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Imagine your brand is a person… Brand's best friend is Consumer. Brand and Consumer have shared many wonderful experiences together. Some are real, based on activities they've engaged in over the years, but most are virtual—sharing meaningful moments watching TV together or through videos and messages streamed to mobile devices.

After a brief pause in the relationship, they run into one another again, but something is different. Consumer seems forgetful of things they've shared in the past... Stories and jokes fall flat because familiar reference points have been forgotten. At times, Consumer even seems to struggle to remember Brand's name.

After further discussion, Consumer reveals that she has suffered a concussion and lost most of her memory. Brand is in trouble! The highly valued relationship between Brand and Consumer is almost completely lost…

What Does That Have to Do With Advertising?

Marketers invest a lot of time and money trying to find creative ideas that will break through clutter and engage the attention of the consumer. In the digital age, this important attention-getting activity is frequently described as "feeding the top of the sales funnel."

But as marketers, we should never forget that what lies at the bottom of the funnel, from a business standpoint, is not just sales—it's the brand, and everything that it stands for.

Making Memories—and Keeping Them

As our opening story illustrates, a brand should be thought of as a complex set of memories built up over time. If the memories are lost, the brand is lost. Or more importantly, if new advertising fails to leave memories linked to the brand, advertising is ineffective.

From a psychological standpoint, if the top of the funnel is about attention then the bottom of the funnel is about memory.

And neither attention nor memory is as simple as we think.

For one thing, emotion plays a key role in both mental processes, linking the top to the bottom of the funnel. We are more likely to both pay attention to, and to remember, the things we care about.

Distinct Memory Systems

To help simplify, we can borrow framework from neuroscience and the advertising hierarchy-of-effects [PDF] model to describe three distinct memory systems in the mind that help co-create successful advertising.

  1. Think—Semantic memory; where concepts, facts, and figures are stored
  2. Feel—Episodic memory; associated with personal or autobiographical experiences
  3. Do—Procedural memory; associated with physical memories (e.g., driving a car, playing a guitar, holding a spoon)

I'll use Volkswagen's famous Super Bowl commercial "The Force" from a few years back as an example. It's an ad that not only got a lot of attention but also sold a lot of cars.

Based on our research, we know that ads are stored in memory in chunks, so that some moments in visual storytelling stand out more than others. These "peak moments" are the keys to understanding how long-term brand memories are created. We also understand that brand memories come in the three "flavors" as described above.

In the VW example, most of the peak moments from the ad fall into the Feel category as the boy struggles to find the Force in his interactions.

But two of the most powerful memories, which go into the Do memory system, are about the sensation of touch—the Dad pressing the radio key to start the car remotely and the physical roar of the car as it starts, surprising Little Darth.

Finally, there is one peak image that is a Think memory, which is the price of the car.

So, one of the secrets of this ad's success is that it’s plugging emotionally charged meaning into all three memory systems of the brain: Feel + Do + Think.

Is this framework easy to execute in advertising? Not at all.

However, it's crucial for understanding the consumer's relationship with the brand. As our opening depiction of Brand and Consumer's relationship helps illustrate, without memory, the relationship deteriorates until it no longer exists. Indeed, without a relationship with the brand, the consumer is not likely to purchase or, at the very least, maintain any sort of loyalty long term.

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image of Charles Young

Charles Young is CEO and founder at Ameritest, a provider of brand strategy and communication testing.

LinkedIn: Charles Young