Disney Buys Marvel: Designing 3D Brands

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Many comic fans around the world, my eldest son John included, will bemoan today’s announcement that the Disney entertainment zaibatsu will swallow up Marvel Comics and its 5,000 characters for $4 billion. Years ago I, too, spent my hard-earned shoveling money on Spiderman, The Hulk, Fantastic Four, and especially Iron Man. (I’ve seen all their recent movies, too.) But when Disney is on their game, their 3D branding machine creates new and exciting customer entertainment.

Disney, perhaps better than any other company on the planet, can perform what I call “3D Branding.”
3D branding begins with the idea that a great story is at the core of all human motivation and brand relationships. 2D brands have a selling message — not an embracing narrative. 3D branding embodies the notion that there are no transactions, only experiences, and the burden of linking all customer interactions into a seamless web of experience is the job of the company providing the service — not a burden borne by the customer. 2D companies may add a Twitter account, or web community, but they are unlinked to other parts of the buying or using experience.

The 3D approach also realizes that brands grow as people interact with them and contribute to the story. Walt Disney did this early on with his theme parks — where the designated “Kodak Spot” locations told people where to take a picture so that they became part of the story. By contrast, the 2D brand marketer keeps his or her customer at bay. Today, with the robust social web, the job of the 3D company is to give their audience the best, most fun, and simplest tools to add content and create connections with the broader world. Lastly, 3D branding realizes that every company should make themselves easy to find and easy to buy; as Larry Light pointed out to me a few months ago, “convenience is no longer a brand differentiator.”

Marvel’s great characters, some of which even rise to the level of cultural icons, all provide powerful fuel for the Disney 3D machine.
It is because of this proven capability that I’m optimistic, not worried, about Stan Lee’s legacy. Moreover, Marvel already has a “Character Universe” which provides a “cloud” of all five thousand characters and how they hook together. Fans can add information, links and stories. This cloud approach should fit into the Disney 3D machine as easily as corn slides into a feed lot.

More broadly, I believe that in this fragmented world flooded with messages, a dense network of stimuli and interaction — like those that Disney crafts — can create the continuity that we all crave as social human beings. Continuity is the bedrock of all brands; the 3D approach shapes that seamless experience in a chopped up media world. I believe that part of the reason Twitter is so popular is that it gives both customers and companies a way to knit together customer service, new product/service offers, and experiences that are part of a well-integrated 3D effort.

Ask yourself if you’ve designed your brand so your firm can answer these questions:

  • What compelling human story are we trying to tell?
  • Do customers have a seamless experience with us?
  • Have we given them tools to participate in making the experience better and more continuous?
  • Are we the most convenient firm in our space to find and do business with?
  • Are we “2D” or “3D”?

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