Marketing Magic: Disney’s Magic Wristbands

My family and I recently returned from a trip to Disney World. As a marketer, I was keenly interested in the customer experience that Disney would create for me. They are renowned for their customer experience and the extent to which they go to ensure a “magical” visit for each guest. I was curious – how would one of the biggest companies on Earth market to me ahead of time? What technologies would they employ to enrich my experience in real-time during my visit? I’ve read that they have a 70% return rate of first-time visitors, so what marketing strategies would they employ to try and win my business a second time around?

We chose to buy our tickets in a bundled package via Expedia, so in order to link my Expedia reservations with Disney’s system, I had to set up a My Disney Experience account on Disney’s site. That was step 1 for them to identify me. They gained my email address and had a native account associated with me. I then began to receive a regular trickle of emails letting me know what tools were available to me to help plan for the trip.

Here’s an excerpt from the first email:

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The item that stood out to me the most on the list was the option to customize our Magic Bands. Our what?! In the words of Disney, Magic Bands are:

Your Key to a More Carefree Visit
MagicBands are secure all-in-one devices that allow you to effortlessly access the plans and vacation choices that you’ve made with My Disney Experience.

MagicBands are colorful, waterproof wristbands — resembling a watch or bracelet — that you can quickly and easily touch to a sensor called a touch point.

You can use your MagicBand to:

  • Unlock the door of your Disney Resort hotel room.
  • Enter theme and water parks (with valid admission).
  • Check in at FastPass+ entrances.
  • Connect Disney PhotoPass images to your account.
  • Charge food and merchandise purchases to your Disney Resort hotel room (only available during your hotel stay).

WHOA! So Disney, you’re telling me a bracelet is going to unlock my hotel room, serve as my admission into the parks, store my Fast Pass ride selections, store any photos taken of me by Disney photographers, AND serve as a form of payment at restaurants and merchants? Sheesh.

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Watch this video by Disney to get a stronger feel for it:

So, all creepiness aside, I get it. The point is to be able to make my experience at Disney as seamless as possible, with some opportunity to provide personalized recommendations based on my behavior. After reading through the privacy policies, I decided to go ahead and enroll in the program so that I could experience how it all worked. I was able to choose my own color and have my name printed on my band. Exciting, right?

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And in the spirit of full disclosure, I even bought one of the hundreds of available accessories that Disney offers (surprised?) to customize the bands. These little guys are called MagicBandits. They’re the same rubber material as the band and simply pop into the extra holes on the wristband. Please, spare the Empire hate. My kid loves Stormtroopers! The Rebel Alliance set is available here for any of you that are so inclined. 🙂

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At this point, you may be wondering how do these bracelets actually work? Per Disney, the bands run off radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology that functions in both short-range and long-range capacities. The short-range functionality, acted out in the above video, is when you literally touch the Mickey Mouse shape on your band to a corresponding Mickey Mouse-shaped touch point. The touch points are located on every hotel room door, every point-of-sale for every merchant or restaurant, every turnstile at the park gates and every entry line for every ride or attraction. It’s pretty crazy, actually.

The long-range functionality comes into play with strategically placed RFID readers throughout the parks. These readers determine where a visitor is within the park in order to deliver personalized recommendations for close-by attractions, ranging from meet-and-greets with characters, to ride recommendations, to fireworks displays. Since visitors use MagicBands to access rides, Disney is able to ascertain which rides and attractions you’ve attended and which you have not, so I’m sure they take this information into account when making personalized recommendations. In other words, they probably are not going to suggest a ride that I just finished riding. On the other hand, maybe if I just rode Space Mountain three times in a row, they’ll go out of their way to suggest it to me again. In my personal experience, the My Disney Experience app would update my recommended activities a few times per day, depending on what areas of the park we were in.

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I wholeheartedly expect my ride and attraction attendance data to appear in – or at least to inform – Disney’s personalized remarketing efforts to me over the next year. I mean, think about it. In an industry that relies on constructing capital-intensive rides and attractions to lure people back for a repeat visit, the ability to market based on an individual’s participation data could really change the game for theme-parks. All of a sudden, they’re able to individually target visitors and advertise existing attractions as new experiences. Powerful stuff. (And yes, kinda creepy.)

Fast forward a few days, and I’m back in Raleigh standing around the coffee maker with a few of my co-workers talking about our thoughts on Disney…mine fresh in my mind, theirs from a few years back. One co-worker brought up the book Inside the Magic Kingdom Seven Keys to Disney’s Success, by Tom Connellan. I gave it a quick read last week and although it was published in 1997, obviously predating the advent of the Magic Band days, I feel the themes identified in the book are still present at Disney. One line that particularly stood out to me was this:

Every time a customer comes in contact with your company, you have an opportunity to create value. Capitalize on that opportunity and you win. Waste it and you lose. It’s as simple as that.

I realize that with the Magic Band experience, Disney is creating countless, on-demand opportunities to provide value to their guests. The gimicky timeshare offers and “Come back real soon!” messages probably won’t work to make me a repeat guest, but the memory of how seamless the experience was will certainly influence my thoughts about returning – especially now that I know they’re building an Avatar-inspired land. I look forward to seeing what types of messages Disney sends over the next year or so to nurture me toward a repeat visit.

I’m interested to hear from others who have visited Disney World since the introduction of the Magic Bands. What were your thoughts on them? Were you creeped out? Did you walk away feeling your trip was enhanced? Let me know in the comments!

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  • disqus_82xRSNWxa4

    Interesting. Disney are marketing pimps.

  • Suzanne Ryan

    I’m going to Disney World in April with my daughter and granddaughter and I already have my Magic Band. I, too, am intrigued by their marketing and can’t wait to go to WDW! Thanks for the fun blog post.