Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger Talks Strategic Direction and Culture While in China

bobigerfDisney has been building its China strategy for over 15 years now. It started with Hong Kong Disneyland, includes some unique film partnerships, Disney English schools, and soon Disneyland Shanghai. Current Chair and CEO Bob Iger has been right there at the center of it for most of the effort. So it’s with more than a little authority that he took the stage last week at the Fortune Global Forum in Chengdu, China. Bob shared his unique insight into where Disney is headed, the company’s place in the global economy and his overall outlook on business — particularly business in China.

Below the jump are a few highlights from Iger’s responses:

On how the Disney brand works in a global economy:

“I think there’s a misconception that exists in the world, because technology and development overall has created access to markets, to territories, to countries that is unprecedented, meaning we’ve never seen it before, that maybe the world is gradually becoming kind of a one world culture. And I think that’s absolutely not the case.

“I think you can really trip a company up if they start believing that, because the pride that geographies or countries, or markets have for their own culture, and the desire to own and control it still is quite existent, whether it’s for political reasons, economic reasons, or just nationalistic reasons.

“And so if you are a global brand like Disney, and we’re different from a brand perspective because we’re not a consumable, really, even though people consume our products, they buy our product. We’re much more of an experience brand, whether you’re watching a movie, watching a television show, certainly going to a theme park. And I think because we are an experience brand, we touch culture in a very different way than a typical luxury brand might.

“And when that happens I think you have to be very careful. You have to have a very deft hand, because on one hand the Disney brand and what it stands for is of interest to the culture and to the people in the culture. Disney, that’s certainly the case we’re an optimistic brand or an inclusive brand. We’re a brand that is viewed as good for me and good for my family. There are values to the Disney brand and what it stands for that have interested people all over the world. But, it’s very, very important that while we bring Disney to a market we make sure that in that market it feels like, for instance, China’s Disney. It can’t just be the Disney that exists in carbon copy form somewhere else in the world.”

On social media, modern technology, and keeping your edge:

“I think the first thing you have to do is you have to obviously be aware of what your most significant brand attributes are. What makes your brand your brand? Why is it great? You have to focus on quality and on those attributes that, again, created the value in the first place. You can’t look to cut corners. You can’t look to make something with your brand on it that’s any cheaper simply because it’s going into a market that may not be able to afford it the way another market may have. You can’t compromise in that regard. So it starts with what I’ll call quality and a respect for an allegiance to the very brand attributes that created the value in the first place.

“Then I think you have to be, as we talked about earlier, and come up a few times, you have to be incredibly aware, you have to have your ear to the ground, you have to have people on the ground from that market that are essentially teaching you enough about the market, it’s likes and its dislikes, so that the product ultimately feels right for that market. In our case, again, I think because of what I said earlier about pride and local culture, and ownership of local culture, it has to feel like theirs. It has to feel like the markets.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily going to work if it feels like it’s some other market’s product, at least in the product that we make. It’s very, very important. What was discussed with high school musical was a successful television franchise in the United States. We could have brought it here and just put a Mandarin language track on it and put it on and I’m sure it would have gotten some consumption. Instead we decided let’s take it to China and let the Chinese make it for themselves, not just with their own language track, but their own characters and then adapting it, as was discussed rather articulately to the market, so that things that may have worked for it in the U.S. didn’t work.

“There are so many different components, I think, that go into it. I was also discussed in today’s world social media and the proximity that you can create to your customer base is so incredibly intimate. It didn’t exist before. You’ve got to monitor that very carefully and then adapt very quickly. So that also means that the speed of adaptation has gone up tremendously, too. You can’t simply wait for a market to catch up to you very easily. You’ve got to react to the market pretty quickly.”

You can check out a complete transcript of the Fortune Global Forum town hall here.

During Bob’s trip to China, he also had an opportunity to sit down with CCTV2 (Chinese Business Network) to talk about Disney and China. Check out the news clip below.

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