With the Disney, Pixar, Murdoch deal in the news, I’ve been reading a lot about Michael Eisner again. Today Newsweek’s Nick Tabakoff has an interview with Michael Eisner, the Mouseketeer who gets credit for taking Mickey from a household name to worldwide prominence.
As Nick Tabakoff at Newsweek says,
How did he transform Disney? Simply, by making decisions.
I have a personal connection with Mickey Mouse. He and I grew up with the same initials. So I paid attention when Eisner took over. Of course, it wasn’t just making decisions that made a difference, it was the decisions that the Head-Mouseketeer made.
So How Did Eisner Do It?
- Eisner defined the brand. Eisner let us know what Mickey stood for. A Disney movie, theme park, restaurant has values. They’re not written down for us, but we all know what they are. Movies that don’t meet the Disney brand are made for Miramax. Chefs at the 5-star Napa Rose Restaurant in the Anaheim resort have no facial hair. Everything Disney is clean, polite, wholesome, and good.
- Eisner understands the value of quality. Nothing Disney was done half way. Disney products and content were high value for customers at every level, in every size, shape, and form. In other words, he made sure customers wanted to buy what he had.
- Eisner differentiated his product to the point of exclusivity. They are the only Disney. Bugs Bunny wasn’t, isn’t, and never will be Mickey Mouse. Disney jealously guards all of its intellectual property to see that it stays that way. Use of a Disney song or image without permission is done at your peril. We might frown or joke about it, but it works to protect the Disney brand.
- Eisner made more things for current customers by extending what he had.
- Eisner branched out from where he was to make the same kind of things for new customers. Under Miramax we got Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love. He didn’t go into whole new markets–a high risk venture–but changed what he had to meet new customers’ needs.
- Eisner then extended further into Disney Cruises when the market was ready. Grown-ups get a vacation while the kids are kept entertained. Enough said there.
- Eisner opened Disney Stores. Now he gave customers more opportunities to buy the things he knew they wanted.
Disney had made a handful of films when Eisner got there. Eisner used those seeds to grow a garden that included hits such as The Lion King, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc. He made more products his current customers would want to buy. They kept coming back.
The circle is complete–more things that customers want to buy, and more customers who have more opportunities to buy them–time to go around the circle again.
What Can I Take from the Mouse?
Eisner didn’t make random decisions. He followed solid business strategy. Anyone can use these strategic principles for success in any enterprise from a service business to a blog.
- Know your brand and what it stands for.
- Test your ideas against that brand.
- Offer new products or ideas for the customers/readers you already have. THEN add related items that will bring new customers/readers into the fold.
- Give every customer more opportunities to interact with your products whenever you can.
- Let the market tell you when it’s ready. Don’t give your customers things they don’t want or don’t expect.
- Never skimp on quality. Never go against your brand.
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. Eisner is just one who actually did it. There’s no question Michael Eisner has his detractors. Likewise, there’s no question he made the Mouse a success. Either way, he’s not a rocket scientist. He’s just a guy who followed solid business strategy, which makes him one in a million, I’d guess.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Read more about Michael Eisner:
Steve Jobs Knocks Michael Eisner, Disney Films
Wow, you really knocked this one out of the park. A great read. I never really cared too much about Eisner but you put me in my place.
Question. How would you go about testing your ideas against your brand? Why are cruises and television right for Disney but not, say, jewlery? How would a person know if they are going against their brand or not?
ME Strauss says
You’re really asking two questions here and I can only give my opinion based on the brands I’ve worked on. So take what I say with a little grain of salt . . . and let’s start with the easy on first.
1. Once you decide what your brand stands for, you know what it doesn’t. In the case of your blog, for example, nothing pedestrian. Anything pedestrian would go angainst your brand as you’ve established it. So you would test your ideas agains your definition of your brand that way. I know that’s basic, but basically said “Is this pedestrian or is it not?”
2. But with television and cruises no one said you can’t do TV and cruises for your blog, but you have to do the steps between. The steps that tell your readers to expect them. You can’t change your readers, but you can “lead” them, like Eisner did.
Say I sell book and I want sell shoes. If I put shoes in my catalog, it doesn’t matter if they’re the best shoes in the world. No one would look for them there. But if I start by bringing in books about shoes, a page of books about a particular shoemaker that features a shoe he makes. Then if I get a response, I’m starting on my way.
Old customer–same product==low risk
old customer–new product –medium low risk
New customer–old product–medium risk
New customer –new product huge risk
What a good read, kudos to you, Liz.
Many would not see the similarities between a billion dollar business and a small business – but at the end of the day it’s pretty much all the same business principles.
For me, no business is too small not to continually work on their brand.
I love the line “…differentiated his product to the point of exclusivity” – nothing sets a brand/business apart than being different from the pack.
ME Strauss says
Thanks, Martin, for the kudos.
I really believe that no matter what size all business face on problem. That is that customers do what they please. 🙂 It’s up to the business to understand, attract, and change for the customer. Not the other way around. Eisner knew how to do that AND how to keep the other guys out.
Thank you for the little quote-let. Differntiation is the key. If there’s only one of me. Then I am the one. 🙂
We need those emoticons back don’t we?
How dare those customers think for themselves, damn you customers: just do as you’re told – here’s the product I think you’ll like 😉
If thereÃ¢â¬â¢s only one of me. Then I am the one – Then you have the ultimate niche, Liz – You! 🙂
🙂 😉 🙂
Don’t you just love emoticons – a few keystrokes lets readers know in what spirit some things are meant to be taken.
🙂 😉 🙂
ME Strauss says
Here’s your drink.
When I worked Sundance we used to shake our heads and say, “Just can’t get those darn customers to behave.” That’s when we weren’t saying, “We’re getting dangerously close to break even, better spend more.” 🙂
Think I should ask for those jiggly emoticons?
Can’t get enough of those emoticons – so yeah … as many as you can get 🙂
ME Strauss says
That’s what I like about you, Martin.
You are the consummate serious conserative businessman.
Emoticons and all 🙂
Doug Davidoff says
You described Eisner well in the first half of his career at Disney. The second half of his career (which almost led to the destruction of Disney) was charecterized by his inability to ‘manage’ decisions.
I consulted in the travel industry (and with Disney) during Eisner’s reign and saw his micromanagement destroy morale in what was otherwise a strong sales force. I saw Disney forget what they were and what got them there. I saw the cruise line late in launch because (literally) Eisner had not approved the color of the bedspreads.
Remember, Disney had the opportunity to buy Pixar before Jobs, and Eisner woudn’t move. Certainly Einser did some great things, but he was never a great leader.
ME Strauss says
Welcome to the blog,
Thanks for coming by with something real to talk about.
Yeah you’re right. I only hinted that he had his fatal flaws. You have me there. I’ve worked for a guy who did much the same thing.
Not a great leader, I agree. But he followed textbook strategy. There seems to be this certain sort of brilliant mind that can work securely only up to a certain size organization. Then he, I say he because I’ve not see a woman do it yet, can’t delegate–still has to have his hands on everything. It shows in the level of authority just below his job, people who are kept confused regarding their role and kept at odds with each other so that there is no heir apparent.
You’re right he was no leader, but strategist. I won’t give up strategist. In his prime his execution of strategy was stronger than his insecure ego.
I’d love to hear more about your experience, especially about how Disney recovered from the damage he did.
How did Michael do it, you ask?
Every decision made by Michael Eisner was an act designed to frighten someone into performing as expected. He extended this tyranny from his office into the Boardroom and into Senior Management. He brought in harpies, spies and yes-men. Then he extended his tyranny into middle management, with HR as his secret police. Employees are so much chum in the water, to be churned when they start getting angry at the many things that go on behind closed doors.
Disney forced any vendors that wanted to do business with them to bid so low that they were actually paying for the privilege of servicing the Mouse. Case in point, MicroAge, one of the largest computer resellers, was forced out because Disney would only pay a 3% markup on new computer items sold.
Plenty more dirt and dish over at Duckau.com
ME Strauss says
I had no idea. From the outside, the steps he took were good strategy. Obviously the execution should have included a black hood over his head. Not nice by any measure. Glad I didn’t work there. Sounds like you might have in some capacity. Sorry to hear that.