Run Forrest, Run

by Marianne Richmond on September 17, 2008

The late Randy Pausch wrote of an experience he had as a child at Walt Disney World in Orlando he referred to as the $100,000 salt and pepper shaker.

He and his sister had purchased the salt and pepper shaker at a gift shop and were planning on giving it to their parents as a “thank you” for taking them to Disney. Randy accidentaly broke the gift but returned to the gift shop, told the employee who had sold them the set what had happened. The employee gave him a replacement at no charge, took responsibility for the accident and rescued victory from the jaws of defeat for Randy and his sister.

The $100,000 relates to the amount of money that Randy Pausch estimated his family spent at Disney over the years following the incident. He writes that the appreciation his family felt towards Disney engendered by “this one customer service incident” caused them to return time and time again.

Pausch mentions that years later as an Imagineering consultant at Disney he would tell the salt and pepper story to senior executives and ask them if, in their current culture, they could visualize an employee being “kind enough” to replace the shaker; he reports, “probably not.”

David Armano wrote about this incident in July as he was thinking about “Micro-Interactions”. I have borrowed his quote (with attribution) from this presentation, “Your brand is the sum of its interactions,” in my own client presentations to highlight the importance for brands of web2.0/social media.

I also apply it to the “old fashioned” off-line micro-interactions…the importance that customer service, tech support, retail all align with your branding and advertising efforts or like Sprint, HP, and many others large and small, the return on spending will be diluted, if not drowned by negative word of mouth.

And the value of word of mouth is the topspin that I want to add to the salt and pepper shaker story. In addition to the $100,000 spent directly by the Pausch family because one Disney cast member chose to fulfill  “dreams come true” there is the value of organic word of mouth.

Specifically, THAT story repeated over and again by the Pausch family. Perhaps an imaginary conversation between friends, yes, we are going to Disney again because….which makes the listener say “Awwww” and then call their travel agent.

OK, small scale? Grown up Randy Pausch, beloved professor at Carnegie Mellon one day; beloved professor to all of us the next. And the next…..becomes a collective “awwwww we’re going to Walt Disney World”? (The latter, an example of organic turned into ad campaign)

Well, I don’t really know if this chapter in The Last Lecture had any impact on Disney bookings any more than I know if Randy’s question “Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore?” produced an increase in sales of Pooh gear. But I do know that Randy Pausch’s message(s) can be considered  viral in a way that could not be created because viral just cannot be created by definition.

Just looking at the Disney salt and pepper shaker example, we have organic word of mouth of the best kind , the credible kind.  As Jackie Huba notes in response to the offline/online word of mouth is better argument,”When it comes to word of mouth, the medium is not necessarily the message. The person is.” Even better if the credible person is relaying a genuinely touching story from childhood.

But in a sense organic word of mouth sounds so quaint, so 2006. Have great products, give exceptional service, do good things for your customers and they will recommend you, your brand, your company or your service. Blog it, Tweet it or get others to do so, even better.

In 2008, now that business partcipation in social media is marketing and everyone is blogging and twittering we ponder the meaning. Peter Kim gives it a one two punch: Does Social Media Matter? and then asks,  Is is scaleable?

Well, I think the answer is that there is no replacement for exceptional products, services and brands and social media just like its predecessor, advertising can only do so much to influence purchase decisions. I may be Facebook friends with the CEO of Acme, inc and follow her on Twitter but if the Acmes fall apart sooner than promised, all bets are off.

Now, why the post title, Run Forrest, Run? Well Forrest is my son’s name and as I have written before he had the misfortune to be given that name around the same time that the movie Forrest Gump was released. Not only was I asked way too many times if he had been named after the character in the movie, but in addition to also being asked that question, he has also been told his whole life to “run Forrest run” or  “swim Forrest swim” or whatever sport he was participating in at the time.

Recently, he was at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. at Universal Studios in Orlando. They were selling t-shirts that said ‘Run Forrest Run.” He asked if they gave discounts on the shirts to people named Forrest. If you knew Forrest, you would know that this is completely out of character for him.  So when he told me the story, I was pretty surprised just by his realying that he asked for a discount.

The employee he asked immediately said, “No, we don’t do that.”

Another employee nearby asked him if his name was really Forrest and added that he had never met anyone named Forrest before. He then asked to see Forrest’s driver’s license. Upon ascertaining that his name was indeed “Forrest” he returned his drivers license and said, “Wow!”

Now the t-shirt was $22.00. ONLY $22.00 for positive word of mouth but a lot for just a t-shirt.

Forrest paid the $22.00 and came home and told me the story. Just me.  He wears the t-shirt a lot and it gets a lot of attention among his friends. The only “story” is that he is Forrest and has a t-shirt with his name on it.

Imagine though if they had given him a discount. Imagine if they had given him the t-shirt just because his name was “Forrest.”  He might go back to Bubba Gump’s to eat again….and again. He might be repeating a story every time he wore the t-shirt about the really cool folks at Universal Studios. He might have uploaded a picture on Facebook.

He might be still telling the story about Universal Studios after the t-shirt and Bubba Gump were long gone. Maybe to a group of friends, maybe in a lecture hall.

“Your brand is the sum of its interactions.”

And by the way….Forrest agrees with Professor Pausch about being a Tigger but he also says, be kind to Eeyores.

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