How We Create Memories And Why This Is Critical For Business

by Colin Shaw on July 25, 2013
How we create memories & why this is critical to business

How we create memories & why this is critical to business

How many times have you been with a group of friends or family and you relive a past experience? Everyone is smiling and laughing as you recall some episode in your life. We relive these moments, we love reconnecting with them, but over time these memories change. They become the subject of folklore and they are embellished and changed.

Professor Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate, says we don’t choose between experiences we choose between the memories of these experiences. I believe this is very profound. In my blog post, Why Your Memory Matters More Than Your Experience, I go into detail about how the memory of a Customer Experience is actually more important than the Customer Experience itself, as a returning Customer will return based on their memory of their experience, and this memory can be changed.

Of course, you are thinking, aren’t the experience and the memory of the experience the same thing? They are not. How many times have two people been at the same event and remembered different things? How many times have you thought you had said something, only to be told by 5 people you didn’t say what you thought you had remembered saying? Our memory is triggered and enhanced by many things, but many memories are triggered by emotions. The more intense the emotions, the more the memory will stand out. I remember like a knife to my heart when my wife Lorraine told me my Mom had died. I can see the venue and feel the pain. We remember key events as they are linked to our emotions.

In an experience there are two parts; the facts, and the emotions. Karim Nader, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, is studying how these two versions combine to create a memory. His findings, which are based on experiments with rats, create a theory that humans and other animals may not be able to remember any event without altering it in some way based on their emotional reaction to the experience.

To summarize Nader’s work simply, you have an outline of facts in your memory based on what actually happened. This would be the day, the place where you were, what you were doing at the time, etc. Then, as you remember the event, your mind colors in the details with the emotions, which can alter the facts slightly and provide inaccuracies. Over time, the combination of these two accounts blend together to create your memory.

The phrase, ‘we look at life through rose tinted glasses’ illustrates this point. For example, Bruce Springsteen, or the Boss as he is known, had a famous song in the 80’s that illustrates this. Glory Days talks about how we reminisce about life at school and Bruce describes the people he knew in high school – a baseball pitcher with a wicked fastball and a high school beauty who could charm any boy. When they feel frustrated or tired of their lives, they remember the good times, the Glory Days, in high school when they had the world by the tail. These glory days, as they remember them, were the happy times. They look at life through rose tinted glasses.

We all conveniently forget that at school we had homework, tests, chores to do, parents’ rules to live by and other struggles associated with it. We block memories of those parts of our teen years and fill in only the best times. If our memories were based only on facts, those days would quickly lose the glory and simply be referred to as days. Not only does that make a less colorful backstory for our subjects, but it also makes for a boring song without a catchy hook!

So if memories are subject to glorification, then it is up to us to create glorious memories for our customers. It is important that we give the customer every reason to associate positives with our interaction. I suggest that designing a customer experience that will have enhanced memorable features might include the following:

  • Pictures and video: My youngest daughter, Abbie, loved watching our family videos when she was young. We now debate whether she has a good memory or that her memory has been enhanced by watching these videos many times. She loves reliving those days. The effect of photos has many facets. They can help us remember the past, reclaim an object that we cannot keep, and remind us of the ones we love among other things. Think of the theme parks that take photos at critical points on roller coasters or at the entrance. These photos can capture the moment for your customer and then their memories will give it context. Ask yourself how you can incorporate photos into your experience.
  • Aromas: The olfactory sense has one of the most significant influences on creating memories. The scent associated with a memory can recreate in the person’s mind vivid details of moments past. In my post, What Does Your Experience Smell Like, I detail the ways that smell can influence your memory and enhance the experience for your customer. Consider different ways that you can integrate smells into your transactions that will help customers associate the scent with your goods or services.
  • Sound: Music can soothe the savage beast…and the restless shopper. Music plays a huge part in the enjoyment of an experience. In our post, Emotional Engagement and the Auditory Experience, we explain how music can enhance or destroy a customer’s retail experience, often playing a key role in whether the shopper will return to the outlet. But it isn’t just in retail where music can play a part of your experience. Think of all the movie soundtracks where hit songs from the movie’s time period intensify your enjoyment of the story and help you relate to the characters (The Big Chill, Forest Gump, Almost Famous). Use this concept with your transactions as well. Strategize how you can introduce music to enhance your customer’s interaction with your business. My post about how memory has a massive effect outlines this.

So what does this mean for you when designing your Customer Experience?

Repeat customers are critical to the success of most businesses. When a customer becomes a repeat customer, they are making a choice to be one. You need to remember (excuse the pun) that a Customer doesn’t come back to you based on their last experience with you, but instead the memory of that experience. As a business that is wanting repeat business, think of ways that you can enhance the memory of your experience to keep them coming back for more by using photos, aromas, or music. Businesses that can do this successfully will likely find themselves reaping the benefits from repeat customers and living in the glory days that are not in the past, but happening right now.

Memories can be reinforced in a positive or negative way. What steps are you taking to reinforce a positive memory? What steps are you taking to diminish a negative memory?

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books & recognized Business Influencer by LinkedIn. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter:
@ColinShaw_CX
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