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The Heath Brothers Teach Marketers How to ‘Break the Script’ With the Power of Moments

The Heath Brothers Teach Marketers How to ‘Break the Script’ With the Power of Moments

Michael Krauss

power of moments

Chip and Dan Heath teach marketers how to capitalize on an unexpected peak moment for customer satisfaction.

Some moments matter more than others. In The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath teach marketers how to capitalize on an unexpected peak moment for customer satisfaction. 

Marketers talk a lot about Big Data and analytics—how artificial intelligence and automated systems may soon power and enable the front end of many of our customer-facing experiences. I’m a technology advocate and I believe in data, analysis and facts. I also believe marketers need to comprehend human behavior and psychology to strategically deploy digital tools such as AI. 

That’s why The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact is a must-read book for all marketers, and perhaps for all executives.


The Heath brothers are no strangers to the best-seller list. Their prior books, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others DieSwitch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard and Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work are all provocative and well worth a marketer’s time. In The Power of Moments, the Heaths articulate why certain moments matter more than others and how marketers and business leaders—even public policy makers and leaders of nongovernmental organizations—can achieve greater effectiveness by understanding the psychology and strategic application of the power of moments.

The opening tale is of two Houston-based charter school founders, Chris Barbic and Donald Kamentz, who were sitting in a bar in October 2000, watching ESPN after a 14-hour day. 

The Heaths explain, “It was national signing day, the first day when graduating high school football players can sign a ‘binding letter of intent’ to attend a particular college. For football fans, it’s a big day.”

“It blows my mind that we celebrate athletics in this way, but we don’t have anything that celebrates academics in the same way,” Kamentz said. 

Barbic and Kamentz thought: What if we created our own “signing day,” when our students announce where they will attend college? 

Over the next six years, their students—who hail from underserved communities, are economically disadvantaged and whose parents have not attended college—could get on a stage and announce to their friends and family where they were going to college. The event grew to more than 5,000 attendees and even attracted then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan. 

The signing day concept created a peak moment that was more than just memorable, it was motivating. It inspired younger students, who might have otherwise not chosen college, to work harder and drive toward the opportunity of being on stage.

The Heaths describe the quirks of our mind and why “peak” moments and “ending” moments can be powerful. 

Their explanation of the “peak-end rule” explores why parents of young children might spend a day sweltering in the heat and long lines of Disney World: The thrill of riding Space Mountain (a peak moment) and the joy of seeing their children don Mickey Mouse ears at the end of the day (an end moment) can tip the overall balance of a day to the positive and keep customers coming back.

The authors also tell of the Magic Castle Hotel, one of the top-rated hotels in Los Angeles that routinely beats out the Four Seasons and the Ritz Carlton on service quality. How is this possible when the pool and other physical amenities of the Magic Castle Hotel are less impressive than their rivals?

 “Let’s start with the cherry-red phone mounted to a wall near the pool. You pick it up and someone answers, ‘Hello, Popsicle hotline.’ You place your order, and minutes later, a staffer wearing white gloves delivers your cherry, orange or grape Popsicles to you at poolside. On a silver tray. For free,” they write. 

The Magic Castle Hotel has found a way to deliver a peak moment for anyone on vacation in Los Angeles, and it leads to outstanding satisfaction scores.

The Heaths explain that defining moments are created by one or more of the following four elements:

  • Elevation: Defining moments rise above the everyday routine.
  • Insight: Defining moments rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world.
  • Pride: Defining moments capture us at our best—moments of achievement or courage.
  • Connection: Defining moments are social (e.g., weddings, graduations, baptisms, vacations, work triumphs, bar and bat mitzvahs, speeches and sporting events).

The Heaths remind us that there are times that matter. First days matter. Transitions matter. Milestones matter. And truly negative experiences, which the authors refer to as “pits,” matter. 

“Transitions should be marked, milestones commemorated, and pits filled,” they advise.

Then there’s the concept the Heaths discuss called “breaking the script,” deviating from the expected experience. 

“Breaking the script is strategic surprise,” they write, and the Magic Castle Hotel broke the script with their Popsicle hotline. 

The question The Power of Moments raises is this: Can McDonald’s break the script and offer strategic surprises and create moments that matter? Can you, as a marketer, achieve this in your organization?

With guidance from Chip and Dan Heath, you’ll be well along the way to achieving moments that yield success.

For those of you looking for a powerful book that will guide you on digital technology, pick up Human + Machine: Reimaging Work in the Age of AI by Paul R. Daugherty and H. James Wilson. 

After all, marketers need to understand digital technology and buyer psychology.

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group based in Chicago.