Know Me and Be Relevant: What I learned from Disney’s Keynote at NCDM

NCDM 2008 RECAP: Know me and be relevant is just a starting point!

From its earliest days, relevance has been the goal for most direct and database marketers.  Today however, relevance is not nearly enough.  Today, we are closer than ever in actually realizing the power of 1:1 level relevant communications.  Some might argue that the capability for 1:1 has been around for some time and that many companies are already successfully practicing it, but to some extent I have to disagree. 

When you do the breakdown, it comes down to four competencies; the technology, the vehicles, the smarts and the “missing link”.

We have the technology!

On one hand we have plenty of data processing capability to produce direct marketing campaigns with 1:1 granularity.  The complexity with which we can massage data is readily available, becoming simpler to use (even for a non technical person) and relatively inexpensive.

We have the vehicles!

We have also made major inroads in being able to turn that data into actionable campaigns through triggered mailings, print on demand (POD), variable data printing, Personal URL’s (PURLS) and landing pages to name a few.

We have the smarts!

In my career, I have met thousands of super-smart direct marketers.  Strategists, number crunchers, creative’s alike, all with the singular focus of driving ROI for their companies. 

But is this enough? 

The question is this: Does the ability to crunch the numbers and personalize a marketing vehicle really qualify as relevant?  This whole concept of relevance is flawed to begin with.  We assume that since we have the data, the smarts, and the methods for connecting the data to a vehicle that we are doing 1:1 marketing. 

For example, just because we have date of birth in the database, and a great birthday offer to give away, is it relevant?  Is past purchase behavior relevant?  Sure, maybe to 1%, 2% or maybe even 10% of our database it is?  Let’s even go so far as to say that the perfectly executed birthday offer can get as high as 20% response.  But wait, doesn’t that means that 80% to 99% of our most relevant marketing is still being seen as irrelevant?

So what does all this mean for database marketing, and how does that tie into NCDM? 

I have to say that as a direct marketer, from the first day I heard the sacred words “relevant” and “1:1 communication”, I’ve always been a little suspect.  To presume that we know exactly what our customers want, need and desire may be even a trifle arrogant, don’t you think?

To further muddy the waters, the level of message overload our society receives, combined with all of this semi-relevant communication, has in part created a suspicious, jaded consumer who is quick to dismiss any marketing vehicle it deems as disingenuous.

And therein lies the challenge:  a new context is needed for consumers to feel good about the offers they are receiving again.

So from that context, I believe that we are entering the age of implementing true 1:1 relevancy.  And this is where NCDM comes into the picture.

At NCDM 2008, the missing link was discovered!

As I attended session after session at NCDM, the concept that popped up, the central thesis this year was engagement.  Truly it was this year’s buzzword.  During his keynote address, Tom Boyles, SVP of CRM for Disney, put forth the notion that you can use your database to create an emotional link between what you sell and your customers.  

In a keynote that was equal parts inspiration and case study, Boyles spoke of how Disney’s “customer focused journey” uses data and personalization to engage their customers (called guests) by capturing data at any point and time in all channels, including: online, agents, room and check in.  From the data they collect they can provide detailed recommendations on parks and attractions (more on that later).  In order to accomplish this they use analytic models, and “automated decision engines” to ensure a seamless customer experience that connects on their guests terms.  This has been their number one challenge; how to understand and connect the customer experience on all channels, and do so in a genuine way.

Their view of their guests is that no one or department in their organization owns the customer, but it is the customer who owns the moment using what they call their “real time engagement model”. 

According to Disney’s Boyles, each step/contact with each guest is seen as a hurdle to get past in order to optimize their consumer promise.

On a tactical level, some but not all of the programs they implement are a free DVD available from their website that converts in the 10% range and offers custom park maps and experience based personal to-do items.  They also send out a completely personalized welcome mailer 24 hours after an online visit or call center interaction, with the mailer being customized to the guest’s life stage and past history with appropriate messaging and photos.

Beyond marketing campaigns, extending the 1:1 experience:

Other user experience benefits Disney offers their guests, and this one really hits home if you are a seasoned traveler, is the Disney Express.   Disney Express among other things Boyles described has the ability to drop off ones luggage at an airport, and find it in their room waiting for them at the resort hotel when they arrive.  This also holds true in reverse, that guests can leave their luggage in their room and find it (magically!) at the airport baggage claim when they arrive home.

In conclusion, Boyles recapped that at the end of the day Disney strives and meets it’s 1:1 goals of connecting on an emotional level, data accuracy, real time, through all channels and having a true relationship with their customer.

To me, that’s as close to relevant, 1:1 communication that I have seen.

Jim Gilbert is President of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at   You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter at



3 thoughts on “Know Me and Be Relevant: What I learned from Disney’s Keynote at NCDM

  1. christian says:

    Great article. Its funny how much helpful info on 1:1 there is out there, compared to how few people are actually doing this right! This will soon catch on and “the missing link” will be key.

  2. Ryan Lou says:

    Good insights. I fully agree that relevance has to do with continued engagement with the customer.

    For our own marketing and for many of our customers that use direct marketing and Purl technology, The conversation first begins with a list or an opt-in with basic (mainly contact information) of each prospect.

    The technology and the vehicle are then used to engage the individual and keep the conversation alive for when they’re ready to buy.

    With this approach, a key part of success is patience.

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