Learning From 100 Years of the World’s Greatest Brand

greatest brand

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Disney Company, arguably the world’s greatest brand. Most lists put them in an elite category that includes Apple and Coca-Cola.

So this is a good excuse to celebrate the magic of this amazing company and explore this idea — what does it take to be among the world’s greatest brands? Is this something you could achieve?

The basics of the brand

In my book Belonging to the Brand, consultant Evelyn Starr defines a brand as: “The expectation of what you will get when you interact with an entity based on prior experiences with, and impressions of, that entity.”

Ideally, we would like that expectation and emotion to be expressed as trust, respect, and maybe even love.

Branding is critically important in a world overrun with choices. So the emotion attached to a brand creates trust and meaning. It helps create a signal above the noise.

It’s not easy to achieve, but I’ll show today that it’s not all about the money.

So much money, so little brand

100 percent human contentTo demonstrate the power of the emotional attachment to a brand, let’s do a little exercise.

Imagine that Disney built a hotel in your city. Can you imagine what it would look like? Can you imagine what it would feel like the moment you stepped through the doors? What would you see? What would you hear and smell?

Let’s imagine that same exercise for great brands like Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, or Mercedes Benz. Can you imagine what their hotels would be like?

Now, I want you to imagine a hotel by United Airlines. How about your cellphone data provider like Verizon? Or your local bank?

They’re all spending a lot of money on marketing. But can you see anything if you think of their hotel? Do you feel anything? Maybe high prices and disappointment!

That is the real idea behind a brand. It creates a distinct feeling you expect to experience — everywhere, any time.

How would Facebook or Twitter (X!) be different if they were run by Disney? What if Disney ran a university? A car wash? The same feeling would be everywhere. And that is the unmissable, compelling power of brand marketing.

The brand payoff for Disney

The greatest brands have so much goodwill with customers that they are usually willing to overlook negative experiences and go to great lengths to defend them when there are problems. In other words, it’s a bit of a cult. There is certainly a cult of Apple. A cult of Coca-Cola. And Disney may have the biggest cult of all.

A recent article in The New York Times was titled “It’s Not Enough to Love Disney. They Want to Live Disney.” It describes a growing number of people who surround themselves with the Disney feeling through their home décor.

Part of Disney’s décor’s prevalence is its success on social media. On TikTok, for example, the hashtag “Disney home décor” has more than 42 million views and “Disney home” has over 275 million. One fan grew her Instagram following of more than 150,000 by sharing photos and videos of her Disney rooms and D.I.Y. projects.

greatest brand

One of my friends recently told me about going to a Disney-themed wedding. In these examples, the brand achieves such a strong connection it has become part of the fabric of their customers’ lives.

Can anybody create a meaningful brand?

greatest brand yetiThat’s a hard question, but I usually answer this with one word: YETI.

About seven years ago, I noticed people wearing hats and shirts that said YETI. Wait a minute — isn’t that an ice cooler? Indeed.

Today, YETI is one of the fastest-growing consumer product companies, built almost entirely on word-of-mouth marketing. YETI aligned itself with influencers who spread the word that YETI is a rugged answer to life outdoors.

This was a mature and boring commodity category shaken up by a brand that had meaning. If you see YETI on any product, you know it is durable enough to hold up to anything.

YETI has a feeling and meaning that powerfully connects to the lives of their customers. They blew their category apart with a brand strategy.

How you can match the greatest brand

You don’t need to spend millions of dollars on brand marketing over a hundred years like Disney to forge an emotional connection with your customers.

In my hometown of Knoxville, TN, we have a little ice cream shop that quickly established itself as a community favorite brand.

Cruze Farm was established in 1980 when Earl and Cheri Cruze married. Earl was a fourth-generation dairy farmer dreaming of bottling milk with his name on it; Cheri was a 29-year-old entrepreneur who had bigger ideas.

The farm sold milk to local businesses and eventually experimented with ice cream.

After their daughter Colleen graduated from the University of Tennessee, she joined to help Cruze Farm grow by finding ways to sell surplus milk the farm produced. She experimented with a food truck at Farmer’s Markets and the name started to spread.

In 2016, Colleen and her husband Manjit opened the first Cruze Farm ice cream store pop-up, and within a year they had a permanent location. Today, they operate a number of stores in East Tennessee and are growing fast. Their downtown location normally has a line out the door while an ice cream chain store across the street is usually empty.

The difference is the brand. Cruze Farms tells its family story and establishes the local connection through visual prompts in its stories and social media accounts.

greatest brand

The goal of the little company is to link their family history to the community and become part of the fabric of life in our city.

Let’s break down this photo (featured on the company website) as a case study in brand genius on a budget.

Colleen has an MBA and this family runs a successful business. But there is nothing buttoned-down and corporate about this photo. What is the feeling expressed very intentionally by this scene? Family. Connection. Roots to tradition. No pretense (bare feet, chipped paint, old chair), old-fashioned wholesomeness (checkered dresses, overalls).

Their hometown of Knoxville is proudly known as The Scruffy City — no pretense, wholesome fun. In that context, isn’t this photo a perfect depiction of a deeply-rooted community brand?

Think about the careful thought that usually goes into a family photo. Would you pick a scenario where you’re not wearing shoes? Would you pose in front of the part of your house that needs a paint touch-up? Probably not. But this photo exudes the emotional expectation associated with this family business.

Everything about their store has the same friendly, wholesome feel, expressed here through iconic checkered uniforms:

greatest brand cruze farm

Look at the joy in this photo. Could it have come from Disney? Yes, but it came from Cruze Farm, a family-oriented emotion that comes through consistently on every company post … without breaking the bank.

Cruze Farm spreads joy through ice cream. The interior of the store has an old-fashioned soda fountain feel to it, including hand-written signs, classic ice cream treats, and flavors that reflect local tastes. This brand value is communicated consistently across social media, interactions with employees, and anywhere you experience the name.

This is a family business that has a FEEL to it. It creates a consistent expectation of joy and fun and deep community connection. The chain store across the street … just sells ice cream. How will they compete? Discounts and coupons. Ugh.

Creating brand meaning is accessible to almost any business. If you can create meaning behind a commodity product like ice cream or ice coolers, you can probably do it for your business!

So cheers to Disney and the value of brand marketing. Thanks for being the Happiest Place on Earth for 100 years!

Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.

Top illustration and YETI image courtesy Unsplash.com

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