Disney alum Duncan Wardle: For real insights, spend time with customers in their homes

Focus groups aren't going to give you the real answers.

CHICAGO: Ask a man why he enjoys going to Walt Disney World, and he might say it’s the rides, but that might not be the whole story. 

Sit with that same man in his living room with his wife by his side and ask him that question again. She might pip in and say, "No, honey, you rode on It’s a Small World 17 times back-to-back last year," said Duncan Wardle, Disney’s former head of innovation and creativity, at PRDecoded. 

"You get real insights out of couples," Wardle said at the PRWeek Conference in Chicago on Wednesday. "It is also not just what they tell you; it is what you see." 

That’s why all Disney executives, as part of their job, must spend time with consumers in their home: the insights they get there are much more valuable than those from any focus group, Wardle explained. 

"A focus group usually takes place in a weird room with a two-way mirror where people spy on you," he said. "That’s not exactly a relaxed environment conducive for real insights. [Consumers] tend to tell you what you want to hear."

In their own living rooms, consumers are more relaxed, and they are usually with a family member. The really helpful information comes from the other person. 

"The loved one will bust you every time you bullshit someone," he said. "You know it, because you have done it."  

Companies can also get clues just by looking around customers’ homes. Disney has noticed that parents put pictures of their children in their homes, even if their kids are grown up.

 "[Parents] want them back in that old photograph," said Wardle. "You are Superman or Wonder Woman. They wrestle with your legs, you fall over, someone farts and everyone loses it. These are the best days of your life."  

The newest Disney attraction is not even on a parent’s radar, he said. What is? How quickly their child is growing up and how they can make special memories for them while they are still young. 

"That’s a communication campaign, not a capital investment strategy," said Wardle. "That drove sales by over 20% and turned an old fashioned, product-centric, conservative, we know better, ‘we build it they will come’ culture into a consumer-centric culture."

Embedding a culture of innovation
During his time at Disney, Wardle found that in order to drive innovation, ideas must be nurtured in their infancy. 

Other "creative behaviors" that can help companies in this area include: playfulness; signaling to people whether you want them to build ideas or analyze them; curiosity; intuition; momentum; creating a series of rapid prototyping tools to assist the team with speed to market; and bravery.

"Innovation by its very nature is about trying something new so it is always going to come with some element of risk," Wardle said during a workshop on embedding a culture of innovation.

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