Thinking | Articles

Disney Innovation: Turning Imagination Into Big-Data

Is Disney’s New MyMagic+ a Brilliant Innovation or Does it Cross the Line?


Mark Payne

President, Founder | Partner

Farenheit 212

Disney has announced a bold new innovation called MyMagic+ that promises to liberate the theme park experience from a host of age-old pain points, and in the process make the [newly virtual] cash registers sing.

But even more interesting than the innovation itself is the question of what it will mean in the long run for the innovation efforts of other business great and small, and for the new economy taking shape around behavioral data.

If you haven’t heard, MyMagic+ is a bracelet-powered, billion-dollar integrated system going live this spring that will help you plan your Disney experience, get into and around the parks, pay for those tongue-tinting sno-cones, jump queues, and unify your billing across Disney properties.

Barring the unlikely possibility that the execution isn’t as sharp as we’d all expect from Disney, the ability of this innovation to transform the guest experience and bring new magic to park profits seems profound.

For guests this should mean unprecedented ease, feelings of empowerment, seamless transaction payments, and new levels of personalized service (picture your daughter’s smile when her old pal Goofy spontaneously calls her name from across the piazza and wishes her a happy birthday).

And for all these impressive experience enhancements, the list of commercial levers this can pull is longer and denser than Grumpy’s beard.

The white-gloved poster child for the possibilities of the modern data economy in terrestrial commerce.

Take the simplest first.

It’s pretty clear by now that anything that makes the act of spending smoother and less tangible ups the odds that consumers will do more of it. All the more when impulse and kid-pester-power are in play. If this system did nothing more than make discretionary spending at the park a less disruptive, less conscious act it could be a very big deal. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In this era of know-thy-customer’s-shoe size, the granularity of data Disney can conjure and their ability to unleash it are absolutely staggering.

This high octane platform should not only let them know what you buy and when, but what time you leave your hotel, where you go minute by minute, how long you hover in a line before bailing, how often you visit the rest room, and whether you slip down to the bar once the kids are asleep.

In one bold move, this makes Disney the white-gloved poster child for the possibilities of the modern data economy in terrestrial commerce, made all the more potent by the fact that Disney isn’t merely getting data to abet future marketing activities, but here-and-now insights about 140 million annual on-premise visitors with wrist-borne spending power at the ready.

Suddenly, app-based communications and special offers can be tuned and timed with DNA-like specificity.

If one part of the park is overcrowded, the app fed by Disney World’s new 40-square-mile wi-fi network could lure you to a less crowded area it knows you haven’t visited yet. The wizards behind the curtain could unleash the power of unprecedented levels of micro-segmentation in real time, potentially carving out limitless arrays of consumer groups on behavioral metrics like:

  • line tolerance
  • fitness (managing the families who can walk six miles of park in a day differently from the laggards who fade after a mile and a half)
  • family togetherness (isolating families that stay in a herd from those who branch off on their own)
  • whether Sally just had her hair done (no Splash Mountain today, thanks)
  • how many drinks mom and dad had last night (steering the tipplers toward quiet safari rides in the morning, and the early-to-bed set toward the body thrashers like Everest Adventure).

Let’s see. You usually eat every 2 hours and 14 minutes? At the 2:07 mark, here’s an offer for the least crowded eatery within two minutes of where you are.

Once you’re in the system of course, you can be managed toward maximum lifetime loyalty and value with unprecedented accuracy. The difference in your migratory patterns around the park between your last visit when the kids were 3 and 5 vs. your next one at 5 and 7 could be worthy of an epic regression and a redesign of the park in its own right, or simply marketing materials featuring the attraction you spent the most time in on your last trip.

Wrap it all together [neatly around your wrist] and you’ve got an epic win for both the consumer and the business.

But of course there’s a rub.

Will the public embrace all of this as simply a fair exchange of value – ok, I’m letting you into my underwear, but for a better park experience it’s worth it – or will they get freaked out thinking Disney just added two more dwarfs named Nosey and Greedy?

This is where it gets interesting for all the other innovators out there.

If Disney pulls this off unscathed (and with the requisite opt-outs, kid protections and safety features they’ve built into the system, they’ve at least got an airtight story), and prints as much new cash as it appears they might, MyMagic+ could prove to be the big, validating door kicker for thousands of other businesses great and small to get more aggressive in pushing the envelope on this type of innovation.

The technology and applications here aren’t that new (Disney isn’t even a first mover in the theme park business) but the magnitude, profile, degree of scrutiny and reputational risks of Disney’s move are what matters.

If it does blow up, expect a chilling effect on other innovators considering to follow suit. But if it doesn’t, fasten your seat belts for what’s next.

It wouldn’t be long before mall owners, eager to win back departed retailers, unleash analogous systems that let mom drop off the kids at the mall with their cash-embedded fashionable parolee bracelets that let the mall owner track where they go, what they spend, whether they like butter on their popcorn, and what kind of special offers they respond to, in exchange for giving mom control and confidence in what’s going on, and perhaps a wee discount.

Picture every kid at Chuck E. Cheese waving wrist bands at everything that moves.

Picture concert tickets in bracelet form, unlocking those discretionary dollars, tied to the card that bought the ticket, delivering behavioral insights and new marketing mechanisms to the reeling music industry.

And with loyalty being the modern business obsession that it is, how far off is the RFID belly button ring that’s let’s you buy stuff cheap at Abercrombie and Fitch and walk right past the register on your way out?

So is MyMagic+ a bona fide door kicker, opening not just a park turnstile, but the next quantum leap in consumers willingly submitting themselves to new levels of behavioral scrutiny in exchange for a bit of added value?

Or is it a precarious, unwelcome and polarizing step across an invisible line?

Only time will tell.

But the future of the data economy in terrestrial commerce will be meaningfully shaped by it one way or the other.

Wrap it all together and you’ve got an epic win for both the consumer and the business.


About the author:

Mark Payne

As co-founder and president of the leading innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212, Mark Payne has spearheaded innovation projects that have created over $3 billion in revenue for Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurial emerging businesses, and private equity firms. As the architect of the firm’s Money + Magic philosophy, its outcome-based business model and its breakthrough Two-Sided Innovation […]

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