How Healthcare Marketers can Take a Cue from Disney’s 2022 D23 Expo

Jack Health Blog

December 5th, 2022 By Jamey Hardesty

“That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.”

– Russell, ”Up”

How it started – articulating action

My wife and I are Disney fans, but we come at it from entirely different places. Growing up, Disney was big, but it was a long way from the content machine it is now. You could say I backed into being a “Disney person” through merger and acquisition. As for my wife, well, she’s busy planning our Disney cruise in February.

I fell in love with Pixar before I knew Steve Jobs was involved and Disney acquired it. Flashback to Christmas Day 1995. Toy Story had just come out, and I got a fully articulating Buzz Lightyear action figure with the three colored sound buttons with his most famous quotes, pop-out wings, and flashing laser light. I took Buzz everywhere. I now realize this was the first time in my life that content – a movie – drove my love for characters and stories.

Following grad school, I spent two years at Apple. By that time, it was the convergence of technology and storytelling I’d grown an affinity for. In my time there, I grew an incredible respect for doing things over and over until you couldn’t do them any better. Apple, much like Pixar, was committed to the relentless pursuit of the best version of itself. You make something that most companies would release, then start over and spend another two years on it.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I, for the first time, attended the Disney D23 expo, their version of Comic-Con. When planning your schedule, you think you want to be there for the big-stage, star-studded events – the ones that people line up at 4:30 am to attend to hear what’s coming to the Disney parks or the next big Star Wars or Marvel thing. What caught me by surprise is that it wasn’t the big stages that left me with that Disney magic feeling. It was the small stages I grew new connections with the brands I loved.

On one of these small stages, I had the chance to listen to Kelsey Mann, the Head of Story for Pixar’s Onward (and Director for the upcoming Inside Out sequel). He stepped on-stage, a mere few feet away, and put on a Pixar storytelling master class. He talked us through his creative team and the story-building process beginning from day 1 with the first notecard on the storyboard wall. Their programmatic process to creation would make most of us quit.

On another small stage I heard an incredible story about the “Pixar Mix” of bricks – a colorway specific to Pixar. In bricks, they don’t have patterns; they have “bonds”. In their case, a common American bond. If you look at the repeating pattern, it has 5 rows of larger bricks separated by 1 row of smaller bricks. At one point, after pallets of bricks were delivered and installed on a new campus building, Steve Jobs said, “something doesn’t look right,” and sent all of the bricks back because the colors weren’t to his exact standards. After rounds of production, the manufacturer got it right. That’s a relentless pursuit of the best possible experience. One that stands for much more than bricks, but a cultural commitment at Pixar to never accepting good enough.

Here’s what stuck with me the most and what healthcare marketers can use these learnings to spice up experiences for their most important audiences:

  1. Remember, bricks are never just bricks. HOW you make people feel IS your brand. Minor details set a tone for what matters most – to your people, future talent, and your customers. In this case, the commitment to something seemingly small, like bricks on a building, is indicative of what brands like Apple and Pixar bring to every storyboard meeting, design pitch, production review, and brand experience. It’s a guiding principle and a commitment. And that’s why we show up to Pixar films and keep buying new iPhones – we trust them. They earned the loyalty and connection they have with us.
  2. Big stages drive surprise and delight, but small stages drive loyalty and wonder. My best moments were those that let me connect with the storytellers and creators. It’s fun to have a special main stage moment of delight with a celebrity, but finding how a brand or company connects to what you do and how it can impact your life and work happens in smaller moments. These small moments become the reasons to believe those big moments. We can’t forget them and the loyalty they build.
  3. Companies and brands must stand for something because it’s what we expect them to do. I made a lot of assumptions about who shows ups to these types of things. But here’s the thing, I had so much unexpected fun. I saw old friends, had moments of delight, and had small-stage experiences. I walked away proud that it was so inclusive – a space where young and older people could be true to themselves. That’s how brands build loyalty. Experiences are more relevant than ever to let people SEE what you stand for.

So will we go back? There’s no question. But this time, I’ll cherish and embrace the connective moments on small stages to sit in front of brilliance to learn, ask question, and experience the best of what Disney does – storytelling. And who knows, maybe I’ll learn more about brick bonds. One thing is for sure; I’ll never look at bricks the same again—score one for Pixar.

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