It’s official, summer vacation is here, the kids are out of school, and this week I’m revisiting a place I haven’t been to in 30 years. No, it’s not my high school – quite the contrary, it’s a place whose nickname is literally “The happiest place on Earth.”
You guessed it, I’ve taken the family to Disney World.
Now, the cynics out there might say, “Sure, it’s ‘the happiest place on earth’ because if you’re crazy enough to stand there in 95-degree heat under the blazing Florida sun for 10 hours a day, you’re happy to pay $22 for plastic spray bottle with a battery-operated fan that’s actually worth $1.75.”
And while that may or may not be true, (okay, it was the best $22 I ever spent in my life), it also offered a crash course on a crucial lesson in brand-value: the critical importance of qualitative ROI.
When most people think about ROI (return on investment), they think in quantitative, typically financial terms, e.g.,
- “If I invest $100 in this stock, how much interest will I earn?” or
- “If I hire someone to do my marketing for me, how soon will that investment yield enough revenue to break even and beyond?” or
- “If I take a class for $1,000” to learn skill-X, will it eventually pay for itself by helping me earn a higher salary?”
Qualitative ROI, in contrast, may not have a payout that can be measured in dollars or other tangible means, but otherwise yields an undeniably better experience, and that pays long-term dividends.
So what would compel an otherwise rational and arithmetically-competent adult to buy a $22 plastic spray bottle?
I’ll tell you this much: It wasn’t for my physical comfort; it was for my sanity.
Yesterday was Disney Vacation Day 1, and after a fun but long and hot day at the Magic Kingdom, we spent the evening at the hotel pool, which ended up being the highlight of the day for my 5-year-old.
So today, we were at the Hollywood Studios theme park for all of about 15 minutes before it started: “Mom, can we go back and play in the pool?”
Needless to say, the answer of, “After dinner you can play in the pool again” just didn’t cut it.
Although he did genuinely enjoy some of the Mickey Mouse and Star Wars rides, the two minutes of fun each of them provided still left us with seemingly endless hours of walking and standing in line, for which this over-tired, over-heated, under-interested child tortured us with what felt like death by 1,000 paper cuts:
“Mom, can we go back to the pool?”
“I told you, we’ll go swimming after dinner.”
“But can we go now?”
“What did I just say?”
“So can we go now?”
And when the interval between these episodes is never more than a minute, because children have a laser-focused one-track mind, it’s enough to drive you batty. Explaining, warning, reminding, pleading, negotiating, threatening, ignoring… nothing works.
Around 3pm it finally hit me: there was no talking my way out of this. If you think in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I was trying to appeal to his higher “self fulfillment” needs, when he still needed his basic physiological needs met. You can’t satisfy them out of order, period.
I had fallen into the trap of listening to his words at their surface value rather than hearing what was motivating them on a deeper level. I needed something that would both alleviate his discomfort and entertain or at least distract him for a sustained period of time.
That’s when I saw the little spray-bottle fans, and remembered how much he had loved playing with a simple dollar-store spray bottle in past summers, spraying everything in the yard – including himself – on hot days.
“How much?” I asked the cast member (a.k.a. Disney employee) at the kiosk.
“Twenty-two dollars,” she said sweetly, with no trace of irony in her smile.
I blinked incredulously for a moment, then handed over my card.
Within 30 seconds, the badgering and whining stopped, and a smile spread across his face. Walking through his own perpetual cloud of mist as we walked across the park, spritzing everything in sight, my typically happy and good-natured son repossessed his own body.
Had I known it could be that simple I would have bought the bottle at the first available kiosk upon entering the park on Day 1… and frankly, knowing how much pain and suffering it would have alleviated (especially mine!), I would have paid even more if I had to.
At that point, it was about quality of life. For a mere $22 I bought myself – and my son, and everyone else within earshot – peace of mind and the ability to enjoy being in the moment, and the bonus hope of enjoying the remaining days of our trip.
And for my son too – not only is it his new favorite toy, but now there’s a much better chance he’ll remember this family vacation as a fun life event, rather than a week of sweaty misery.
Is there a direct dollar value I can put on that ROI? No. But am I certain that the value is WAY more than the initial $22? 100% yes.
That’s the value of qualitative ROI.
Whenever I take on a new coaching client, we start by operationalizing goals and success measures, which, more often than not, are defined in qualitative ROI terms, e.g.:
- Feeling more confident in your role, or exuding the confidence needed to demonstrate readiness for a bigger role
- After giving a presentation, getting questions from the audience that show deeper interest and curiosity about something you shared, instead of hearing silence or getting questions that ask you to repeat something you’ve already said
- Learning to tell the story of the data in a way that showcases you as the expert while making people lean in attentively, instead of zoning out because you got “lost in the technical weeds”
- Building your reputation and strengthening your name recognition among higher-ups or your ideal client base
- Reducing stress enough to be able to get a decent night’s sleep the day before giving a big presentation
- Finishing a media/podcast interview, meeting, presentation or pitch and knowing you knocked it out of the park
- And more.
Someone else who places great weight on the value of qualitative ROI is this week’s guest on the Speaking to Influence podcast , Nick Ryan, CISO (chief information security officer) of Baker Tilly, the ninth largest accounting firm in the world.
- increase clients’ trust in the brand name (“no news is good news”),
- impact whether or not they are likely to continue doing business with them, or
- refer another prospective client to them.
Are those factors linked to revenue? Sure, but indirectly; that’s why they’re more qualitative.
But regardless of your industry or role, don’t overlook the qualitative measures of your success, particularly as they relate to your reputation among peers, coworkers, clients and any other stakeholder group.
Why? Because, (ahem) “It’s a small world, after all…”
(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)