This year, Disney celebrates its one hundredth year of Mickey, motion picture, and all things magic.

After growing up in a strict household where toys, play, and artistic pursuits were discouraged and hard, manual labor was demanded from an early age, Walt Disney (age 21 at the time) and his older brother, Roy founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio on October 16, 1923 in Hollywood, California. Their ultimate dream was to give children and adults alike a way to escape from reality and enter the world of fantasy and imagination, where wishing on a star grants you anything your heart desires and living happily ever after is a guarantee. However, despite being the pair that more or less invented dreaming wildly, neither Roy nor Walt could have ever predicted that Disney would grow into the entertainment giant it is today and go on to “own” the concept of imagination around the world.

Few companies have experienced the growth and longevity that Disney has, and despite its centurion status, the company shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, with its acquisition of Marvel, Star Wars, and most recently, Fox and 20th Century Studios, Disney has set itself up for continued financial success for decades to come. In addition to the company’s figurative “ownership” over the concept of imagination, Disney’s literal belongings are equally, if not more impressive. According to Statista, in the fiscal year 2022, The Walt Disney Company held assets worth $203.63 billion. In the same year, Disney reported their annual revenue as $83.72 billion – $28.71 billion of which came from its theme parks alone. That equates to roughly $80 million in earnings per day across all 12 international parks, generated by about 150 million annual visitors. In layman’s terms, that’s about 6,153,846 Dole Whips and 1,333,778 pairs of Mickey Mouse ears.

Disney’s wild and enduring success comes down to one seemingly simple, yet extraordinarily difficult skill that Walt and his company have continually excelled at, and that is the art of storytelling and the role it plays in branding. The majority of brands first develop their product or service, and then build a story around it to capture customers’ attention (e.g. Here is our perfume. It will have men chasing you down the street. Don’t you want to be the irresistible, sexy woman in this commercial? Don’t you wish a man like this would fall for you?).

Disney however, tells stories first and then lets the products and experiences almost develop themselves. This has been such a powerful – not to mention profitable – marketing strategy over the years that the company has created entire business sectors that each focus on a specific franchise (Frozen, Marvel, Toy Story, etc.). The corporate employees who work in these sectors have the sole responsibility of turning stories into sales by dreaming up everything from theme park rides to pajamas. The brand’s unique reverse-engineered content marketing strategy ensures that Disney lovers always feel like fans and never like customers. At Disney, the story is the product, and fans will pay just about any price to own a piece of their favorite story.

In just a few short months, Disney will officially celebrate a century of bringing people of all walks of life together to enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy. One hundred years ago, Walt and Roy Disney set out to fulfill their childhood desire for play, artistic expression, and imagination and wound up completely transforming the entertainment industry and turning their company into one of the greatest American success stories of all time. The quote most famously associated with Walt Disney reads, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” The story of Walt’s life and the creation of the company that shaped and now figuratively “owns” imagination teaches us that all you need to succeed at whatever you put your mind to is unyielding hard work, dedication to your craft, fierce passion, and the courage to dream. And maybe a pinch or two of pixie dust, should you just so happen to have some on hand.