News & Views

Opinion / The Memory Conundrum

by Arif Haq

Why do women have more than one child? By which I mean why after the traumatic and excruciating experience of giving birth, why do women even contemplate doing it all over again?

The reason is rooted in the difference between our experience of something and our memory of it. We cannot explicitly recall experiences like the pain of childbirth (or a more generic, marketing-related example – the feeling of a cold fizzy drink on a hot summer day) but the closest our brains get is by accessing our memory of the experience. Memory has a voice – not dissimilar to the voice that’s reading these words to you inside your head right now – experience does not.

Daniel Kahneman discusses the phrase, ‘it ruined the experience’ to show how we tend to confuse experience and memory all the time; nothing can go back in time and the change the actual experience you had of something, but the memory of that experience can easily be subverted depending on what associations our brains make afterwords.

This is the reason why concepts like the Peak-end rule exist (Matt Watkinson discussed this during his presentation at our Now / Next / Why events earlier this year). If we have one small good experience at the end of a generally terrible one we will tend to remember the whole experience as not all that bad upon reflection. Anyone who has complained at the end of a poor meal in the restaurant, only to be given 10% off the bill and a free pudding will know what I mean. 

All of this, of course, has implications for our clients because it works in the opposite way too; one single poor or inconsistent brand experience can subvert what might have been until then many years of positive brand memories.

Twelve years ago, when I joined PepsiCo, a FMCG client had to look after a relatively small range of brand communication touchpoints. Apart from the product and packaging itself, there was TV, outdoor, print, PR, even perhaps radio for those feeling whimsical. ‘Digital’ meant having a website with some product information and the latest campaign assets on the homepage.

But today, the wide range of social media and rapidly evolving analytics coupled with the tyranny of ‘Uber’s Children’ (Adam Morgan’s term for describing you and me; history’s most spoilt, bratty generation of consumers), all conspire to mean that brand managers must be literate in a far wider range of areas to successfully provide brand authenticity in a consistent way across all of them. From in-store, to mobile-enabled sites, to 24/7 twitter content to customer service hotlines – one of the most challenging but commercially rewarding tasks in marketing today is simply in the efficient administration of all these individual experiences to build an abiding positive and coherent image of our brands in the memories of our audience. It’s the dull stuff that no-one really got into marketing for that works, but then again, it’s called brand ‘management’ for a reason.

Prior to joining Contagious Insider, Arif Haq spent ten years on the PepsiCo brand management in the UK and Europe. Contagious Insider is our dedicated culture and capabilities unit, delivering services and tools to equip brands to be more Contagious.