a ThInk To tHouGhT..

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

By Emotion....Disney's Salt + Pepper Shaker


You're probably familiar with Randy Pausch. If not, you should go and familiarize yourself with his story. Randy is both a a tenured professor at Carnegie Mellon, a scientist, a husband and father. And he's dying of cancer. His last gift is for all of us, in the form of a video that's made it's way around the internet—as well as a precious book titled "The Last Lecture". There are many stories worth talking about which Randy has put into words, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight one of them as it's helping me think through the idea of "Micro-Interactions".

The $100,000 Salt & Pepper Shaker

The story is simple. At 12 years old, a young Randy Pausch was exploring Disney World with his family and he and his sister decided they wanted to show their parents their appreciation for the trip. So they did what any other grateful children would do—they pooled their allowance money and headed straight for the Disney gift shop. A few minutes later, they emerged with the perfect gift. A ceramic Disney salt and pepper shaker featuring two bears in a tree holding the salt and pepper (not the ones in the photo above.) Randy and his sister left the store excited to see their parents faces when they opened the gift.

Minutes later, a mini-tragedy struck when Randy accidentally dropped the shaker, breaking it on impact. A nearby adult suggested that they should take it back to the store and they did so hesitantly, not expecting a positive outcome. To their surprise and delight, the Disney employee who had sold them the items apologized for not wrapping them appropriately and gave them a new set, no questions asked.

So why is the Salt & Pepper Shaker worth $100,000?

As an adult faced with his own mortality, Randy looks back to that event with a unique perspective. His whole family including his parents were so taken back by their "micro-interaction" with Disney, that they appreciated the institution on "a whole other level" to use his own words. By Randy's calculations, over the years his family has enthusiastically spent over $100,000 with Disney brand over the years and they never forgot the symbolic importance of that one specific interaction. In recent years as a consultant, Randy would often ask Disney executives this question:

"If I sent a child into one of your stores with a broken salt and pepper shaker today, would your policies allow your workers to be kind enough to replace it?"

Randy says, "the executives squirm at the question. They know the answer: Probably not." After Randy passes, his family will still have that salt and pepper shaker, and more than likely the memorable story that goes with it. As we continue to look at the holistic relationship between marketing, products and the experience—it's worth noting that the little things really do matter. More than we know.

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