The Why #16: Why does everyone remember Kodak as a failure?

By Dan Monheit 2.4.21

Question submitted by Nicole, Chatswood

Because it was. But that’s a bit unfair, because Kodak was a lot of other things too.

While today, ‘doing a Kodak’ is shorthand for a company failing to evolve fast enough, at various points in the past it could just as easily have meant ‘being one of the largest and most successful companies in the world’ (50 years ago, Kodak was the third largest company in the whole of America), ‘completely and utterly dominating a category’ (in 1976, Kodak held 85% of the entire camera market and 90% of film) or ‘actively seeking to disrupt oneself through innovation’ (the digital camera was invented by Steven Sasson, a Kodak engineer in 1975).

Numbers aside, Kodak also had a tremendous cultural impact right across the globe. ‘Kodak Moments’, even today, are how we describe the emotional highpoints of our lives. And that’s to say nothing of that universal, giddy moment of anticipation that came with picking up a pile of newly developed photos in a bright yellow envelope from our local chemist or photo shop (ha!).

Yup, before its spectacular bankruptcy in 2012, Kodak was everything we think about Apple, Google and Amazon today. So why don’t we remember any of the good stuff?

Peak End Rule

We don’t remember most things. In fact, when you consider everything we experience in our day to day lives, the vast majority of it pretty much evaporates as soon as the moment has passed. So what do we remember? According to the aptly named ‘Peak End Rule’, it’s the emotional highs and lows, as well as the endings, that make all the difference. In other words, not all parts of an experience are created equal when it comes to shaping memories.

In a study by Kahneman and Schreiber (2000) participants were asked to listen to audio tracks comprised of irritating sounds of varying loudness and frequency. At the end of the track, participants were asked to rate the overall ‘annoyance’ of what they’d just heard. Rather than answers being correlated to the track’s average level of annoyance, the answers were far more in line with the peak levels of annoyance, as well as how the tracks ended.

This perspective helps us understand how a terrible flight home can ruin a wonderful holiday, why a beautiful brunch can be tainted by a surprise surcharge on the bill, and why, despite decades of steady success, the only thing we remember of Kodak is a big, stinking failure.

So while many of us are diligently working to create outstanding, end to end customer experiences for the brands we represent, we would do well to remember that we should be shooting for outstanding memories of those experiences instead. After all, it’s the memory, not the experience, that drives our customers’ likelihood to talk about, repeat or recommend the experience to others.

To achieve this, we should focus on creating one or two emotional highpoints late in an experience, while ensuring that nothing else is diabolical along the way. Bands saving their biggest hit for the encore and the wonderful tradition of lolly bags at the end of kids parties are both perfect examples of bringing the Peak End Rule — and outstanding memories — to life.

So what’s your lolly bag going to be?

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why these things always happen to me here.

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about the Peak End Rule on episode 12 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

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