Make Your Property a Magic Kingdom: Five Ways Disney Builds Extreme Customer Loyalty


The Disney brand is one of the most powerful in the world. They successfully deliver their message, confirm their credibility, connect emotionally with customers of all ages, motivate their employees, and build extreme customer loyalty. Their brand resides within the hearts and minds of customers old and young.

So, what happens when something gets in the way of this beautiful brand relationship? Can Disney’s customer service magic trump a bad experience?

I have a friend who has been a loyal customer of Disney World for more than 35 years. She recently took her young children to the Magic Kingdom for their first visit. Her expectations were high as she remembered all of the wonderful times she had spent there as a child and an adult. But this time was different for her because she had a few bad experiences.

Bringing Magic to Your Apartment Community: Five Ways to Better Resident Retention

Here are five ways Disney builds and maintains customer loyalty when the magic of the brand is put to the test that you can also apply to property management for increasing resident retention and long-term loyalty.

1. Craft Your Message for Your Apartment Brands

Brand image is a mental or emotional association in the customer’s mind. It is initiated by the images you use in your advertising, and the words you use to describe your products and services. After sufficient impressions, the customer remembers these associations and your brand is born.

“Dreams Come True” is the message that is delivered throughout the Magic Kingdom. It is plastered all over and sung throughout the park by every Disney character imaginable. Unfortunately, for my friend the message did not make it to the resort where she was staying with her family. She was placed in the “new trainee” line and the individual who was checking her in made so many mistakes that the would-be 10 minute process took an hour.

This delay resulted in missing a boat to the Magic Kingdom and set them back an additional 45 minutes. When they finally arrived at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom they were told that their adult tickets were labeled “children” (another error made by the trainee) and that this needed to be corrected by a manager – another 30 minute delay. This was not the kind of experience my friend and her family were dreaming of!

Did the magic of the Disney brand trump this bad experience? YES! They brushed it off and moved on.

To achieve this kind of brand strength, your core brand messaging needs to communicate to your customer why your properties are desirable and better than the competition. It is not so much about bragging about how dedicated your property management team is or how talented they are—this should be left up to residents to decide as they engage with your apartment community. The power of Disney’s brand to create extreme customer loyalty comes from the engagement and the experiences that are shared.

2. Maintain Credibility in Your Community

Breaking Up is Hard…Unless a Brand Cannot Deliver Great Experiences

Credibility is the heart of every business. Your customers must see your property as capable of delivering quality services. This allows them to confirm your community as a reliable choice among other competing apartment choices in your market. Establishing credibility is not a one-time process. After all, for those of us other than Disney, one mistake can easily trump the reputation you have built. In fact, a survey commissioned by RightNow and conducted by Harris Interactive showed that 89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. Consistency, then, becomes of the utmost importance to building loyalty.

At first, it seemed like every experience my friend and her family had while inside the Magic Kingdom lived up to their expectations and the brand promises made by Disney. Some were better even than they had dreamed. Then as they were waiting in line to ride The Pirates of the Caribbean, all of a sudden the system came to a halt. After 20 minutes of the same announcement, “We are sorry of the inconvenience…,” they left the line for the ride. Their 45-minute wait in line was for nothing. This was not something that you would expect to happen at the Magic Kingdom!

Did the magic of the Disney brand trump this bad experience? YES! They brushed it off and moved on. If your residential community experience doesn’t convey this kind of magic, unhappy residents may just move on.

3. Connect Emotionally with Prospects and Residents

Your brand resides within the hearts and minds of your customers. It is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence and some you cannot. Branding is not about convincing prospects to choose you over the apartment community down the road, but it is about getting your customer to see you as the one place that provides the solutions to their problem.

Emotions are what make the Disney brand so magical and powerful. It would be difficult to visit the Magic Kingdom and not connect emotionally. Everything is screaming “Dreams Come True” as you walk through the park, and all five senses are influenced simultaneously. This goes back to the high expectations my friend and her family had for their trip. Their expectations for the Disney brand were so high that even a few blunders did not trump the ‘magic’ of the Magic Kingdom. This connection was not forced on them—it was built over time as their experiences led their immense sense of loyalty.

4. Motivate Your Property Management Team

Image of Walt Disney next to a quote of his

“What ever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” – Walt Disney

Enough said.

5. Remind and Reinforce Messaging with Residents

Create positive and happy memories for your residents. Even if a competitor courts your residents, if your community made a favorable impression on them, there’s a good chance they’ll reject the competitor. That’s the power of customer loyalty to a good brand!

Two weeks after my friend and her family visited the Magic Kingdom they received a beautiful thank you card signed by all of the main Disney characters.

“From all of your Disney Pals, we hope you created magical memories during your visit to Walt Disney World in 2013.”

Thanks in great part to this reminder of their visit; her children can’t get back to Disney fast enough.

Building Resident Retention with Integrated Brand Strategies

From its beginnings as a small studio in the 1920s, the Disney Company has become one of the most influential organizations in the world of entertainment. They understand that to succeed in branding you must understand the needs and wants of their customers. They do this by integrating brand strategies at every point of public contact. From the person cleaning the bathrooms to the one who dons the Mickey Mouse costume, everyone at the Magic Kingdom plays a part in telling the same story. When you achieve this level of brand loyalty, customers will be willing to overlook a few mistakes.

What about your communities’ brand messages and experiences? Does your organization inspire resident loyalty that will trump a bad experience?


(Image of Disney Logo via Wikimedia Commons)



President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

author photo two

Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

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