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Selling Magic

What working for Disney taught me about selling magic.



Once upon a time, in a nondescript office park far, far away, I was an official Walt Disney World vacation planner. Stationed in a call center, my sole job was to help people book as many experiences in advance as I could. We started taking calls at 7:00am promptly each morning, 7 days a week, and when we did, there was a queue 45 minutes long. Every day.

People were on hold waiting for a chance to book the elusive “Breakfast at Cinderella’s Castle”, a daily buffet with princesses in the most iconic setting Disney has to offer. It was booked 90 days out and was sold out every day by 7:15. Families planned their entire vacation around booking this event.

It was an intense 15 minutes each morning. To protect ourselves from potentially vicious vacation-planners vying for a spot at Cinderella’s table, we used fake names on the phone. Mine was “Torres”. (Instructed by my manager, I rolled my “Rs” when I introduced myself to people with arguably the worst Spanish accent ever.)

If you’ve been to Disney World, you know that the food, for the most part, is just okay. But Disney isn’t selling pancakes. IHOP sells pancakes. Disney is selling an experience. (This particular one was $25 for kids and $50 for adults! For breakfast!)

Between you and me, I became a bit cynical about the “magic”. Between you and me, I became a bit cynical about the “magic”. I had seen the man behind the curtain and he was outside the employee cafeteria, smoking a cigarette with his giant Mickey head resting on his hip (Sorry, kids, true story).

Still, my heart not quite hardened, I remained a Disney pass holder after my tenure was over at the call center. My husband and I spent a lot of weekends there during our 7 years together in Florida and when we moved to the Carolinas before our son, Luke, was born, we vowed to take him back.

Last year, right before his third birthday, we took him to Disney World, where he met his heroes, Woody and Buzz. I stood in line waiting with him to get his picture taken with these larger-than-life costumed characters, hoping he wouldn’t duck and run as soon as he saw a 7 ft. plastic toy beckoning him away from Mom.

But he didn’t run. He timidly walked up, then turned around and looked at me with a nervous grin. I said “it’s okay, go say hi”. And he did. He gave Woody and Buzz a hug, then stepped back and looked at them with wide-eyed wonder. His heroes, his action figures, the stars of his favorite movie that he’d watched 100 times, had come to life right before his eyes.

I stood there, with a catch in my throat, and understood for the first time what Disney really sells — Magic.

I had used that word hundreds of time ad nauseum during my brief call center career. But now I’d experienced it first hand as I saw this moment through my son’s eyes.

As a parent, you might cringe at the $14 turkey sandwich you just bought or the $2000 you spent on a family vacation. But seeing your son meet his heroes? The look on his face is worth the price of admission.

A year later, Luke still asks me “Hey, Mom, ‘member when I saw Woody and Buzz and I gave them a hug? ‘Member, Mom? That was AWESOME!”

You and I have to do more than sell website design or social media help or an online course. You can find that stuff on every corner of the Internet. Which means that people can become cynical about what it is you can do for them.

Focus on your customer’s experience.

How do you want them to feel? Package your skills around that.

Bring a customer’s idea to life.

Help them realize their dream of owning a business.

Give them the confidence to pave their own way.

Keep them from quitting when they don’t see a way forward.

Every day, successful designers, consultants, teachers and coaches are doing this for their clients.

That’s magic. People will pay more for magic.

Mickey image by Loren Havier

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