What Product Managers Can Learn From Disney’s Product Vault

by drjim on September 19, 2011

Can You Really Keep Your Products Away From Your Customers By Locking Them Up?

Can You Really Keep Your Products Away From Your Customers By Locking Them Up?

Have you heard about the Disney product vault? This is the place that they put their products every so often. What this means for their customers is that they had better buy their products now because once they go into the vault you don’t know when they’ll come back out. Is this a technique that we product managers can use to prevent our customers from going with the competition or is it an idea whose time has come and gone?

How The Disney Vault Works

Does Disney actually have a vault somewhere in the ground where they put all of the unsold copies of movies like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia? Umm, no – this is just a marketing move by the mouse.

The folks in marketing organizations the world over have learned that when there is a real or perceived shortage of a product, people are willing to buy more of it and buy it right now! If you live anywhere where bad weather can strike you’ve seen this a lot: when that forecast of bad weather first starts to show up on TV, it seems like everyone goes out and buys gas and starts to stock up on bottled water before it’s all gone.

Disney is trying to cause the same thing to happen; however, in this case there is no impending natural disaster. The only thing that is going to happen is that the product managers at Disney are planning on taking some of the products that they are currently selling off of the market.

The thought is that Disney will get a double boost to sales here. First, they’ll get an uptick in sales as they tell everyone that time is running out to purchase these products. Then, when they announce that the products are “coming out of the vault” they’ll get another boost as customers rush to buy what was previously not available. How’s that for a great business model?

Why The Disney Vault May No Longer Be A Good Idea

This concept of a “product vault” may have worked for Disney and others in the past, but does it still work? Maybe, but not nearly as much as it once did. In order for a product vault concept to work, you really have to be able to make your product leave the market.

The problem with this is that here in the 21st Century, that’s really hard to do. In fact, if your product is a digital product like Disney’s is, it’s nigh impossible to do.

Case in point: the movie Fantasia. Let’s say that Disney announces that they’re putting this product into the vault tomorrow. Ok, so it’s in the vault. As a consumer how do you react? Do you panic and rush out to the nearest Wal-Mart to snap up a copy before they’re all gone. Naw.

Instead you kick back and wait. If a situation comes up in which you or one of your little ones really wants to see Fantasia, then you’re going to have to do something. A real possibility would be to check out one of the streaming video services such as Netflix, Hulu, or even Disney’s own web site to see if it’s possible to stream Fantasia to your home television. If that’s not possible, then your next step is to go to Ebay. A quick check shows that you can get Fantasia in any one of its multiple versions (Blue-Ray, etc.) at any time for about US$20.00. Maybe even less if you’re willing to bid for it.

One other thing, now that consumers have become much more educated do you think that they are going to be willing to be blatantly manipulated like this? If you notify them that products that they might be planning on purchasing in the future won’t be available, what do you think that they’ll do. Sure you hope that they’ll hurry up and purchase them, but perhaps you’ll tick them off enough that they’ll go out and find substitutes. If I can’t watch that Fantasia movie, maybe I’ll go out and buy “Ice Age” (a movie from another film studio) because it’s not in any silly old vault…

What All Of This Means For You

As a product manager I’m committed to preventing my customers from making a bad product decision. However, should I also be steering them to make the decision to buy now instead of waiting until later on? As product managers we can easily fall in love with the concept of a product vault. I mean, what’s not to love?

The vault concept is pretty simple – you artificially create a scarcity for your customers and you let them know that it’s coming so that they are motivated to buy now instead of putting a purchase off for the future. The problem with this concept is that with the arrival of Ebay and the digitalization of everything, this idea of making things scarce may no longer work.

As product managers we are responsible for making our customers want to buy our product. The old ways of making things scarce are fading away. As we move forward we’re going to have to make sure that the next version of our product is so fantastic that there’s no need to put the current version into a “vault”, the latest & greatest version is what everyone wants to have!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: If you did put your product into a “vault”, how long should you keep it there?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The global economy is roaring back again and it sure seems like everyone is starting to take stock of their job and decide if they want to stay where they are or move on to greener pastures. Product managers are no exception. Perhaps you’ve grown as far as you can or perhaps you feel that you’ve done everything that you’re going to be allowed to do where you are at. If you are thinking about moving on, you had better be careful that you don’t screw up your job change…

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