Do You Recall? How to Make Your Brand Easier to Remember
As much as we wish it were the case, our brains can not store every piece of information that we encounter. In fact, the brain has to be selective about exactly which memories are worth keeping and which can be discarded. While this saves time and energy, it may be particularly frustrating to us when we cannot remember where we left our keys that we had in our hands minutes ago,but the “Bathroom Bizarre” jingle seems to be playing on a loop in our heads for days on end.
How the brain decides which memories to store and, further, which of those memories are easier to recall, is critical knowledge for marketers. It can help you ensure that your brand stands out from the noise, even if someone encountered it several days ago.
Retrieval cues are things we encounter in our environments that prompt us to recall a specific memory or collection of memories. They can take many forms, such as returning to the location where a specific piece of information was first encountered. As we’ve discussed before, it’s also important to remember that memory storage looks like a spider’s web, where activating one part can also activate several linked parts. So, if you see an apple you may recall memories of an apple pie your grandmother baked often, in addition to this you may also recall memories of autumn or of an apple crumble recipe you’ve been meaning to try.
Retrieval cues are critical to marketing. Linking your brand or information related to your brand to objects or places that can serve as retrieval cues will increase the chances of your brand being remembered later. On a foundational level, this is why it’s important to have as many brand touchpoints as possible: people encounter your brand in many different places and situations, increasing the likelihood of them remembering your brand in similar places and situations later on.
When we encounter new information that fits well with what we already know, that information is encoded into long-term memory with more ease and is less vulnerable to decay. This is because of the way the brain likes to link, or associate, memories with one another to make recalling them later easier. Learning something entirely new means creating new networks, with entirely new links, and that involves a lot of hard work. As a marketer you might find yourself reading these blogs with ease, since they relate to your field of expertise,however you might find you would feel fatigued after, for example, trying to learn a new language.
Because of the way the brain likes to make associations, tying new information to existing memories in consumers can be very effective for marketers. For example, using a celebrity to advertise your product builds positive associations with your brand that are already tied to that celebrity. Toyota’s “Back to the Future” ad campaign used nostalgia and well-known celebrities to ensure that their brand was associated with positive feelings and a sense of understanding about movies the audience loves. It was also a clever way to work in an explanation of their Mirai Sedan’s hydrogen fuel cells, which some consumers might have found complicated, but felt more comfortable navigating with familiar characters. This was much more effective than if Toyota had made use of an unknown engineer to explain the fuel cell, however simply. The ad accomplished both building strong brand associations for easier recall and helping their audience learn a relatively complex concept with ease.
Association is also a key player in the development of iconic brand assets. These are parts of a brand that are synonymous with the brand itself. Think of Nike’s Swoosh or McDonald’s golden arches, both of which elicit a wide variety of memories with one glance. Creating strong associations is critical in ensuring that your brand is easily recalled. That being said, it is not advised to re-brand or change your brand assets too often: while a fresh new look can be desirable you would then have to start over again building new associations between your brand and the different aspects of your branding, and consumers generally have a difficult time building new associations.
The difficulty that we have building new associations when something is incongruous with what we already believe to be true can also be used to your advantage in marketing. If you walk into Checkers right now, you’ll see their “House brand”, which is simple and affordable. You’ll also see their “Simple Truth” brand, which is eco-friendly and healthy. Both of these brands are created and owned by Checkers, but they are associated with wildly different characteristics. A lot of well known brands release different versions of similar products under different brand names so that any incongruence with their brand doesn’t affect long term storage of memories of the product.
Of course, we’ve saved the best for last, and probably your most urgent question: Why can’t I get that bathroom bizarre jingle out of my head?
Using popular songs in advertising is a beloved marketing tactic – think of the iconic “We Will Rock You” Pepsi ad, which combined the use of a catchy song and popular celebrities to create strong positive brand associations.
Many brands also opt for “Sonic branding” which is the sound equivalent of a logo. Parmalat, McDonalds and Kit Kat are just a few brands that have a small jingle associated with their brand, to the point where even hearing the notes without words evokes strong images of the brand. But why are these particularly difficult for us to get out of our heads?
The short answer is: scientists aren’t sure, but there are some theories. Some believe that the repetition of the melody resonates well with certain circuits in the brain. Others believe a circuit in the brain called the phonological loop, where the inner ear works with the part of our brain responsible for the inner voice to repeat sounds and help the brain remember them, is largely responsible for persistence of earworms. This system is one which helps us learn new vocabulary or even new languages, but it can also latch on to short, catchy melodies and keep going over them. However, the phonological loop is associated with the retention of information in the short term so there is still opportunity for future research on how exactly ear worms manage to burrow into our long term memory.
As a marketer, what you need to know is that using sound and music for your branding is an ultra effective technique in helping your brand worm it’s way into the hearts and memories of consumers. Let’s admit it: although these jingles drive us loopy, there’s a certain aspect of admiration for the creativity behind them. On that note, we’ll leave you to consider The Kiffness' latest hit, Alugalug Cat.
References and further reading:
Cerf, M. and Garcia-Garcia, M. Consumer Neuroscience (2017). MIT Press.