It must be good to be Bob Iger. I mean, the CEO of Disney is having a pretty good year. He launched the company's long-awaited streaming service, Disney+, which signed up 10 million subscribers on its very first day. His film studio surpassed $10 billion in box office revenue this year, and it hasn't even released what will likely be the biggest film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

And speaking of both Disney+ and Star Wars, that combination resulted in the most-watched show of any of the streaming services, The Mandalorian. Oh, and then there's Baby Yoda. Which brings us to the most recent reason Iger is having a good year: he was just named Time's Businessperson of the Year. Make no mistake, Baby Yoda is a perfect example of why that honor was well-earned.

The Time article tells a brief story of how Iger knew immediately Baby Yoda would be an enormous hit with fans. For Disney, by the way, enormous hits are the standard operating procedure. In fact, the entire strategy looks something like this:

Create a story with adorable characters. Mass market both the story and the characters. Manufacture merchandise featuring adorable characters. Stuff more cash than you can imagine into the bank account. 

In the case of Baby Yoda, Iger not only knew that the character would lead to huge sales, but also that the best play was radio silence until after the first episode of The Mandalorian streamed, so as not to spoil the reveal.

He was right, of course.

Look, regardless of what you think of the mysterious green alien that has become the star of the Disney+ service and the mascot of the internet, there's really no arguing that from a business standpoint, Baby Yoda is brilliant. And it's a great lesson for entrepreneurs.

Here's why: Bob Iger isn't a storyteller--at least not in the classic sense of someone who writes a script or directs a film. That isn't his role. But he has one thing that might be even more important--a sense of how stories connect with audiences. I'm not sure anyone would disagree that Iger knows his audience, and knows how to steward both the Disney brand as a whole, as well as the individual stories within it (Star Wars, Marvel, etc.) to make sure they resonate with that audience. 

But Iger didn't create The Mandalorian or its most famous character. He didn't invent streaming video. He didn't dream up the Star Wars universe. He isn't a comic book illustrator.

The puzzle that makes up Disney has an extraordinary number of pieces, none of which originated with its CEO. Instead, Iger's job is to see how all of those pieces fit together, and sell the resulting picture to the rest of us. 

And, just because you aren't running the world's largest media and entertainment company, doesn't mean that you don't have a story to tell. And, it doesn't mean you can't learn from what made Bob Iger so successful this year.

In most of the areas Disney competes, it is the apex predator. It's the biggest player in theme parks. It's the biggest licensor of toy characters. It's the biggest sports broadcaster. It's the biggest animation studio. It's the biggest family-friendly movie producer. 

It is not the biggest streaming video service. It isn't the biggest player--Netflix has over 150 million subscribers--a number that dwarfs Disney+. But it made a huge bet that owning its own platform to stream its own library of content would pay off in a big way.  

So far it has. And the lesson here is that when you align your story with your audience, you will win.

That's one of the most important qualities in any marketer, but also in every entrepreneur. Your primary job, at least at first, is to figure out how to tell the story of your brand, and then tell it to the right audience.

And you don't even need Baby Yoda for that--but it can't hurt.

Published on: Dec 11, 2019
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