalization coming to Main Street. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it: If what’s arguably the happiest place on earth needs to turn to digital tools and data to make sure its customers are getting what they need, who doesn’t need to get to work on better understanding their customers?

Yes, Businessweek raised the creepy factor, pointing out that some refer to the RFID chips in the wristbands as “spychips.” But is struck me that the complaints about MyMagic+ on Facebook and the micechat.com blog that the magazine cited didn’t have anything to do with privacy or oversharing.

Instead, Disney loyalists seemed most upset about how the number of FASTPASS opportunities (a chance to limit the wait time for certain popular rides) had been reduced by the ability of MyMagic+ people to gobble the passes up in advance.

Disney devotees’ lack of concern about sharing private information is in keeping with research that indicates that consumers are willing to share personal tidbits with businesses as long as they receive something valuable in return and understand how the information is used. In fact, a survey by Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group found that 70 percent of consumers who use digital devices to shop say personalized experiences would encourage them to buy more.

And that makes sense, given the experience of BloomReach customers.

It occurred to me that what Disney is doing in the physical world, is similar to what BloomReach is doing for its customers, who run large retail operations on the Web. BloomReach Organic, Mobile and SNAP (search, navigation and personalization) products use big data and machine learning to match consumer intent to the products retailers have in their inventory. The tools work across desktop and mobile. They ensure that consumers are offered products that are relevant to their desires. And they ease the frustration that shoppers can experience on smartphones by suggesting a full search term after the consumer types just a few characters, for instance.

All of which makes shopping easier and more pleasant, meaning shoppers are more likely to come back more often, stay longer and spend more money.

Just like that couple enjoying their hand-delivered sandwiches at Disney World.

(Mickey balloon photo by Sean MacEntee published under Creative Commons license.)

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com and follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy