Two cents blog

How good is your memory?

by Alan Kewley on 18 April 2018

Recently I wrote a blog about tapping into the strong emotions associated with memories created by music and album covers (you can read it here). It reminded me of something I read that discussed actual recall compared to what we think we remember. That is, the more we convince ourselves that we’re right, the harder it is to convince us otherwise.

Apparently, lawyers often cross-examine witnesses using a technique to challenge just how accurately they recall events which they claim to be crystal clear. The lawyer asks the witness to describe their wristwatch without looking at it. What type of numbers are used? Are they Roman numerals? Sans-serif? What colour is the dial? What shape is it? What colour are the hands? Invariably recall is quite different to the reality even though those of us who wear an analogue watch would have looked at it hundreds or even thousands of times. Knowing this, the lawyers often put the witness on the spot. The result? “No further questions Your Honour!”

How does this relate to marketing? Well, let’s look at road safety. Consider the person who is happy to speed and thinks they drive better than the average motorist. They create a memory of the trips in which they sped. They like to remind themselves that they felt comfortable; even if there was a close call, nothing bad happened. In their mind, they weren’t really breaking the law. They drove ‘safely’. All good. They compare themselves with the drivers they consider to be the real menace on our roads, i.e. the people who exceed the legal limit by more than they themselves are comfortable to risk. Therefore, they’ve created a strong association between driving safely and speeding.

What about the person who buys a product only to have the decision questioned on the basis of value for money, usefulness, price, features of a competitor’s product or a bunch of other factors? As post-purchase dissonance kicks in, plenty of people justify the decision in their minds. To help overcome the discomfort, many will choose to recall the great service they received, the deal they managed to do, the risk-free nature of their choice etc. They create a memory that supports and justifies their decision.

In relation to this, I read a terrific blog post some time back by Seth Godin. In that post, he talked about rehearsed memory and how we create narratives for ourselves about experiences.  He suggested that we ‘rehearse’ stories in our minds and that the story becomes quite different to the reality. But what matters from a marketing perspective is that’s the story we tell ourselves when the time comes to make another choice, such as a purchase decision or even evaluating how believable we perceive a claim to be.

For more proof on recall versus reality, it’s worth re-visiting this article that Scholly posted to Flock a little while back. 150 members of the general public were asked to replicate famous brandmarks for organisations like Apple, Starbucks, 7 Eleven, Ikea, Adidas and Domino’s. It shows just how different our recall can be, even to images that we’re exposed to many, many times. No doubt, a lot of the people who took part in the experiment were every bit as sure of the facts as the witnesses who are put on the spot to describe their watch face.

So, how good is your memory?

Alan Kewley is a Group Account Director at BCM

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