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Disney tips for produce marketers

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Catherine Powell, who recently left Disney after 15 years, offered some ideas on marketing and initiating change during the education program at the New York Produce Show December 11.

NEW YORK – A former Disney executive has some ideas for produce companies looking to implement new ideas.

For instance, one of the most important keys to selling anything: know your audience.

Catherine Powell, who recently left Disney after 15 years running such groups as intellectual marketing, branding, and theme parks around the globe, offered some outside-the-produce-industry lessons during the education program at the New York Produce Show December 11.

“It’s critical to know your audience,” she said. “Success is understanding who you’re selling to” whether it’s your buyers or the end consumers.

She said 15 years ago, when she was helping Disney fit into the quickly changing digital and social media channels, she and her team had to figure out how consumers were using new media and how Disney brands and characters could fit into that. She dove deep into the social media channels that were new but growing.

“You have to have the right content and the right platform,” she said.

Another issue she hoped to teach was about value. Many retailers who carried Disney products only defined value by price. That actually devalued many products, she said.

“Value doesn’t mean cheap,” Powell said. “It means making people feel good about what they buy.”

This can easily be seen in the produce department with higher value items, she said.

When she moved into theme parks, trying to return Disneyland in Paris to its prior prominence, she encountered resistance to change.

She said she had to get buy-in from employees from the executive set to the theme park workers, who Disney calls “cast members.”

“Keep asking the question, ‘Why do we do it this way?’” she said. “Is this way still relevant?”

The answer can’t be “because this is the way we’ve always done it,” Powell said.

She found that the lowest-paid employees knew things had to change, and she encouraged them to be part of the change and feel free to tell their ideas.

“You need a vision at the top and [to] empower the people at the bottom,” Powell said. “You have to celebrate each success, make it tangible.”

And don’t be afraid to make mistakes, she said. Executives have to acknowledge them and be committed to fixing them, and this encourages everyone in the organization to be willing to take risks without overly high consequences.


Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services