Published on 2014/06/27

Let It Go: Four Ways Higher Ed Can Learn From Disney’s Frozen

Let It Go: Four Ways Higher Ed Can Learn From Disney’s Frozen
Providing a superior customer experience can be a major differentiator for institutions looking to stand out in the crowded graduate education marketplace.
Article prerequisite: This article assumes you’ve been subjected to the song “Let It Go” at least 100 times.

If you’re a parent (or grandparent) of children under the age of 10, it’s hard to avoid the tremendous impact Disney’s animated movie Frozen has had on households everywhere. And, if your house is anything like mine, you’ve probably heard Idina Menzel’s hit song, “Let It Go,” about a 1,000 times … and that was just last week.

So when I was asked to participate on a panel of education thought leaders at the Kaltura Connect conference in New York this past week, I was admittedly looking forward to a couple of days’ respite from the Frozen soundtrack (sorry, Disney).

Of course, the brilliant minds at Kaltura decided to ask Eugene Liew, IT, infrastructure and projects director at Disney, to give the keynote address on day two of the conference. And, you guessed it, the primary focus of his keynote was the massive global impact of the movie Frozen; notably the viral growth of the song “Let It Go,” which has been localized and sung in more than 42 languages, attracting more than 300+ million views (yes, millions!) on YouTube alone. At the end of his keynote, Liew showed a compilation video of two sisters learning that they’re about to go to Disney World as a family, followed by video clips of families having the time of their lives.

As the video ended, the entire crowd gave what amounted to a standing ovation. And, yes, I was one of them.

So, why did a crowd of higher education and media leaders applaud a Disney video, and what can we attribute Disney’s success to?

There are four key lessons higher education leaders (and marketers) can take away from Disney and the movie Frozen, revolving around the notion of creating an unbeatable customer experience:

1. Know Thy Customer

Disney has a deep understanding of their customers — children and their families — and the key objectives and outcomes they’re trying to achieve. Everything they do starts and ends with the customer.

Have you ever been to a Disney park and experienced their parking system?

As soon as you step on the tram to enter the park, the driver reminds you, “You’re in the Goofy lot. Remember to go to the Goofy lot when you leave the park.”

Why do they do this? They want to ensure the customer experience is positive from the minute you arrive to the time you leave.

Make sure you understand your customers. Students, parents and future employers all gain benefits from your products.

We have started to do this at eCornell through the development of customer personas and tools such as Lean Canvas. These help align our people to student outcomes.

2. Reveal the Unique Talents and Abilities of Students

In Frozen, the character Elsa is born with a unique power to turn objects into ice; however, she struggles to apply this power in a positive, productive way. As a result, she is taught to conceal her unique talents. How many students feel this way today?

As educators, we must reveal (not conceal) the unique talents and abilities of our students.  Through one-to-one mentoring and specific applications of education technology, such as formative assessments, we can quickly identify the programs that will unlock and enhance the natural talents and passions of today’s students.

At eCornell, we do this through tools such as formative assessments and surveys.

3. Empower and Encourage Students to Achieve Positive Outcomes

In Frozen, Elsa’s little sister Anna believes Elsa can positively direct her powers, relentlessly pursuing her sister in the cold wilderness to tell her this.

How many of today’s students feel lost and simply need educators that relentlessly pursue and encourage them to apply their unique talents, perspectives and passion to make a positive impact?

Educators need to personalize learning on the student level to drive outcomes. Let’s move beyond canned, passive lectures to on-demand delivery and real-time engagement with faculty.

At eCornell, we’re working with faculty to flip the classroom through on-demand lectures and interactive assessments, as well as one-to-one mentoring sessions with individual students through programs such as RedShift.

4. Create Customer Lifetime Learning Value

And who could forget Olaf? The lovable Frozen snowman who dreams of what it might be like to traipse on the hot sand “In Summer.” But without the cold, Olaf would simply melt away in the heat of summer.

How many students feel like they’re left to their own devices after graduation?

Near the end of the movie, Elsa uses her power to provide Olaf with a winter cloud that keeps him cool, allowing him to prosper in the heat of summer.

In a constantly changing world, educators need to nurture our graduates with valuable lifelong learning — tools, community, expert resources — that keep their skills current and relevant in the marketplace.

In the Software as a Service (SaaS) world, they use a term called Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).  For education, let’s call it Customer Lifetime Learning Value (CLLV).

At eCornell, we drive nurturing and lifetime learning value through webinars with faculty and recognized subject matter experts, as well as regular content marketing activities to keep our students aware of the latest trends and skills required in today’s workplace.


Although I like to act like hearing the song “Let It Go” for the thousandth time will drive me insane, the truth is I look forward to coming home to my two preschool-aged daughters belting it out at the top of their lungs as they dance around the room, transforming blankets into long beautiful capes and gowns, and our living room into a beautiful ice castle. As a parent of two little girls, it’s encouraging to see my daughters motivated by such a positive story of two sisters, Elsa and Anna, who work together to overcome obstacles and reveal their true talents and purpose. We can only hope their future educational experience will provide the same outcomes in the real world.

I believe we can get there in higher education by being a bit more like Disney: surrounding our students with unparalleled support and individualized attention.

Maybe then all their lives won’t be a series of “doors in their face.” Strong customer experience is a key differentiator for Disney, and higher education institutions could learn a lot from them to successfully market the value of a strong consumer experience to prospective students.

Special note for Disney: If you would like to send my family to Disney World, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn!

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Readers Comments

Skeptical 2014/06/27 at 12:10 pm

I really wasn’t sure where you were going for a second there, but this piece really made me think.

You can see fervent brand loytalty in the higher ed space too, but most of the time that comes as a result of sports and growing up in a particular region (or having parents that are alumni of a certain school). It sees rare that students will fervently support their campus based on anything else.

But it’s not rare. In fact, it’s really common. When someone has a great experience anywhere–at a restaurant, at a movie theater, at university–they tell people about it.

Higher ed needs to realize that customer experience drives return business. This article does a great job of making that clear.

    Orin A 2014/06/29 at 5:48 pm

    Who would have expected that I would be skeptical of a comment by Skeptical? As an aside, who thought Skeptical would ever actually be in support of someone’s idea!?!

    But seriously, I think this article really overplays the value of strong customer service and moreover, uses a viral hit as proof of something extremely difficult to achieve.

    I don’t think Let It Go’s success was a result of meticulous planning or research on the part of Disney. I think it’s a song that kids just really liked.

    Universities will be misguided in trying to gain the kind of rabid support Disney enjoys. Instead, we should make sure our program quality is such that our students succeed in whatever path they choose. Positive student outcomes is the only customer support we can translate back to prospective students.

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