Now that you’ve started reading this column, I want to ask you: Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning? Do you remember the clothes you had yesterday? Memory is the result of a neural process that is made up of a group of systems, each of which plays a different role in creating, storing, and retrieving memories. When the brain processes information normally, all these different systems work seamlessly together to provide cohesive thinking.
Memory is a concept that refers to the process of remembering and as such, scientists have discovered that this is a very complex process and that it does not have a particular location in the brain, but rather it is an all-encompassing process.
In this column we are going to talk about some initial concepts of memory as a key aspect of neuromarketing and in following columns we will expand the definitions and examples. As we explained in the previous publication, attention, memory and emotion are key concepts and the different methodologies aim to evaluate these three parameters when a consumer is exposed to a stimulus.
When we talk about memory in neuromarketing, we can start by remembering that modern consumers are driven by their immediate desires. So, consumer memories and habits play an important role in shaping purchase decisions. It is estimated that our memory can retain more than 10,000 brands (Franzen and Bouwman, 2001), among which are those that we like, those that we love, those that we hate, with which we have had good and bad experiences. We remember many of the communication actions that brands do, such as advertisements, the surprise effect they generated, their melodies, their aromas, their colors, what they made us feel …
The goal of brands and companies is to leave positive and lasting impressions on customers. An interesting fact published in the book Consumer Neuroscience (Moran Cerf, MIT Press 2017) is that research on consumer habits found that about 45% of people’s purchases and consumption are repeated almost daily and usually in the same context. It has been found that, in general, people tend to buy the same brands of products, the same quantities and consume similar types of food. This implies that consumers’ memories and habits play an important role in the purchase decision process.
The text also mentions that the research carried out about memory distinguishes between two types, short-term and long-term. Short-term memory consists of temporarily retaining information to complete a task. Long-term memory consists of our entire biographical history, our knowledge and experience in the world. This memory is consolidated when information is transferred from short-term memory thanks to the hippocampus. Researchers have found that when we remember new facts by repeating them several times or when using mnemonic tools, we are passing them through the hippocampus several times. The hippocampus continues to strengthen the associations between these new elements until, after a while, it no longer needs to. The cortex will have learned to associate these various properties to reconstruct what we call a memory.
A 2017 post on america-retail.com presents an interesting definition of this process. For example, if we think of an object, say a pen, our brain retrieves the name of the object, its shape, its function, etc. Each part of the memory of what a “pen” is comes from a different region of the brain. The brain actively reconstructs the entire image of the “pen” from many different areas. Neurologists are just beginning to understand how the parts reassemble into a coherent whole. However, we are never aware of these separate mental experiences, or that they come from different parts of the brain, because they all work so well together. In fact, experts tell us that there is no firm distinction between how you remember and how you think.
In neuromarketing it is key to understand that memory can also be classified into two types: implicit and explicit. The implicit concept is related to the unconscious factor and the explicit one to the conscious one. In another america-retail.com post it is stated that: “Current advertising research is based almost entirely on the study of explicit memory. Explicit memory refers to all memories that can be recalled voluntarily. When we refer to items such as aided or unassisted recall in advertising, we are asking respondents to answer based on their explicit memory. It is very important for advertisers and marketers to be aware of the effect of their work on the target’s conscious memory. However, it is wrong to assume that only explicit memory is relevant when exploring customer behavior and decision-making processes. This is just conscious recall, but not emotional memory, and both are crucial to understanding brand emotion and how brands are represented in the brain”.
This last article also mentions that: “We should reconsider other types of memory, especially implicit memory. Implicit memory, procedural or unconscious, refers to all memories that we cannot remember as easily or at least consciously or declaratively. It is the basis for most of our automatic activities, such as riding a bicycle, tying shoes, speaking, or playing instruments. Researcher Alistair Goode stated in 2007 that implicit memory is more difficult to study than explicit memory due to its nature, but this type of memory dominates our behavior”. The article ends by stating that: “Memory is not literal, and it is not perfect. It is active, flexible, adaptive, dynamic and subjective. It interprets, makes mistakes and allows us to forget. More importantly, explicit and implicit memory coexist in our way of understanding the world, and it is essential to consider both in terms of optimizing creativity for better effectiveness.”
The priming effect is also important in understanding implicit memory. For example, surely, we have all witnessed that when in the cinema or in a movie the image of a person having a drink is showed, this can have an effect on the spectators so that they are thirsty. So, as consumers, we sometimes make decisions without realizing it. As a universal design principle, priming is “the activation of specific concepts in memory with the purpose of influencing behavior”, as mentioned by the itdo.com portal. Every time a timulus is received by the senses, the concepts are automatically activated in the memory. These concepts remain activated for a time influencing thoughts, reactions, emotions and behaviors. This effect is so strong that in a study using priming, researchers concluded that “exposure to words related to politeness made people more polite, and exposure to words related to rudeness made people more ruder”. The priming, therefore, is a modality of long-term implicit memory, that is, one that cannot be examined in a conscious way and that we then use unconsciously, in which a stimulus, such as a previously presented image, experience, sound or smell can influence the response that will be given later, thanks to a facilitating effect on the detection and identification of past stimuli. The importance of understanding memory and how to evaluate it in neuromarketing opens the doors to a whole world of experiences. In the next columns we will delve deeper into this topic with examples and definitions.
Senior Exploration ScientistatBelcorp Colombia
John Jiménez is currently Senior Researcher at Belcorp Colombia. He is a Pharmacist (National University of Colombia) with a Master degree in Sustainable Development (EOI Business School, Madrid) and specialization studies in Marketing, Cosmetic Science and Neuromarketing. John has 28 publications in scientific journals and a book chapter in cosmetic formulation.
Maison G de Navarre Prize (IFSCC 2004), Henry Maso Award (IFSCC 2016) and best scientific papers at Colamiqc Ecuador 2009, Colamiqc Brazil 2013 and Farmacosmética Colombia 2014. He has been a speaker at various international conferences in Europe and Latin America and was President of Accytec Bogotá from 2017–2019.
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