Disney World at $105 a day… How Brands Can Successfully Price Up

The recent announcement about Disney raising admission prices at theme parks to over $100 per day points to an important benefit of very strong brands… they can price higher and maintain upwards momentum.

Brands that provide extraordinary quality and a unique experience have enormous leverage to price higher. Said another way, it is possible to raise prices without much of a consumer push-back.


Here’s the rub. In almost every category, where products are essentially at parity, marketers struggle to hold prices, especially when there is a competitor who is willing to cut price to hold on to or grow a franchise. Thus, particularly in highly competitive categories, marketers become hostage to a pricing spiral, and reluctant to take risks or invest. As someone once said, it’s hard to look outside of the swamp when alligators are nipping at you toes.

It takes courage to look beyond existing category dynamics and standardized product/service attributes and explore new ways to differentiate. In our view, the Disney price increase highlights two elements that separate powerful brands from the rest.

The first is Quality. Instead of being just ‘best in class’, which is a comparative concept, great brands that focus on “ideal” quality will always win. The best marketers are not shackled to the past, but rather continuously strive for an ideal future. Just look at Apple. Instead of looking back, the company is always pushing the envelope. The new products they turn out are of ideal quality at each point in time. Instead of thinking about benchmarks, they are always thinking about how to create an ideal product or service that has yet to be experienced. Beyond their products, Apple’s customer service has catapulted them to a unique position. If you have used their customer support (on the web, on the phone, or in an Apple store), it clearly surpasses anything close to their competitors. Their Genius Bars are an added signal that they are in it to help their customers at all costs. So when one purchases an Apple product, most gladly pay for their well-known AppleCare program. Net, Apple does not benchmark… it pursues the highest quality everything.

Sydney Genius Bar

The second is Customer Experience. Brands can price up if they provide an extraordinary (as in extra ordinary) customer experience. To Disney, it is about first defining what an ideal experience is, and then operationalizing it. Disney does not start from benchmarking what others are doing, but rather thinks about what would make an ideal family vacation. Then they build. Every part of the Disney experience is woven together to create an experiential tapestry that no other competitor can provide. Think about the legendary customer service, the cleanliness of the environment, the rich detail in the attractions, the quality of the eateries, and you realize that they are thinking about the total experience and how everything works together. Disney has decided to be obsessive about their visitor experiences.

Disney Fun

So when Disney prices up, there is likely to be little grousing. Of course the economists can argue that there is a breaking point, and they might be correct. But, Disney, like Apple, can lead in up-pricing as long as they keep their eye on the quality of their product, and the quality of their experience.

Marketers need to step back and look at the larger picture. Of course it is about driving efficiencies. But the big revenue and profit gains come from looking at a product or service from a completely new perspective, and then delivering like no one else can.

Genius Bar Image courtesy of Christopher Chan