Disney's Got Analytics Pizzazz

The Walt Disney Company is undeniably a creative place and a customer service whiz. But folks there want you to know it has the magic touch with analytics, too.

Much of the analytics knowhow resides in an internal consulting team that is part of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Orlando. It all started back in late 2008, as Cameron Davies, director of management science and integration at Disney Parks and Resorts, recounted for me recently.

"About four years ago, we were trying to get some capital approved for some analytics projects, and during that process, senior leadership realized just how much value we bring to the Parks and Resorts side. So the question came from senior leaders, 'Could you do this for other parts of company?'" he said. "And, of course, we said, 'Yes' and put together a pitch to form a little internal consulting group."

Over the years, that group has grown from seven to almost 40 employees ("cast members," in Disney parlance). The group, part of Disney Parks and Resorts' revenue management and analytics team, serves Disney's far-flung empire, including The Walt Disney Studios, Disney Consumer Products, Disney Interactive, and Media Networks businesses like ABC and ESPN. It gets support from 15 to 20 data scientists on Disney's centralized decision sciences team, Davies said.

The projects his team handles vary from business to business. For example, it will handle yield management for hotel booking, sales sequencing for customer service, and scoring and segmentation for banner ad delivery. But whatever the type of project, the goal is the same -- "to help other parts of the company become more data-driven and analytical in their decision making and processes." It's not that folks within Disney were doing anything wrong. "But analytics is a tool, and we could put more tools in their tool belts and help them be even more profitable."

As further evidence of the value Disney places in analytics, about a decade ago, it launched an annual analytics conference for employees around the world involved in disciplines like forecasting, pricing, industrial engineering, planning, and revenue management. It did so with three purposes in mind, Davies said.

  • Education: "We want to bring in the best and the brightest and help our cast members get smarter about what they do with analytics, learn about the latest methodologies, and discover what's out there."
  • Inspiration: "We want to say to them, 'Look at all the really great stuff you can do with analytics. Look at how it's being used in this line of business. Look how this hotel company or this consumer products company is using it. Look at these places you wouldn't normally think about and see how they're doing analytics.' We want them to get juiced by how it's being used."
  • Validation: "We want to show them that they're not alone out there, and that Disney is on the leading edge -- everybody knows we're a great creative company and a great customer service company, but I don't think people realize we're also a phenomenal analytics company. We want to inspire our cast to continue to push that message out there and get excited about what they do."

With that validation theme in mind, about four years ago, Disney opened the conference to external participants. Internal and external analytics professionals will convene again this week, Aug. 30 and 31, for the Disney Analytics & Optimization Summit 2012 at Disney's Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The event will feature presentations from Disney employees, analytics executives from other companies, vendor representatives, and business and industry thought leaders. External speakers will include executives from SAS, this site's sponsor. In a joint presentation, Radhika Kulkarni, vice president of research and development with the Advanced Analytics Division at SAS, and Randy Guard, vice president of sales development and product management, will discuss new technologies like high-performance analytics and advanced visualization. Tom Lehman, SAS Solutions OnDemand director of business development, and Jody Porowski, social media analyst, will discuss mood state analysis, a method for analyzing unstructured social media data.

In addition to high-performance analytics, data visualization, and social media analytics, the topics will include big-data and integrated marketing and analytics.

At this week's event, Disney expects about two-thirds of attendees to be internal employees and one-third to be external, Davies said. The conference "helps us grow and keep moving forward -- enabling cross pollination and a recruiting opportunity. Plus, it lets us push forward the perspective that Disney is a great analytical company.

"We're pretty doggone good at it."

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors, Folio.net, and others.

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Disney and Analytics
  • 9/2/2012 7:10:48 PM

Yes. Disney does a great job at making sure there analytics are simple in approach and analytics reports are targeted at business users needs, easy to navigate and to produce. The way they built simply solution brings ease of use for its Technology workers. The Disney "Global Business Technology Strategy" set the stage for IT to approach data warehousing and analytics from a serious business perspective.

Re: Got to Like Disney
  • 8/30/2012 11:24:19 AM

Disney hasn't stopped the ads yet. http://www.investoruprising.com/author.asp?section_id=1443&doc_id=249547&

Re: Got to Like Disney
  • 8/30/2012 11:11:21 AM

I've notice that the Disney channel is full of these 'order now' toys like pillow pets etc.  I wondered why and found that they cut out all the sugary cereal and fast food commercials.  Impressive.  I wonder how they came to that decision and if the data says customers will respond favorable to that kind of think.  You won't see Nickalodean doing that, I'm sure of that.

Re: Disney
  • 8/30/2012 8:02:05 AM

@Maryam, I have several friends and family members who currently work for Disney.  I can say pretty confidently that Disney also does a great job marketing to adults.  Kids can't book tickets from the UK to central Florida and buy park tickets.  I recently spent a day at one of Disney's "budget" resorts, they manage to capture the adults as well as the kids.  It sounds like the Disney analytics group has something to do with this continuity between all of the Disney properties and if that's true, they are doing an awesome job.

Re: Education, Inspiration and Validation
  • 8/30/2012 7:57:37 AM

@Beth, well I guess if you're the best consulting group around there's not much reason for anyone in the company to go elsewhere.  I think their attitude probably has as much to do with their success as their abilities, from your blog post it really sounds like they get it and that's a hard trait to beat.

  • 8/29/2012 3:00:52 PM

 Disney has always demonstrated the ability to market to children with genius but in the past few years of visiting the parks I think they are in need of an update. I am certain that their research team is seeing the same feedback, since the Magic Kingdom is currently undergoing a significant renovation. It will be interesting to see how the research from this team shapes the park experience in the future and how it creates more opportunities for Disney marketing.

Re: The tools
  • 8/29/2012 10:18:07 AM

Thanks, Beth!

" Disney uses SAS software."

Good to know that. SAS software is a reliable tool and it can help reduce the (coding) load on IT staff. They will just have to learn how to use the tool.

Re: The tools
  • 8/29/2012 9:04:42 AM

Hi Hospice. We didn't get into a tools discussion, although I do know that Disney uses SAS software.

The tools
  • 8/29/2012 8:53:07 AM

Hi Beth,

Did Davis say anything about the specific analytics tools that they use at Disney? Do they write their own software or they buy the tools from external vendors and customize them to fit their needs?

Re: More Disney insight
  • 8/29/2012 8:42:54 AM

Hi Beth,

It is good that top management spread inspiration throughout the company. When inspiration comes from top-level executives, it is easily adopted by employees. Inspiration-education-validation seems to be a good model that we can all benefit from.

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