James Hammond, The Brand Doctor says:
‘A winning brand is always about providing customers with strong emotional connections. Current brand experiences are important, but memories of past events are also critical.’
Evoking emotional responses drives a brand into the customer’s long-term memory – the only place where the concept of a brand exists. The more memories that are stored there, the stronger the brand can be recalled at any given time.
Psychologists call this brain behaviour episodic memory – a collection of experiences past and present that occurred at a particular time, place and context, all connected together almost like a completed jigsaw puzzle. So when a current brand engagement links with a brand memory, this accumulation of events is heightened, forming a powerful emotive response. Couple this with another mental process called classical conditioning and you have the recipe for a dynamic brand-building strategy. Let’s explore these concepts and how they can be used to give your brand a powerful boost.
You’re probably familiar with the experiment by Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, who observed when he approached his dogs with bowls of food they began to salivate in expectation of eating their meal. He then experimented by ringing a bell (some say he used a metronome) whenever he delivered their food. Eventually, merely using the bell on its own caused the dogs to salivate each time, because they had associated the bell with food.
Humans react to sensory triggers in much the same way. Just think about when you were at school and a bell rang, either signifying the end of a lesson or time for lunch. After hearing it a few times, you were ‘conditioned’ to respond – and it then became a part of your episodic memory.
But it’s not just about using sound. Our brand perceptions arrive through five main senses: smelling, touching, tasting and seeing, as well as hearing. So how do you ensure that past brand experiences are strong enough to be retained by the customer? Here are some aspects of producing effective customer memories:
1. Use as many of the five senses as you can. For example, when customers are talking with a company representative, both parties are using visual and sound senses. Do the words being spoken align with the visual aspects of the representative by way of dress, body language and so on? Does this ‘combination’ create something a customer will remember?
A famous example of memory recall using two senses comes from French novelist Marcel Proust. In Remembrance of Things Past, he describes how one experience of dipping a madeleine cake into some lime-blossom tea caused the fragrance (smell sense) and subsequent taste (taste sense) to bring back positive childhood memories – several hundred pages of them. What’s your brand’s version of this?
2. Create positive sensory experiences. Whilst devising a ‘fear of missing out (FOMO)’ marketing or advertising campaign can sometimes produce impressive results, the emphasis is often placed on the negative aspect. For example, the customer who doesn’t purchase the last stock item available, or doesn’t sign-up for a service by a deadline date is made to look foolish or out-and-out stupid. Such an approach will often result in a negative attitude or resentment of a particular brand. Instead, focus on the emotion generated by the person who didn’t miss out. You can make that person feel proud, confident, happy – all positive responses. There is very little valid evidence to support FOMO when it focuses on the ‘loser’. But research shows that positive, emotion-generating events can strengthen brand loyalty. The formula of a positive past experience plus a current happy experience provides the bedrock for the next retained brand memory.
3. Ensure events are specific and detailed. Vague or fragmented experiences are a no-no. The human mind is lazy and probably won’t spend time trying to piece odd bits of customer engagement together. Even if it does, it’s likely to misinterpret what happened, thus diluting the event and distorting what the overall experience was all about. For example, I drove by a hairdressing salon recently where the logo and signage above the door was totally at odds in design to the one on the wall of their car park. The window sign was again entirely different. Such a hotchpotch of the visual sense is not going to create an episodic memory to add to the brand. It’s not just business cards and letterheads that need a consistent approach – it should be every aspect of your brand the customer encounters.
4. Think about the major touchpoints: pre-purchase, during purchase and post purchase. That’s three critical times when memories can be created through the customer experience. In 1994, Intel launched its Intel Inside campaign, featuring a jingle of five musical notes. The five-note sequence was used in both television and radio commercials, and many computer stores played the sound in their showrooms. As a result, thousands of people flocked into PC stores around the world to purchase a new computer, insisting that whatever model they bought, ‘it must have Intel inside.’
Of course, your brand is not limited to audio logos. You could use a specific piece of music to introduce videos you might have online. And consider your telephone answering system. Who is speaking and does the voice fit your brand persona? Is it male or female, young or old, loud or laid back? Does the voiceover speak ‘Queen’s English’ or have a more colloquial dialect?
Other approaches include items such as packaging with a particular surface or shape to provide memories of the touch sense, consistent fragrances for the reception area, also sprayed on a trade show stand, to evoke memories via the smell sense, just as Proust experienced.
It comes down to this: what aspects of the five senses do you convey in your brand to make it stand out from the crowd? It isn’t that difficult. After all, a small cake and some tea was enough for Proust to relive countless memories.
In short, the brand of today is influenced by encounters with the brand in the past – and paves the way for brand experiences in the future. If your brand approach fails to generate, and relate to, recalled memories, it will be that much weaker. As a result, the customer is less likely to purchase your product or service, or maintain any long-term brand loyalty.
Memories of past customer emotional experiences, then, are a key element of building a powerful brand. Something you definitely shouldn’t forget.