MaaP: Memories as a Platformby Team Strategy - December 15, 2017
Do you know the phone number of your parents' house by heart but can't recall a single friend's? Who needs to when it's just a swipe away, right?
We all seem to forget these seemingly trivial things, which made us wonder - has technology changed the way that our memory functions?
- Do we remember less because we trust that it's all stored on an external memory device, a.k.a. the internet?
- Can we use this external memory to increase our brain's capacity?
- Do we need to stop and focus more on basic memory skills to ensure we don't lose them?
- Do we interpret events differently when we relive them by watching them back on video?
- Does the quality of a memory reduce when we try to capture that moment on film?
Memories matter. They encapsulate who we are - our history, the influences behind our life choices, and the decisions we will make. We try to capture as many as we can, in as many ways that we can, to treasure them. But has entrusting them to the internet diluted their influence in some way?
Along with raising questions for us personally, this raises challenges for brands. An initial brand experience can now be revisited in a number of new ways. Therefore, it can be concluded that this evolution in technology creates new opportunities and methods for brands to connect with consumers and build on memories to strengthen customer relationships.
Memory in the digital era
To prove the above conclusion, we must first understand how memory works, and ask ourselves, has the digital revolution altered the way we create memories?
The way our memory works
Much of how our brains distribute, receive, and control memories is still unknown. What we do know is that there are different kinds of memory, some of which can be connected to emotions and senses.
Firstly, there’s storage duration. Some memories are immediate, some are working, and others are lasting. Immediate memories are not created consciously, but are fragments that our brains stitch together to make split-second decisions, they are wiped immediately after. Working memories are comparable to a computer’s RAM (a phone number we remember long enough to dial or numbers used in a calculation) whereas we could equate long-term memory with a computer’s hard drive.
Secondly, there’s a difference between remembering something (your 4-digit PIN code) and remembering how to do something (retrieve money using that 4-digit code).
Finally, there’s the relationship we have with our memories: whatever smells, sounds, flavours, etc. you experience will be linked to an event. If this doesn’t ring a bell, then think of a song you used to listen to on the radio as a teenager. Notice how quickly that tune brings up different memories for you, such as a bar that you used to go to, a summer fling, a vacation - you name it.
The digital brain
With the proliferation of the digital revolution, our mechanism for memory management has changed, just as it did with the introduction of the written word, and then, millennia later with the public accessibility of books via public libraries. In a groundbreaking multi methodical study published in 2011 in Science, we learned that “when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.” (Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips, Betsy Sparrow et al., issue 333, page 776)
We have begun treating the Internet as a form of external memory - a tool to store information outside ourselves. We still remember “things” and “events”, but prioritise the “where” (usually Google or a social platform), which will be accessed when the “what” is forgotten.
This means that we are (or rather have become) very efficient at storing meta-information about memories or events, where this meta-information includes both storage location, as well as sentiment and senses (primarily sound, smell and taste). “The experience of losing our Internet connection becomes more and more like losing a friend. We must remain plugged in to know what Google knows.” (as stated in the same Science article mentioned above)
The physical brain
On a physical level, the brain is changing as well. Over the past 20,000 years, the average volume of the human brain has decreased from 1,500 cubic centimeters to 1,350 ccs. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting less intelligent. It might actually indicate the opposite. Brains use up to 20% of our energy. So maybe our brains are shrinking but they’re becoming more efficient at the same time.
When we go from surviving to living comfortably, there are a couple of skills we, as a species, no longer require. By moving into communities or cities, we create social nets to help the weaker get along. This also means that some people now have the time and liberty to focus on advanced, complicated studies, which in turn advances the human race.
This may cause a wide array of seemingly dull and strenuous tasks to become significantly easier in the near future.
Where we once had discussions on whether or not calculators were dumbing us down, today we're advancing towards the possibility of offloading even more complex tasks. Navigating, for instance, is a lot easier than it was just a couple of years ago thanks to technological advancements. Whereas once had to memorise journeys, stop and use paper maps or pay attention to signposts, today we rely on GPS to assist us - telling us what to do and exactly when we need to do it. Another task that has become easier and faster to execute over the past few years is cab hailing. Instead of waving your arm in the pouring rain, spotting a cab, grabbing its attention, we now have a multitude of apps offering convenient ride services.
The metaphysical brain
How do we use our newfound free time? Do we invest it in useful things? Do we use this time to relax? This answer, of course, depends heavily on the individual.
An increasing number of people are spending their time on social media. While social media can yield enormous benefits, like the ability to stay in touch with family and friends in different areas of the globe, it also has a knack for trapping us at our screens - scrolling for hours, engaged in seemingly meaningless activities. This behavior is then stimulated and artificially boosted via each social media platforms’ algorithms.
Whereas, this time could also be used productively to come up with ideas and contemplate other matters.
Who is to say what’s wrong or right. Isn’t freedom about (among other things) having the liberty to invest time where we see fit? Probably so. Regardless, it is important to inform ourselves about the consequences of our invested time with regards to personal development and, depending on philanthropic motives, society.
It's safe to say that the digital revolution has indeed significantly altered the way we create memories.
Based on the aforementioned information, we propose 4 methodologies brands can utilise to become more memorable (in every sense of the word).
Connecting with consumers in the digital era
1. Act like a friend, not like a firm
[My] memory also contains the feelings of my mind
- St. Augustine, 4th Century AD (Confessions and Enchiridion, Chapter XIV)
Whereas it is difficult to remember specific messages you once received, your attitude or feelings towards something (or someone) generally survive longer. The following might sound familiar - you remember the candies your nanna gave you back in the day. You probably can’t remember the exact name of the brand or how it looked, but you remember the feelings that accompanied it. So as a result, when you stumble upon the candy one day in a store, it will evoke a feeling of nostalgia. Another example is that you’re aware of the fact that you like your friends, but naming events or communication you had that articulate precisely why you like them is easier said than done. Which is, in a way, the poetic side of experiencing feelings: the sources or reasons for these are often mystifying.
As a brand, you can explore this poetic side by creating a brand personality that is clear and translatable to any conversational touchpoint, both for internal communication and external:
- What is the position of your brand in life and society?
- What does it find important, funny, and what does it get angry about?
- What kind of language does it use?
- What would its instinctive response be to big wins and big losses?
When the brand personality is clear, it will potentially create a spontaneous, individual, emotional connection with customers. What is needed is an approach towards your customers that reflects a purpose which goes deeper than your products and services, taps into an emotional component, and is stronger than product messages. This way, if a customer is not interested in your offering, you can at least make sure that they have had a positive emotional experience with your brand. Maybe they’ll remember your brand and will have an inexplicably positive feeling about it - setting you ahead of the pack the moment they are eventually purchase-ready.
2. Claim a moment in all sensory facets
Attention is scarce. To increase your chances of leaving a lasting and memorable impression, we can apply a very rudimentary strategy. The more senses we use at any given moment, the more memory systems (implicit, explicit, olfactory) are activated and the bigger the impact on our memory storage. You may not remember what you ate at the restaurant on your latest trip to Italy, but the thoughts of the sound of crickets and the smell of rosemary during your dinner turn the memory of the restaurant into a great one.
When you reach out to all five senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound), chances increase significantly that, after a said period, the subject will still remember bits and pieces. For example, Orangina not only created a unique flavour and fun colour combination, but they also crafted a unique bottle to define how the drink feels. The round bottle is probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think about Orangina. In fact, it’s designed to not only represent the shape of an orange, but also the fruit’s texture, thus employing sight, touch, smell, and taste.
However, it is vital to have the sensory experiences complement each other. Too-loud colours and rough, wooden packaging might not fit your toilet paper brand, for example.
So how do you claim a moment in all sensory facets? A controlled environment helps you deliver the right message. An example of this is sampling or displaying the offering at events (or maybe your product is the event itself?). Also, outdoor advertising or sponsorships work well. Nowadays, VR and AR can help to make a more sensorial connection with customers.
3. Make experiences effortlessly shareable & searchable
Living life via a screen is becoming the norm. Iconic for this transition is the photo series of crowds at Apple Keynote since 2008. Years ago, everyone tried to have direct eye contact with Steve Jobs. Nowadays, the crowd preference has shifted to iContact - a.k.a. filming the presentation on their phones.
New and upcoming technologies such as Snap Spectacles, Google Glasses, 360° streaming, and VR make us assume that the trend of living through screens will not easily disappear. Marketers should be reflexive and think about how their work will be shared by and with others.
Your marketing efforts will have two life cycles.
1) The first life is the original communication (our own memories)
2) The second life is ignited via sharing and re-experiencing (outsourced memories stored in the cloud, accessible to anyone)
In order to control of second life, it will be key to make sure people share your communication on your terms. Make sharing easy and provide tools to easily share the moment. If your sharing experience is the easiest method (or creates added value), people will use it instead of less-controllable alternatives.
Sponsored filters, hashtags, Facebook local check-ins, QR codes, etc. were the first shot at monitoring and controlling online communication. However, we need to think further: would it be possible to recognise your product, service or event automatically through AI (e.g. Blippar App)? Can you reach out to your customer in a personalised manner at contact points to encourage them to share, e.g. Chatbot-initiated messages and push notifications?
More and more people are getting to know products and events through these online (shared) representations. As a company, you should strive to have some control over this content to make these experiences as rich as possible. Rich experiences are better remembered, remember?
A great example of the above is the recently launched Snapchat ‘Crowd Surf’ feature. By using crowd-sourced Snapchat video material and AI, Snapchat was able to generate a full concert video from the merged clips, with as little interruptions as possible within each song. The collage allowed viewers to experience the concert from different angles, as if they were part of the crowd.
The recent democratisation of VR headsets and equipment leads us to believe that (live) VR event experiences are on the verge of a breakthrough. In the meantime, they enhance live streaming, preferably via multiple sources, to boost the experience. The key takeaway is that brands need to ensure they're providing a unique, rich feeling to the screen-experiencers by offering a behind-the-scenes view or Q&A with the artist. This doesn’t solely apply to events - IKEA’s new AR application is an excellent example of bringing a product to life.
4. When all else fails, create frequent and unexpected micro-moments
Several constraints may hinder you in creating unique experiences, notably, logistics. Budget and time limitations don’t make the above impossible, they just make it more difficult to achieve.
Lucky for us, there is another way to hack into our memories via short-term memory creation. Relevant, frequent and unexpected micro-moments can provide a way into our customers’ brains. Research has found that, depending on your familiarity with the topic and the difficulty of the task, it takes an average of 1 to 7 repetitions of a message to store it as long-time memory. Provided the person actually intends to remember it and is observant. This isn’t a default in advertising, but you can increase the chances of customers paying attention.
To do so, act on surprise, relevance and originality. Send your audience surprising, creative and customised messages via various channels. Our data-fuelled society makes it possible to plan these personalised communication strategies on an almost individual scale. So do it!
Besides the historical evolution of memory, we can now also consult our digital brain. This presents us with a number of new ways to connect with consumers, but also demands a review of how we try to connect with them.
In order to establish and strengthen this relationship companies have to make sure they:
- Act like a friend, not like a firm.
- Claim a moment in all sensory facets.
- Make experiences effortlessly shareable and searchable.
- And when all else fails, create frequent and unexpected micro-moments.