Co-Creating Value At Disney World

Happy 2012 to everyone!

I wanted to share a blog by an acquaintance of mine, David Deal, VP of Marketing at iCrossing. A few days ago, he posted about a new co-creative experience in Epcot at Disney World, wherein you the guest develop a virtual thrill ride, then board a contraption that simulates that ride. It's similar to the old Body Wars and Star Tours rides at Epcot and Hollywood Studios, respectively, but this time YOU create the ride, and YOU experience the creation -- including twists, dives and loops. Yeah, that's right: loops.

The thing is, you have to follow the principles of engineering in order for your virtual ride to work. Remember, this is Epcot, not Universal, so there's an educational component here. The introduction to the experience educates the guest about the physics involved with engineering a ride like this. While creating your ride, the program prompts you to make corrections where necessary to allow your car to finish all those twists and loops you've created. Raytheon sponsors the experience, presumably to show kids how awesome and fun science and mathematics are.

Pretty cool, right? I remember taking the Star Tours ride a loooooong time ago, and hearing about how the engineers had to be very very careful to align the motions of the pod with the visuals on the screen to (a) make it look real; and (b) keep people from getting (too) sick. Technology has accelerated to the point where hundreds of these experiences are now created each day (no word on how common motion-sickness accidents are).

This type of co-creation is less about tapping consumers for product strategy insights, and more about allowing consumers to co-create value with Disney (and Raytheon, I guess...). Consumers are directly involved in creating the product experience of a thrill ride -- not something most people can do at home, or at any other theme park. This isn't Disney's first effort at allowing its guests to co-create experiences. When I last visited the Magic Kingdom, my family visited the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. While waiting in line, guests are prompted to submit jokes via text to be used in the show. Minutes later, some of those submitted jokes are incorporated directly into the graphic and audio tracks, creating a unique interactive experience.

By co-creating value with its guests, Disney is creating unique, interactive experiences to differentiate itself amongst tourist attractions. Moreover, Disney enables guests to create highly personal experiences in a place oft remembered for its crowds -- along with the smiles on the faces of kids young and old.


That's interaction, not co-creation

Hi, this sounds like a fun ride, but it's going too far to call it co-creation. If Disney took the best creators of rides, put them in a room with some imagineers and got them to build their next generation of ride, then we'd be talking about co-creation.

Many interpretations

Brian, thank you for your comment. You've touched on something that I've encountered repeatedly since first researching co-creation two years ago -- that being, there is no single definition that pleases everyone - especially practitioners. Personally, I employ a rather broad definition: co-creation is when a firm involves consumers directly, and in some cases repeatedly, in the product development process. My perspective is based on Forrester's interest in helping product strategy professionals understand the opportunity co-creation offers them to build better products, services and experiences.

In this instance, one could argue that my broad definition falls a bit short. Disney's product strategists didn't (to my knowledge) co-create the ride itself with consumers. But, by building a customizable ride, I believe Disney has allowed its guests to play a co-creative role in creating the experience (a unique ride of their own). And as I point out in the blog, it's also about co-creating value, which inures to Disney and the guest) by creating a differentiated thrill ride. (For those interested, here's a nice article by Prahalad and Ramaswamy on value co-creation and co-creating experiences:

Definitions are important

Co-creation is the development of new products and service ideas by engaging consumers creatively. It's a powerful way to create breakthrough thinking with an element of consumer validation 'baked-in'.

At Sense Worldwide we've been doing it for over 10 years. Recently we've seen it become a new buzzword, and it's under threat as everybody who puts anything in front of a consumer rebrands it as co-creation.

Relationship Marketing should provide us with a lesson: RM was a powerful idea that got co-opted as a new word for Direct Marketing. In the end the principles were forgotten and it became the trendy word for junk mail.

I'd hate to see the same thing happen here.

There's a nice piece about our co creation thoughts on the hbr blog here if you're interested.

Learning from Co-Creation


An interesting post. Maybe you are overlooking something much bigger than just the co-creation aspect.

By co-opting customers to design their own ride you get tens of thousands of data points about exactly what customers value from a ride, and, how they make trade-offs because of the limits of today's engineering.

A few years back German power company EON put up a website that allowed potential customers to interactively 'mix' their own energy (from so much wind energy, wave, solar, coal, nuclear, etc), showed them the kWh price from the resulting mixture and allowed them to create a contract to switch to their chosen energy mix. The website was eventually taken down (due to restrictive German laws on 'unfair competition'), but not before EON had gathered hundreds of thousands of data points about exactly how customers made trade-offs when making energy contract decisions. The equivalent market research would have cost EON hundreds of thousands of Euros to gather and due to research limitations wouldn't have given it so much potentially useful data.

There's much more to co-creation than just... co-creation.

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator

Agree, but Disney is a bit different

Hi Graham, thanks for chiming in. No question that some co-creative engagements and experiences (e.g., NikeID) drive a lot more insight than just an improved product for the customer. And I'm sure that Disney's Imagineers will be pulling those data points to see what kind of thrill ride consumers are implicitly asking for. But there is much more to Disney than just...thrill rides. :-) It's not just about building the next towering, looping, heart-attack inducing roller coaster. (That's for Universal Studios and Sea World and Six Flags.) Anyone who has ever been to Disney World knows that Disney is 100% about creating magical experiences. Each of the four parks has only a few true thrill rides, yet each is built around a story and within an environment that makes the experience last much longer than the ride itself. Same goes for this new Sum Of All Thrills ride (which I failed to name in the blog post!), but the co-creation aspect of it takes the thrill ride to another level by creating a special experience in an environment that is uniquely Disney. Still, they aren't likely to toss all that data in the trash!

Spirit of co-creation

There is no harm in terming what Disney does is co-creation, as it empowers customers in the process of creating their own experience. Maybe it is not co-creation of a new value, but co-addition of existing value, which is what most co-creation projects - including the Local Motors story - are all about. There exists some non-configurable base that the producer offers (thrill ride), while letting the customers design configurable components (twists and loops) in their own ways. Let us go beyond words, and celebrate the spirit!

To say this is not

To say this is not co-creation requires an accepted definition of co-creation. This is vague especially from the varying practitioners in the field. A slippery scale from crowd sourcing to focus groups via community management seems to be what many firms practice.

But yes given this is an isolated experience for any individual (isolated from each other and the bods at disney) it probably doesn't count for what most of us would call co-creation so I agree with Brian's notion of truly valuable co-creation. If the cumulative data from the use of this experience went into making a ride optimised to the taste of the consumer by virtue of their own involvement it would be true co-creation. Do-it-together-with-us rather than DIY.

Rather than being overly pedantic on our definitions though the ride does sound like damn good fun and a great learning experience for kids. A lot like the 10 year old video game Roller Coaster tycoon.