Walt Disney's Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) was a project of grandiose scale and lofty ideal. And while Disney passed away before his project became reality, EPCOT offers marketers four key takeaways (maybe more) in how to define problems, build on success, maintain flexibility and overcome obstacles.


Walt Disney was a man with bold dreams and the willpower to make them happen. After completing Disneyland in 1955–a huge undertaking in its own right–Disney turned his attention to his grand masterpiece; EPCOT. According to the site, "The Original Epcot Project", Disney said, "EPCOT will take its cue form the new ideas and new technologies–emerging from the forefront of American industry."

EPCOT was intended to be a "community of the future" that would be a demonstration for best-in-class design, ecology, technology and even citizenry. In a utopian vision, Disney had dreams that EPCOT would be a, "planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities."

There would be no slum areas and there would be full employment. No one would own private property and apartment rents would be economical. Cars would be relegated underground and EPCOT citizens would be transported by monorail or automated "people movers". It was a sweeping, breathtaking ideal.

Unfortunately, Disney died in the planning stages of his final masterpiece. And while the vision of EPCOT was carried forward by his brother Roy Disney, it never quite became the paradise community envisioned by Walt Disney.

Conceptually, EPCOT was breathtaking in its audacity and scope. The fact that it was never completed as intended shouldn't detract from some powerful takeaways for today's marketing executive:

1. Start with a problem. Walt Disney looked around at American cities and noticed that some were disorganized, squalid and plagued with crime. He thought he could do better. Disney started with a problem and then looked for a solution. Marketers know that too many companies build products or services "in search of a customer", instead of a customer driven approach. Start with a problem to be solved–ideally one that belongs to a customer!

2. Dream big and bold–with purpose. A man of tenacious resolve, there's few that doubt Walt Disney would have at least come close to his ultimate vision had he lived another decade. About his ambitions Disney said, "We know what our goals are, what we hope to accomplish. And believe me, it's the most exciting and challenging assignment we've ever tackled." In today's "Great Recession" economy, the easy route is to play it safe. However, bold marketers know that now is the time to start laying the groundwork for your most ambitious plans to connect with customers.

3. Build on success. Walt Disney created EPCOT on the back of a successfully completed Disneyland. He built credibility for an even larger vision and likely had investors falling over him to fund EPCOT. The consultant's mantra of "eating the elephant one bite at a time" applies here. When planning marketing programs, think incremental value, one step at a time, instead of big bang approaches that can lose their energy, funding and sponsorship.

4. Flexibility is paramount. When the EPCOT concept was presented to Walt Disney's Board of Directors, some balked and demanded Walt also build a new Disney World theme park in Florida. While Walt wasn't interested in re-creating Disneyland, he acquiesced in order to gain approval to build EPCOT. In fact, he warmed up to the idea of building Disney World as a "draw" to get visitors to visit EPCOT. Today's marketer works within tough confines of budget cuts and limited staffing resources. Work must be balanced with the right resources working on the right priorities within limited timeframes. Intransigence is out–flexibility is in.

EPCOT was "one man's dream" to build a prototype community of tomorrow that would inspire its own citizens and guests to think about not what is, but what could be. If tough economic times have you downcast, be encouraged by Walt Disney's boldness and enthusiasm for the next big thing. Then, go make it happen!

Questions:
* Did you know the history behind the EPCOT project? Has Walt Disney inspired you? If so, how?
* Walt Disney said that EPCOT would be an experience people can't find anywhere else. What other things about the Disney experience are unique? How does Disney maintain the magic?
* What other marketing takeaways can be gleaned from Walt Disney's EPCOT project?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.