“At Disney, we don’t see technology as a threat, but rather as an opportunity to innovate and deliver new entertainment experiences. We now live in the richest era of storytelling ever, as technology has created opportunities to unleash the imagination in ways that Walt could only dream of.”
Technology is fundamentally changing the media and entertainment business. How much of a threat does this pose to your brand?
Walt Disney once said, “I believe in being an innovator. I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment. I resent the limitations of my own imagination.” At Disney, we don’t see technology as a threat, but rather as an opportunity to innovate and deliver new entertainment experiences. We now live in the richest era of storytelling ever, as technology has created opportunities to unleash the imagination in ways that Walt could only dream of. Sometimes this means reinventing core businesses, as we have done with animation, pioneering the shift to CGI via Pixar. Sometimes it means new entertainment formats, like Club Penguin. Sometimes it means distributing our product on new platforms. And sometimes it means leveraging technology to constantly improve and upgrade the customer service experience. All the while, our brand is the central point, as we consistently deliver quality, creativity, and great storytelling that people have come to expect from Disney.
How does the Disney brand foster a creative culture of innovation and collaboration inside and outside of the company to differentiate from competitors?
The Disney brand provides an enormous amount of focus and direction to our organization. First, a strong consumer brand like Disney is invaluable in attracting the right kind of people to the company: people come to Disney because they love the brand and want to contribute to its legacy. With a brand that is as deeply loved as ours, that ensures we have a rich talent pool, and are able to attract the best people—we routinely rank among the places people most want to work at. But it goes well beyond that. Everyone who works here knows the high standards the Disney brand requires, and that compels our employees whether they are front line cast members or senior executives, to think through all decisions from the perspective of brand impact. We have a culture that encourages creativity and wise risk-taking, but the cardinal rule we have is to never do anything that will harm the brand.
How does Disney manage to successfully balance a diverse portfolio of brands?
First and foremost, we have a deep appreciation for the value of brands. Of course it all began with the Disney brand itself, but we learned to apply the lessons learned from Disney to other brands. We have learned the importance of brand clarity, and we make sure that all our major brands have clear, compelling identities. We value consistency, and recognize the importance of delivering key attributes each and every time someone experiences a brand. We also understand the importance of scale, knowing that in today’s crowded media landscape, standing out means having lots of presence, ideally across lots of different media and product categories. And finally, we know that all of our brands need to be compatible with Disney. While all our major brands—Disney, ESPN, ABC and Marvel—have distinct and different consumer propositions, all of them are able to sit together under one roof. You can imagine that there are brands and products that the Walt Disney Company would not want to own.
Why has the Walt Disney Company succeeded in building brands to an extent unequaled in the media and entertainment business?
Frankly, it’s hard to build brands in our business, because the fundamental attribute that is often most valued is being new and different. Unlike detergent or ice cream or beer, people don’t want the same product experience every time they buy your product. In fact, they value newness. And brands depend on consistency. So what ends up happening in media and entertainment is that brand building requires a huge balancing act between constistency and creativity. You have to figure out what fundamental attributes must always be there, and then push innovation as far as you can within that construct. And that’s not easy. For so many of our competitors, what ends up happening is that there’s very little constistency, so people never learn what to expect from their brands. This is what happens with most TV channels, movie studios, gaming companies—even internet sites. We’ve learned to be disciplined, and the result is brands that people turn to over and over again—the strongest brands in our business, bar none.
ABOUT MATTHEW RYAN
Matthew Ryan is Senior Vice President, Brand, Franchise & Customer Relationship Management at The Walt Disney Company. Ryan’s brand management functions include the stewardship and development of Disney brand equity across the company; providing consumer input into the company’s long-term strategic planning; overseeing the development and cultivation of character franchises; developing strategy and implementing practices for the collection and usage of customer data; implementing and managing the company’s cross-divisional customer relationship management (CRM) programs, including the Disney Rewards Visa Card, and focusing consumer strategy around key segments such as multicultural consumers.
Ryan is a native of Buffalo and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with an A.B. degree in history and literature.