Five months after the fact my wedding has taught me a lesson about return on investment – aka ROI – and it has nothing to do with the cost of our appetizers.
I could probably summarize the gist of my epiphany in a bite-sized snippet, but for me the realization was as much about the story as its moral.
Non-traditional, in every sense of the word
Ever since the wedding, whenever we chat about the big day with our friends they continue to enthuse about the non-traditional elements of the event. I had a pair of co-best-ladies! We didn’t have any flowers!
Invariably, their lists converge on two unique highlights. One is my mother and I having our mother/son dance to Nikka Costa’s funky “Everybody Got Their Something” – not your typical syrupy slow-dance.
The other is Gina’s co-best-lady toast, a bitingly-funny, lovingly-irreverent, truly-unique roast from someone who knows me a little better than I know myself. It started with the story of how we met and wrapped up with how I’ll eventually turn into an old coot rambling around my acreage, laying rat poison and bear traps to decimate any unsuspecting wild-life that dares to interfere with my DIY recording sessions.
However, the part that stuck out to me was about my throw-pillows.
Are your pillows your most valuable possession?
When E and I moved into our house in 2005 our living room was missing one key feature – pillows. Our couch looked nude without them and we had nothing to rest our heads on.
I spent an entire year looking for the right pillows. I tried every possible physical and online store. Just as I was beginning to despair that my perfect pillows were a figment of my imagination I finally found the right ones – on sale for $15 each.
More than three years later, the amount of time I spend rhapsodizing about the pillows is hard to believe. Any time I lay on them, walk past them, or even think about them I am known to remark, “God, I just love those pillows.” Like, even right now I am appreciating how much I love them.
It would not be a stretch to say that I’ve reflected on my satisfaction more than a thousand times in 36 months. 1000 satisfactions compared to the $30 cost is a whopping 100:3 satisfaction ratio. That means for every $1 spent I’ve been happy with my purchase 33 times over!
That’s a pretty satisfying pillow. It’s a pretty satisfying anything!
Gina told the entire pillow-satisfaction story in her speech. Her point was that since I insist on measuring my pillow-related happiness with such oddball precision it’s no wonder Elise and I are both so unusual and also so absolutely perfect for each other.
Five months later I still think about Gina’s speech almost every day, because she gave a perfect explanation of how I measured the ROI of something that seemed impractical or impossible to measure. And, if I’m valuing ROI by satisfaction, my pillows are worth more than anything else I own – even my entire home recording studio!
Finding the value of the invaluable
Businesses spend huge swaths of their budget on traditional marketing like newspaper ads, billboards, and television commericals. Why? Not because the ROI is obvious. No, it’s just traditional – tied to familiar, easy-to-capture metrics like brand awareness or sales.
It’s similarly simple to quantify the value of my home recording studio – it has paid for itself many times over when compared to what I would pay to record in a commercial studio. It’s so valuable that I might call it “invaluable,” but its value is actually easy to measure in traditional ways.
My throw-pillows are more like digital or social media marketing – invaluable in that they’re hard to put a value on.
Except, according to Gina, I found a meaningful value – satisfaction. While my pillows aren’t saving me $165 per song, in one year the pillows “pay” for themselves by making my happy 11 times for every $1 spent. No matter if I measure by cost, time spent, or difficulty, it’s hard to find something in my life with a per-unit satisfaction ratio higher than my pillows – except, of course, for my relationship with E.
If I can figure out why my pillows were personally profitable, why is it so hard to convince people that building relationships on Web 2.0 is crucially important to their business – moreso than a $30k billboard or full page ad?
Prove your profit in an unexpected way
As people and businesses we’re rightly concerned with justifying new expenses, and when pennies are in a pinch that’s often the safest way to make a decision. However, when cost isn’t the biggest factor in our decision that mindset can get in the way. What about when we’re trying to become happier or expand our capabilities?
The answer is that we’re all special experts in deciding how much something is personally worth to us. For Gina, it’s Dunkin Donuts coffee. For my mother it’s a trip to the beach. I just happened to take the time to prove the worth of my pillows in an unexpectedly tangible way.
Gina found a major lesson in my pillow obsession – that it’s important to be the voice that offers to value the invaluable.
When it comes to business, your potential expenditure might not immediately translate to improved brand awareness or increased sales. Just because it doesn’t result in a traditional ROI doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. People’s satisfaction with your existing products might go up. They might view your brand as more savvy, responsive, or trust-worthy. You might reap more feedback – positive or negative – about your products. Customers might become more likely to evangelize on your behalf – non-customers too!
None of those thing are as easy to quantify as my throw-pillows. They might involve competitive analysis, surveys, and focus groups just to establish a baseline. You’ll have to consider how much you would hope to improve, and how much resource time that improvement would be worth.
In proving that unexpected value you might completely redefine what ROI means to you or your company. It’s up to you to find the right measurement to prove your point.