This post is part of a series on creating friction-free brand experiences. Read our first article on friction free to learn more about the concept and what the series aims to accomplish.

What is Friction Anyway?

In a recent blog post, Matt Naffah, Director of Digital Strategy at Boston Digital, sums up friction as “everything people complain about when they discuss an experience.” In other words, friction is the sum of all the little pain points that consumers experience when interacting with a brand.

Ironically, many companies today started their businesses to solve problems we all face in everyday life, but in doing so have created solutions with almost as many friction points as the original problem. Perhaps the best example of this is the automated customer service hotline: automated hotlines are meant to provide a self-service option for users calling in, but most people end up pressing “0” for the operator because experience tells them that the automated system is likely to cause more problems than it solves.

In our inaugural post (with many more to come), we’ll analyze how Walt Disney World is smoothing out the friction from its customer experience using a relatively new device called the MagicBand.

How Disney Eliminated Friction at the Magic Kingdom

Simply Magic: Unpacking Disney’s  Billion MagicBands

Walt Disney World’s MyMagic+ innovation is one of the biggest overhauls, and riskiest bets, that the brand has ever made. For the full story, check out Fast Company's coverage of the story from earlier this year. For our purposes, here are the essentials:

In 2008, Disney decided to reimagine its park experience by asking a simple question: What can make the park experience more enjoyable? Tasking a team of researchers, analyst, and innovation consultants, Disney uncovered a laundry list of friction points to address—a list which quickly turned into a five-year, one-billion dollar undertaking. In 2013, Disney unveiled its MyMagic+ program, which produced the iconic MagicBands wristband with RFID technology. The park would never be the same.

Why was the MyMagic+ Program so Effective?

The success of the new system boils down to one thing: it’s friction-free. Disney identified a core component of its experience that was creating not just one pain point, but a whole slew: transactions. Because transactions are an integral part of the Disney World purchasing experience as well as the product experience, Disney needed to rethink that component on whatever level necessary. The result was a savvy, powerful, nearly invisible infrastructure (the hallmark of any good, user-centered design) that combined hardware and software for a truly magical experience.

The MyMagic+ program is a remarkable example of a great concept followed by even greater execution. Capitalizing on the proliferation of wearable technology, the MyMagic+ program produced the MagicBands wristband, which gives the wearer instant access to rides and hotels and the ability to make in-park purchases without delay.

Simply Magic: Unpacking Disney’s  Billion MagicBands

Credit: Joe Burbank

To prove that the MyMagic+ program truly changed Disney's park experience, let’s take a look at how friction has been pared away from three overlapping areas of the customer lifecycle at Disney World: the purchase, product, and brand experiences.

1. Purchase Experience

The old way: Go back a few decades, and you’ll find yourself standing in lines just about wherever you turn at Disney World—admission, rides, hotels, meals, and souvenirs.

The new way: Today, you’ll find yourself arranging online almost all of these amenities ahead of time, and the MagicBands you receive in the mail will let you and your kids seamlessly access them all once you get there.

2. Product Experience

The old way: Once you get inside the gates, unpredictable (yet inevitable) stress ensues for the next few days as you try to keep track of the paper tickets for your pre-arranged rides, remember your hotel keys, and muscle your way through the lines at the dinner reservation kiosks each morning.

The new way: There are RFID beacons everywhere that work as MagicBand transaction receptors, and they use intuitive sounds and colors to let you and your kids know when transactions complete– no more hotel keys, ride tickets, or day-of reservations.

3. Brand Experience

The old way: As a parent at Disneyworld, this trip is almost sure to under-deliver on its promises in some way, and ultimately the only piece of the experience that your kids can take with them will be a few Polaroids and a stuffed toy.

The new way: On top of a better product experience with the MagicBands, think about how much nostalgia and value have been absorbed by those simple artifacts over the course of a few magical days – your children will cherish them forever, and you may even remember them fondly as well.

And thus, Disney’s innovation became an instant classic in the friction-free textbook, proving how everyone can win when a business streamlines end-to-end experiences for its customers. Think about all the touch points along the consumer journey that were once sources of friction and are now as smooth as can be: booking, admission, hotels, rides, meals, souvenirs, and more. Of course, we’re not all lucky enough to be selling magic (or have a billion dollars to throw around).

What Can Marketers Learn from the MyMagic+ Story?

Your Brand is a Promise—Follow Through

We recite that "brands are promises" all the time as marketers, but how often do we push to really examine how clients are executing on these assurances? We must consider all aspects of the brand experience, especially the parts where your audience becomes participants.

Through the MyMagic+ innovation, Disney created the ultimate win-win-win: your kids have a blast, you suffer less stress, and the brand makes more money—all by delivering on its promise that “Unforgettable Happens Here.”          

Simply Magic: Unpacking Disney’s  Billion MagicBands

Credit: Disney

The Analog and Digital Worlds are Colliding—Make Something Spark

Disney’s MagicBands hardware would be nothing without a tremendous software ecosystem linking everything together. Moreover, Disney is able to capture valuable data about its customers’ behaviors, tastes and preferences, and trends by creating the system in which everything lives.

Whether your brand sells vacations or SaaS products, you should be thinking about how the interplay between digital and real-life technologies evolves and creates new opportunities for each of them. For example, geo-targeting and personalization are two significant trends that have developed in recent years as marketers gain greater visibility into consumers’ contexts and behaviors.

One or Two Changes can Impact Several Friction Points–Find the Synergy

Disney set out not just to reduce wait times on rides (its most significant friction point) but was guided instead by the broader vision of “imagining a Disney without lines.” Thus, Disney looked at several other times when people were made to wait, which sparked ideas for dozens of improvements across the entire park.

Likewise, when you kick off (or pitch) a new project, think critically about the friction you are trying to remove from an experience, and look for similar pain points that exist elsewhere. Zoom out and consider how you could expand the existing scope not just to help your client catch up with but actually leapfrog the competition.

What are your thoughts on eliminating friction in our digital world today? What new technology can brands leverage next? Let us know on Twitter or LinkedIn. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog to catch next month’s post in the Friction-Free Series.

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