10 Things I Learned from Disney – #4: Details Make the Difference

PartnersstatueThere are a lot of theme parks in Southern California. The competition for Disneyland is tough. Yet, for over 50 years now, the pattern has been the same. People plan their vacation around Disneyland, spending 3 to 5 days at the park, and may add a day at one of the other parks – Universal, Knott’s or Magic Mountain. If you looked at the size of the theme park pie and the slice that Disney carves off, the imbalance would be remarkable. Why does Disney suck up over 80 cents of every theme park dollar spent in the region?

It’s not the rides. Universal’s rides are probably more technically impressive. Magic Mountain and Knott’s certainly has more thrilling rides. Disney’s biggest coaster, California Screamin’, is a rather mild ride for a coaster fanatic (which I am).

I believe there are several reasons, and I’ll try to deal with them in individual posts. Today, I want to talk about attention to detail.

The Hotchkiss Detail Obsessive Guide to Disneyland

My family has been to Disneyland at least 6 times. People hate visiting the park with us because we have routines (others are less kind and call them rituals, or cult-like behavior) that have to be adhered to. It’s important which side of the train station you enter onto Main Street on. And you don’t rush past the circle at the top of the street. You spend a few minutes lingering and drinking in the atmosphere. You either stroll (never rush) down main street or take the horse drawn tram. You may stop at the Blue Ribbon Bakery for a coffee. You make your way to the Partners statue at the center of the park for a few minutes with Walt and Mickey and while you’re there, pay particular attention to the flowers planted around them. Take note, because they may be completely different tomorrow. From the center in front of the Castle, we then veer to the left, usually ambling through Adventureland and head towards New Orleans Square because the first ride has to be (this is non-negotiable) Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates is one of our favorite rides, earning it’s place as a Hotchkiss Tradition. And it’s not because it’s thrilling (it’s not) or technically amazing (although it may have been with the ride debuted in 1967). It’s because the attention to detail on this ride is simply amazing. It’s the last ride that Walt himself personally oversaw the design of. Everything has been thought through, down to the smallest scar, gold doubloon or cobweb. And that is the Disney difference. You won’t find that fanatic attention to detail in Universal, Knott’s or Magic Mountain. It’s a Disney hallmark.

It’s What You Do Between the Rides that Counts

Disney knows that in between the momentary jolts of adrenaline, it’s the details that build an experience worthy of a 3 or 4 day investment of your family’s time. Disneyland has this down in spades. Each square foot is jammed with amazing detail, carefully crafted and maintained to add to the experience. And I’m not even talking the obscure Disney-mania touches like Hidden Mickies. I’m talking about carefully planned sight lines, well placed benches, meticulously groomed greenery and the architectural detail on buildings, to say nothing of the imagination fuelling touches found in rides like Splash Mountain, Peter Pan, the Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones. The competition cut corners. Walt absolutely forbid that in the making of Disneyland.

The post-Walt Disney Parks have struggled with this. We’ve been going to Disneyland for over 20 years now, and the overall look of the park hasn’t changed much. Toontown was added and a few new rides have debuted, but 50 years of planning and development have created an almost perfect entertainment experience. Major overhauls aren’t needed. The same can’t be said for Disney’s California Adventure. Disney is currently overhauling huge sections of the park because the same detailed magic was missing. Visitors treat California Adventure more like a typical theme park, rushing from major attraction to major attraction without lingering to enjoy the experience on the way. Of all the rides in California Adventure, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is one of the few engineered to the same standards of detail that you’ll find in the earlier rides. But this legacy of detail isn’t found so much in the rides, but rather the transition zones between the rides. It’s here where the acid test of detail is really found. It’s detail that keeps crowds amused while they’re waiting in line. It’s detail that keeps them from feeling like cattle, shunted from one chute to the next.

Most Skip the Details, Disney Doesn’t

So what’s the takeaway? Disney’s eye for detail came from an absolute certainty about what his visitor’s wanted and an iron-willed determination to deliver that without any compromise. Every last element of the visitor experience was considered and planned for. Every detail you see in Disneyland had a purpose – to make the visitor happy.

I think too many corporations rush past the details when it comes to the experiences of their customers. It’s because details take time. They’re hard work. You can get lost in a forest of detail. And obsessing over detail just doesn’t seem that profitable. In fact, if you get lost in the wrong details, it can be sure death for a corporation. But yet, details make the difference for Disney. Why? How does Disney avoid the trap of paying attention to the wrong details? They know which details are important because they take the time to understand what is important to their visitors. They spend a lot of time thinking about how visitors perceive and interact with those details. This is a legacy from Walt. It comes from a leader that obsesses about details.

Apple and the User Experience: A Lesson Learned

iPad-gallery-books1Another example of attention to detail is Apple. They obsess about the user experience. I recently watched someone demo their new iPad. You know what was one of the first things he showed me? How the iPad mimicked the look of turning an actual physical page in a book. Depending on where you place your finger on the page, the page itself curls up appropriately. It’s a silly little detail, but it was important in creating a Wow experience for this new owner. And it’s something that stood out to me as one reason why, eventually, I have to get an iPad. It’s a feature that probably took an absolutely silly number of hours of programming to implement but it was important to Apple because it was important to users.

Detail can differentiate you from the competition. It adds a premium to the value you provide. It tells the customer that you value them as users (or visitors), not just as another wallet to be emptied.

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