The Data Behind Disney’s Success – A Q&A with Jessica Bundy

October 26, 2021

Written by Brett Lofgren

When I think of Disney, I think of stories about heroes, villains, music, and happily ever after. Clearly, there is a successful strategy in place. And as October 1st marked the 50th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort, we wanted to check in with our friend Jessica Bundy, a leader in their research department of Consumer Insight, to learn more. 

 Thanks for joining us, Jessica. It is clear that the Disney experience keeps us coming back for more. I am sure lots of research and science goes into that magic, but it would be great to understand what attracted you to Disney and equally as important, into a career in research and analytics?

My love of Disney started at a very young age, as it does for many people around the world. I grew up loving the parks and wanting to work there, and that’s how I found out about the Disney College Program. That program was quickly followed by a Management Internship, and shortly after that, I landed my first full-time research position as a social media analyst.

At the time, social media listening was still a fairly new discipline, and many big companies were relying on vendors to provide the bulk of their analysis work for them. In early 2014, Disney Parks decided to bring some of their analysis work in-house. I was open and searching for an entry-level marketing role that would let me stay at Disney, and I met a phenomenal leader who was willing to take a chance on me and teach me about the world of social media listening!

Throughout the next eight years, I became fascinated with research as a discipline and realized that it tapped into so many of my areas of interest, namely social sciences, human psychology, and sociology. I am fascinated by what makes people do the things they do, what they value, how external factors impact their lives, and of course, what they purchase and why.

Screenshot of NewsWhip Spike showing the most engaged stories around Disney's 50th anniversary

Can you talk about the role technology has played throughout that journey?

When I started doing analytics in early 2014, social listening as we know it today was still in its infancy; and yet not too much has changed in terms of the nuts and bolts of how we get our data. At Disney and most other companies, we rely on technologies like NewsWhip Spike to help us access data from the social media platforms and other online sources through queries. Thankfully, that technology has gotten more sophisticated over time, from the early days of just providing raw data, to these days, being able to provide actual analyses and visualizations using algorithms and ML/AI.

The way that we as analysts and researchers use that technology has changed as well. Simple monitoring of social media chatter is where it all began, and that will likely remain a critical function for companies for many years to come. However, technology has allowed us to progress to the point of being able to do online segmentation and persona development, getting an idea of who consumers are, and providing opportunities to create more relevant offerings for them. We can also think about the data we collect in a more qualitative way, to get at “the why” behind consumer conversations instead of simply focusing on “the what” of their posts.

With technologies like NewsWhip, are you taking on new problems, or solving old problems in new ways?

Short answer: both! Long answer: access to social media conversations gives us yet another source of data that when used alongside more traditional research sources like surveys can help us triangulate the true feelings of our consumers. Social media is a great data source to confirm or complement hypotheses proposed by other data sources, and in that sense, gives us a fresh perspective on how to solve the same old problems. Additionally, there are certain questions that can be best answered using social media as it provides an unfiltered and self-reported consumer perspective.

Brands are now increasingly looking to identify real-time cultural trends across social media. What type of trends do you look for when monitoring for consumer insights?

When reading social media data you never know what you might find, and a great deal of what I look for depends on the research brief that I set up with our internal partners. That being said, I’m always particularly interested in trends that show signs of shifting values. It has been fascinating to see what people missed the most about life before Covid, and the types of things they wanted to do the most once they felt safe to return to some of their previous behaviors. Those posts speak to values, and the lifestyle impact Covid had on society as a whole put things in perspective for a lot of people.

Disney Vacations are a complex and multifaceted experience as they can include theme park attractions, shows, resort stays, food and beverage experiences, character and employee interactions, cruising, traveling internationally, and frankly so much more. The breadth of experiences we offer means that I need to be fully immersed with trends in all of those categories. We want to know the latest trends in food & beverage just as much as any restaurant company would, even though it’s only one piece of the overall experience we deliver.

 Of course, I’m usually paying attention to Disney-specific conversations, but some of our work happens at a very broad level. We are interested in how people feel about travel in general, or the economy, or many other aspects of life. All of this matters, and understanding our guests as individual people with big, beautiful, complex lives happening outside of their Disney vacations is a critical responsibility of being a researcher.

Screenshot of NewsWhip Spike showing the most engaged stories about Disney vacations

Disney Parks, Experiences & Products have impacted consumers across the globe. Simultaneously, consumer consumption of content and stories has radically changed. How do you anticipate if a story or campaign can withstand today’s 24-hour news cycle and have long-term efficacy on a brand?

One of the first things I do when it comes to measuring the impact of a news story is to go into NewsWhip Spike and look at the velocity function, particularly which stories have the highest predicted interactions. We keep an eye on that metric as well as which stories are the highest performing, particularly over the first couple of days. 

Another important predictor of whether or not something will continue to have momentum is passion intensity. Passion intensity is the difference between liking versus loving, the strength of any particular emotion measured through how intensely it is felt. How passionate consumers are or will be about a story can be driven by how provoking the headline is and can be reflected in their comments about the story on platforms like Facebook and Reddit. Oftentimes, we will dig into the Facebook tab on NewsWhip to click through to the top Facebook posts, since they are nearly always shared news stories. 

Some of the most engaging Disney stories this summer were Halloween-themed. How does your segment of the Disney company think about the holidays, and how do you monitor seasonal trends for insights and opportunities?

This is such an interesting topic for our business because Disney Vacations are practically synonymous with holidays, birthdays, and special occasions in general, so they are critically important to track.

One main way we accomplish this is doing research and reporting for special holiday events and offerings. Research for these experiences can actually be approached in several ways. We can measure conversation after an event to know what the greatest likes and dislikes were in order to determine its success. Those same findings can then be rolled into the event the next year, making sure we keep the elements that our guests raved about on social media and try to eliminate any pain points that they complained about. We can even do pulse checks throughout an ongoing seasonal offering to see if we need to make changes in how we position the marketing about it. 

We can also do broad research on what a topic like the holidays means to people, what are their favorite aspects of the holidays, their family traditions, favorite foods and flavors, even just how a particular holiday makes them feel. Broad research and insights into topics like that can help us create better seasonal offerings at Disney because they show that we care about what means the most to our guests, and we want to bring it to them in a very real way.

Screenshot of the top stories about Halloween and Disney from NewWhip Spike

I wanted to thank Jessica for sharing her experiences with us and we wanted to wish our friends at Disney another 50 years of magic.

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