2020, blog, blog post, blogpost, disney, disneyworld, myblog, Uncategorized

5 Lessons I Learned from Watching Disney's “The Imagineering Story”

Recently I watched “The Imagineering Story,” a new docuseries on Disney+ about the history of the Disney theme parks. I grew up going to Disney World every year with my mom and when I wasn’t at the park, I was reading about all things Disney and watching TV specials about the Behind the Scenes of the park. Even to this day, I watch YouTube videos of Disney cast members talking about their experiences. So, “The Imagineering Story” was right up my alley.

As I was watching it, a lot of the senior executives and Imagineers started to say familiar advice that I’ve seen in my career. I was surprised that Disney employees faced similar issues at work. I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the takeaways and lessons from “The Imagineering Story.”  

Encourage Failure and Bad Ideas

The Disney Imagineers, or WED Enterprises as they were formally referred to, were encouraged to take risks. I should stop to clarify that Imagineering is a term unique to Disney and is the combination of creative imagination and technical knowledge.  

In Episode 4, called “Hit Or Miss,” Imagineers recalled how in the 1990s there were dedicated teams focused on exploring new technologies, different attraction layouts, and new ride vehicles. 

“Succuss is about many many failures,” said Jon Snoddy, an Imagineer with Advanced Development. He goes on to talk about how they created a culture that doesn’t judge if things fail. In fact, they intend to fail! If over half of the projects succeed, then they aren’t trying hard enough. This experimentation helped them when it came time to create Tokyo Disney Sea. I love how much Disney prioritizes and values experimentation and risk. And moreover, how their team leaders support that innovation. That’s where the magic happens.   

But, Imagineers aren’t naive. One senior Imagineer, Joe Rohde (the guy with the incredible left ear piercing) acknowledges that Imagineering is very frustrating for business-minded people. There is a permanent tension between Imagineering and the business department. “Core components of creativity do not reconcile with efficiency-based business theory,” he said. How do you balance these two? 

This tension is not new. According to Disney folklore, Walt Disney was always asking his brother Roy for more money so he could do more creative ventures and Roy was skeptical and nervous. Roy was business-minded and Walt was creative and risk-taking. 

Design for the final level of the marketing funnel

In episode 3 “The Midas Touch” the Imagineers go into detail of how Euro Disneyland, later called Disneyland Paris, was built. They wanted to create the most beautiful Disney theme park and spared no expense. 

They returned to their history when building this new park, using tried and true principles. Walt Disney had four levels of detail that he preached to Imagineers. Design Imagineer Coulter Winn describes these principles as:

  • Detail Level One: You’re in the country, you see over the trees some tall buildings, maybe a church steeple 
  • Detail Level Two: You’ve walked into town, now you’re on Main Street
  • Detail Level Three: You’re looking closely at the colors and texture of the buildings  
  • Detail Level Four: You’ve gone up to the front door and you’re grabbing the handle, feeling the texture and temperature of the material 

All of these detail levels need to work together. Coulter says that at Disney they have to get to Detail Level Four to immerse guests in their story. This is where people fully buy-in and believe what you’re selling. 

These different levels of details reminded me of the Buyer’s Journey or Customer Funnel. First, you have the awareness stage when the buyer starts to hear of your brand in the distance, then they become interested and learn more about your brand, thirdly they are intent on buying your product and last they purchase what you’re selling. Just like with Disney’s design levels, your customer journey has to lead them to that purchase or Design Level Four.   

You don’t need to re-invent the wheel

With budgets as large as Disney’s it’s hard to think of them scrimping, saving and repurposing things. But, they are first and foremost a corporation focused on pleasing shareholders. I was surprised to learn in Episode 3 “The Midas Touch” that Disney Imagineers reused animatronics and set designs from an old 1974-1988 Disneyland attraction called “American Sings.” The happy singing birds, frogs, turtles, alligators, and rabbits found a new home at a more exciting ride called Splash Mountain. They fit right in next to the other Song of the South characters. Disney probably saved millions in time and money not having to design and build new characters for Splash Mountain. 

Take a look back at work you’ve previously made, whether it’s a template built that wasn’t used or a draft of a design. Could you repurpose that work? 

Don’t get siloed and stuck in your department 

When Imagineers were building Michael Eisner’s Disney’s California Adventures, they worked on a tighter budget than they had on Euro Disneyland. They were also divided between two projects. One team worked on California Adventures while the other worked on the new Tokyo’s Disney Sea, which had a much larger and looser budget. 

One Imagineer, Bruce, recalled the short-lived, much hated, ride Superstar Limo and how it was built by Imagineers who were in these tight pods, not consulting with anyone else. They had adopted the mindset of, “This is my attraction.” They stopped checking in with their peers to ask if this was good enough. They lost touch. Whereas, in previous Disney theme parks, rides were built more collaboratively. Superstar Limo only lasted one year and was later remodeled into a Monster’s Inc themed ride.

Take time to chat with or eat lunch with people in other departments at work so you can share what you’re working on and collaborate. 

Your work needs to make an impact 

One of the head Imagineers for Animal Kingdom, Joe Rhode, stated that he’s most proud of the projects that have a non-entertainment payback within them. He’s proud of the conservation station, a working research lab and a conservation fund that resulted from Animal Kingdom. 

Profits, entertainment, metrics aren’t enough to make a long-term meaningful impact. Richer rewards are needed. Who are you helping? How can your work give back to the community?  

As a kid at Disney, you don’t think much about how the theme park rides are built. They just kind of appear one day. As you get older, you realize that the project of building a theme park attraction isn’t all that different from working on a project at your work. Everyone has to collaborate, think creatively, first you build a mockup, you try to repurpose things, and you need to have a sense of purpose behind it all. 

I thought “The Imagineering Story” would be similar to the “One Day at Disney” movie that blatantly and blindly praised Disney CEO Bob Iger. But no, in “The Imagineering Story,” mistakes are acknowledged. A key takeaway from the docuseries is that when theme parks like Euro Disneyland, California Adventures and Hong Kong Disneyland were built for half the price, to please shareholders, the quality suffered, attendance shrank and guests were not happy. This modern cost-cutting mindset becomes more frustrating knowing it violates Walt Disney’s wishes. Walt is quoted as having said “Disneyland is a work of love. We didn’t go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money.” I hope that in the future, Disney can continue to balance creativity with profitability, in order to continue its legacy and because many other businesses look up to Disney. 


This blog post was also published on my LinkedIn.

2019, blog, blog post, blogpost, marketing, myblog, Uncategorized

Digital Marketing Tips for Wedding Vendors, from a Future Bride

So, I’m recently engaged and have been researching reception venues and attending wedding shows to get ideas. With my digital marketing knowledge, I can’t help but think that some of the vendors I’ve interacted with aren’t doing the best marketing they could. I want to take a moment to reflect on what I observe wedding vendors doing and what I think, from a digital marketing perspective, they ought to be doing.

 

  • Adjust your CTA for your audience

What they do: At wedding shows, most vendors seem to all have the call-to-action of “Buy Now!” For example, photo booth vendors told me how they were offering a discounted price, but only if I booked today. I was at the bridal show just to browse and to get ideas. I even told the photo booth vendor that I didn’t have a date yet, no venue, but he still gave me his brochure advertising his today-only-deal and wanted me to book him right then. No way, dude!

What they should do: Meet your customers where they are at. At wedding shows especially, switch your CTA to match brides who are in the awareness stage. Make your CTA “Subscribe to my email newsletter for wedding planning tips” or “follow me on Instagram to enter for a chance to win something” so you’re adding value to the bride, and you’re staying top of mind for when she’s ready to book. Maybe some brides are ready to book the photo booth that day, but you need to talk to her first and assume that every bride is in the awareness, not the decision-making stage of the marketing funnel. Measure the success of a bridal show by new website visitors, Instagram followers, and email subscribers, not by the amount of revenue made that day.

  • Meet in person as soon as possible

What they do: A lot of wedding vendors have a Contact Us page on their website and when someone fills that out, they email the bride back with more information and it becomes this back and forth email chain until eventually, someone stops responding.

What they should do: Immediately offer to meet the bride for coffee. Try to schedule an in-person meeting as soon as your schedules will allow. Vendors who I met in person, I felt a strong connection to and was extremely more likely to book with them. I felt loyal to them, I knew them, I trusted them and wanted to work with them.

For example, When I was looking for a wedding planner, I sent out several emails asking different planners for more information about their services.  One of the planners emailed me back the next day asking to meet up for coffee, another planner asked to schedule a phone call, and the third asked me to fill out an online questionnaire. Guess which planner I ended up booking? The one I met in-person. You can’t underestimate the power of a face to face real conversation. I’m reading Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation” right now and her thesis is that young people are losing the ability to hold a conversation and that no amount of technology can replace the power of a face-to-face conversation. I may be young but hell no, I’m not going to sign on a contract with someone I haven’t met face-to-face. I need to meet you in person and feel a connection if I’m going to work with you on my wedding day.

  • No response from her means don’t send her any more emails

What they do: A bride requests information so the vendor emails the info to the bride. She asks a question, they respond over email. She doesn’t respond again. The vendor then sends her emails with additional pictures of the venue, additional information, additional dates, etc. These emails continue, once a week, if not more. Eventually, the bride marks the emails as spam, hurting the vendor’s email domain reputation.

What they should do: Listen to your customer. Respect their wishes if they don’t want to hear from you. If they don’t ask you any follow-up questions or request a tour, assume this means they are thinking about it. They’ll let you know if they have questions! You risk damaging your reputation and coming off as difficult to work with if you badger brides with continuous emails. It’s a delicate balance between one follow up email a week or two after your first email and then no follow up. I’d lean toward no follow-up, because from my perspective, no follow up will change my mind.

  • Don’t use scare tactics

What they do: At bridal shows, I hear vendors ask questions designed to spark fear and insecurity. “Do you know what you’re going to do for your first dance?” “When’s the big day?” “Where are you getting married?” “How will your guests remember your big day?” “Have you booked this yet? Time’s running out!” “Have you thought of what you’ll do with your wedding dress after your big day?” “Did you know fall is the busiest wedding season?” “Good luck choosing 10.10.2020!”  Ack!

What they should do: Ask questions to get to know the bride, not scary questions that will only stress her out even more. Build a relationship with her. Don’t just talk to her like she’s a clueless pile of cash. I wanted to hear more vendors ask general simple questions like “Where are you with your wedding planning?” “How’s the wedding planning going?” This question allows me to volunteer the information I feel comfortable sharing and my answer doesn’t make me feel bad.

  • Acknowledge how you got my email address

What they do: After I attended my first wedding show, I suddenly got all these emails from vendors I had never heard of. No introduction, no explanation of how they got my email, just a cold hard sales pitch.

What they should do: Acknowledge that you got my email from the wedding show and tell me you’re adding me to your email newsletter. Give me the option to unsubscribe, front and center. In this age of increased data privacy and customers trusting brands and businesses less and less, be transparent with your customers about how you obtain your marketing data.

Capture
A good example of how you should first email your leads. This DJ emailed me and acknowledged how he got my contact information.

 

wendys bridal
I got this email from Wendy’s Bridal and appreciated how they explicitly said how they got my email and gave me the option to unsubscribe. Way to respect your brides!

 

  • Follow up by email or phone

What they do: I talk to a vendor in person, we connect, I ask for a follow-up, they say they will, and then I never hear from them.

What they should do: Stay true to your word. Follow-up with a bride you connected with by email the next day. Remind her what you talked about, give her additional details, and thank her for her time. Do what you told her you were going to do and follow up by email when you say you will.

If you really want to knock it out of the park, try answering her email with a phone call. Depending on the bride, she could be impressed by your dedication and appreciate the ease of a phone call rather than a long email. I experienced this where I emailed a vendor with questions, he called me 15 minutes later to answer my questions and we ended up talking for 30 minutes and of course, I booked a tour.

 

One more note is that I’m always impressed by businesses in the wedding industry who treat their customers like human beings. I think the venue, The Henry Manor, did this best with their plain-text follow-up email to attendees of a bridal show. Note how in the second paragraph they state how they want to earn my business. That was so refreshing to read because it contrasted all the other wedding emails I’d received. I appreciated this down to earth email:

Screen Shot 2019-11-18 at 9.12.45 PM
Down to earth follow up email to brides who attended a bridal show. Notice the casual tone of voice and how it’s just plain text, like a friend would write to you. 

 

I hope you found this informative and hey, if you know of any wedding vendors in Columbus, I’m in the market!

2019, blog, blog post, blogpost, Uncategorized, work, work sample

Blog Post I wrote for Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana

For Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana, I wrote a blog post essentially about how to be the best at donating to a thrift store. I was inspired by my own personal experience of donating to a thrift store. When I would gather up the clothes in my closet to donate, I wondered things like “Should I wash them first?” “Should I tie shoelaces of shoes together so they stay together?” “Should I keep jewelry untangled?”  I wanted to answer these questions for our donors and I knew that answering these questions would help our SEO too. With people asking more and more long-form questions in search, your content needs to answer what people are asking.

I had learned a lot of these answers from responding to questions on social media and by speaking with our thrift store managers. I double-checked these tips with the managers to make sure I wasn’t giving false or misleading information.

 

11 Tips to Maximize Your Thrift Store Donation

11 Tips to Maximize Your Thrift Store Donation
I made the graphic in Canva

Is your New Year’s Resolution to get your life organized? Perhaps you’re tidying up your home, inspired by Marie Kondo and her life-changing KonMari method. When you get organized and declutter your home that creates piles of unwanted stuff that needs to be donated to the thrift store.

With every donation that you make to Volunteers of America thrift stores, you are giving hope to families, veterans and individuals in need. Your stuff is sold in our thrift stores and the revenue is used to fund our community programs across Ohio and Indiana. Thank you for donating your items to Volunteers of America, a 100% non-profit thrift store.

CHECK OUT THESE TIPS TO MAKE YOUR NEXT THRIFT STORE DONATION QUICK AND EASY:

Capri donating her stuff to Volunteers of America

Wash clothes before donating

Toss them in the laundry one last time before donating them. This will ensure the clothes are clean, fresh smelling and ready to be sold in our thrift store.

Check your pockets

Double-check that you’ve removed any coins, business cards, receipts, keys, notes or important items from your clothing. Once donations start going through our sorting process, it becomes hard to track them down again. So, as much as we would love to find a $20 cash donation in one of your pants pockets, make sure you check your pockets.

Tie your shoes together

Keep shoes as a pair by tying shoelaces together or putting a rubber band around the shoes. We need both shoes in order to sell them in our thrift store. Have you ever seen just one shoe for sale in any of our thrift stores? Now, that would just be sad.

Tape the controller to your device

If you’re donating a TV with a remote, be sure to tape the remote to the TV so it stays together. The same goes for video game systems or other electronics. Keep all pieces together. Pay it forward to the shopper who will buy your TV and give them the remote.

Keep like items together

If you’re donating a set of dishes or like items, pack them in the same bag or box so they arrive at our donation center together. Y’know what they say, dishes of a feather, flock together.

Sort your donations into two categories

You can help us out by sorting your donations into two easy categories: Clothing and Household Items. Place all your jeans, shirts, socks, dresses, linens, and anything that has fabric into one bag. In the other bag, place the kitchen, household and miscellaneous items. Bonus points for labeling your boxes or bags! This will help us when we sort your donations.

Keep jewelry untangled in small bags

Place jewelry like necklaces and bracelets in individual bags so they don’t get tangled up together. Nothing is worse than a big ball of tangled up jewelry, right?

Label your fragile donations

Mark on the box if items inside are fragile. We don’t want any of your stuff to be broken!

Double-check your donations before you drop off

Before you load up your car or contact us to schedule a free home pickup, check our list of items that we do pickup and our list of items that we do not accept.

Note that we’re not able to accept donations of certain items like mattresses, pianos, beds, chemicals, or large appliances.

We also can’t accept broken, hazardous, toxic or recalled items for safety reasons. Examples of these items include old paint, cribs, car seats, or fire extinguishers.

When we receive donations of items that we don’t accept, we have to spend money properly disposing of those items. This means, less money to help veterans in our community.

If you’d like to donate something that we do not accept, you can reach out to another non-profit thrift store or your local trash company, and they might be able to take it away. Often you can contact their customer service center to schedule bulk item pickups. In Columbus, Ohio you can contact the City of Columbus Customer Service Center by calling 311 or 645-3111, or online at www.311.columbus.gov

Marie Kondo and her life-changing KonMari method of tidying
One of my favorite Instagram posts from @voathrift

Schedule a hassle-free pick up

Scheduling a home pickup is the best way to avoid driving around for weeks with your old stuff in trash bags in your trunk. We’ll pick up your donations, no problem. Schedule your free pick-up by calling us at 1-800-873-4505 or emailing us at askthrift@voago.org.

Be sure to leave your items out in a spot that’s visible to our truck drivers. You can leave your stuff on the curb, on your porch or any spot that a driver would easily be able to see.

We can pick up anything on our list of accepted items that one man can lift.

Get a tax-deductible donation receipt

When you drop off your donations at one of our thrift store locations, be sure to ask an employee for a donation receipt. This will come in handy if you choose to itemize your taxes and would like to deduct your donations.

Tip: Take a picture of your items before you donate them. Show your tax professional the picture for help in determining the value of your items.

The value of your donations depends on the specific items and their condition. Be sure to use the current fair market value to determine their value. The IRS has a handy guidebook to help you determine the value of your donated stuff.

If you forget to grab a receipt, that’s not a problem. We are happy to send you one. Give us a call at 1-800-873-4505 or email askthrift@voago.org

When you donate your stuff to a non-profit organization like Volunteers of America, you can easily help your community thrive. So clear out your closet, find a Volunteers of America thrift store near you, and do your part to make your community a brighter place.

SCHEDULE YOUR FREE DONATION PICK UP TODAY

Uncategorized

Listening in the background

I went to a Denison event this evening after work and was talking to a current student who was studying English and he asked me, “Do you still write for fun outside of work?” I thought about it and honestly answered, “No, but I’d like to.”

I think I felt compelled to sit down and type something out after that comment.

A couple weeks ago I got an email inviting me to a “Career Ready Boot Camp Networking event as an alumni of Denison.” Sure, why not? Just say yes, right? Something I’d learned at Denison and that has been reinforced since graduation and since learning about improv comedy.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into but was lured by the detail of free drinks and food. For the same reason, I’d gone to a Yelp Elite event last night at High Bank Distillery.

At both events, when I first arrived by myself and saw a crowd of people, I wanted to so badly turn around and run for my car. It’s terrifying showing up alone to places and seeing a crowd of happy people talking to one another. I tell myself that I just half to stay for 15 minutes. Then, if I still hate it after 15 minutes, I can leave.

This Denison event started out by all the alumni going around the room and introducing themselves to the students. I hate introductions and felt really shy in that room. It also became somewhat comical because alumni were going around saying things like “I work for the FBI,” “I’m a litigator,” “I’m a speech pathologist,” “I work for Facebook.” I pictured someone adding “I cured cancer.” “I worked for Obama.” I just could not imagine myself chiming in, “I do marketing for a non-profit.” I know, I know, I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I really do love what I do and I’m not ashamed of it. I think I get a bit insecure when comparing myself to other Denison alumni. The university puts so much pressure on you to be spectacular after you graduate, and if you’re not, then you’re never talked about or respected. It’s like you don’t exist or you’re a Denison failure. I felt this type of pressure in college and it rises up again at these Denison events.

The networking began (release the wolves!) and I felt lost. Here were these amazing alumni, well-dressed students who looked like they already had been accepted into law school, and me. I was in my snow boots (it was snowing outside!) and these tight business pants I’d gotten at the thrift store and convinced myself were a business professional. I took a deep breath, reminded myself I’d survived these types of things before and told myself I could do this.

I reached out (okay, followed awkwardly then when he turned around began talking) to a guy who looked just as awkward and out of place as me. We have something in common! I asked him what he was studying. He said English. Hey, we have another thing in common! I asked him what professors he had and he drew a blank. Okay, weird, but I’ll let it slide. I guess spring semester hasn’t even started yet. Another student joined our table and he studied Communication. Hey, English and Communications were my majors!

They told me they’d been on a full day of externships visiting Grange Insurance, Oologie (they couldn’t remember the ad agency’s name so I thought they went to Origo. Then they were talking about how the agency focused on higher education and I knew which agency they meant.) and another place they couldn’t remember. I was kind of jealous and proud of my alma mater for giving students this chance to see real workplaces in Columbus and meet current employees.

When I was a student I did a day-long externship at GSW, an agency that focused on pharmaceutical ads. That definitely influenced my career into marketing. I was fascinated by this company and wanted to work there or somewhere similar.

At the networking event, I migrated to another table (still nursing my CBC IPA beer) to chat with a young woman. She was an Education major. I asked her what her thoughts were on the teacher strike in LA. She didn’t know what I meant. At first I was mad at myself for making her feel awkward and ignorant but then I reasoned that this was an appropriate question. You should know and stay up to date with the issues going on in your industry across the nation (and listen to NPR religiously.) I remember when I was talking with a Dension alumni about working at a magazine she asked me what books I was reading. I was not expecting this question so flubbed my answer. Later, she told me that I should be prepared for this question if I want to pursue this career path. It makes sense.

I asked the student if she had studied abroad and she said yeah, she just got back from Copenhagen. Did you say Denmark!? My face lit up and I exclaimed I did too and I’m going back to Copenhagen in May and can’t wait. She was surprised I was still in contact with my host family. Heck yeah, I’m still Facebook friends with them and we still chat. She said she lived with a host family and had a great time too. We talked about our European travels and agreed the experience made us more independent and confident. She traveled alone to Amsterdam which I was so impressed by. I haven’t had the courage to travel alone yet.

Two other girls joined our huddle and I did my best to welcome them into the circle. I’ve been in their shoes where you slide into a group, listening and waiting to be acknowledged. I find myself becoming almost an unrecognizable best version of me where I’m overly friendly, smiling and wanting to make everyone comfortable. I’ve seen this part of myself come out at Women in Digital events.

My conversation with the three girls shifted away from academics and careers into the current party culture on campus. Apparently, there’s a party tent now? Students can’t party in their dorms anymore unless they register their party? Times are changin’. I liked learning how campus had changed since I left in 2014. Alumni are just regular people who want to hear how the campus has changed and stayed the same.

Someone at the front of the room tapped on the microphone and announced that the alumni would now go around the room and share what they observed of the student’s networking abilities and offer them a piece of advice. I looked to the ceiling, avoiding all eye contact. I’d skipped the introductions, maybe I could skip the recap. I’m usually not this much of a rebel but I think again I was just terrified by speaking to a whole room of people. What would I say? The other alumni went around and said valuable things like, “showing up here tonight is half the battle,” “say yes to projects at your first job,” “don’t make typos on your resume,” “email someone if they give you a business card,” etc. I nodded along and stayed quiet.

I liked talking to the students one-on-one but something about speaking in front of everyone and waiting for my turn just freaked me out. Writing about it now, I think back to my 9th grade English class with Mr. Shoemaker (who inspired me to study English in college.) We did this Socratic seminar as a test and you got points each time you spoke up and participated. I think we were discussing one of my favorite books, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I couldn’t get a word in. I couldn’t chime in or make my point. I didn’t want to interrupt or be rude but there was never a pause or lull in the conversation.

After the class, Mr. Shoemaker asked to see me. “What happened today, Ms. Gillum?” I loved that he called everyone by their last name. It gave us high schoolers this level of respect that we didn’t deserve.
“I don’t know. I got nervous. I couldn’t find a way to speak up. I wrote down what I wanted to say and add to the conversation. But couldn’t find a pause in the discussion.” I showed him my notes, which were scribbles of the points I wanted to add and gathering my thoughts in order so I’d say something intelligent. He said he understood and that it was fine this time but next time I’d need to speak up more.

So many years later, at this college networking event, and in meetings, I find myself still listening and struggling to chime in and say what I need to say.