Digital memory has become increasingly abundant in our modern world, and increased reliance on digital memory has had an inverse effect on our own ability to remember.
There have been decades of studies about technology’s effect on our cognitive function. A recent report published in World Psychiatry provides a great historic overview, and states that “the internet is ultimately negating or replacing the need for certain human memory systems – particularly for aspects of semantic memory (memory of facts).”
As a society, we’ve totally accepted this trade-off. The world is more complex, and we have more to keep track of every day. Our need to remember has outstripped our physical abilities. Gigabytes have replaced synapses to cope.
But it’s a double-edged sword—the more we use digital memory, the more we require using it, and the more we give up our own ability to form semantic memories. Having such easy access to information causes “people to become more likely to remember where facts can be retrieved rather than the facts themselves, indicating that people quickly become reliant on the internet for information retrieval.” When was the last time you committed a phone number or navigation directions to memory?
Brands should care that memory is eroding, because brands are built on memory. The value of a brand is the intangible worth you assign it based on all the associations you have over time—memories, perceptions and a connection with your values. It’s the difference between whether your brand is perceived as a justified indulgence or an over-priced cup of coffee. It’s why powerful brands outperform the S&P 500 by a factor of more than 2X.
To create brand perceptions, the brain uses the same type of semantic memory coding that is currently under assault by tech, specifically, the ability to attach meaning and factual knowledge to sensory input. Without having stored memories to access, we’re required to form perceptions in the moment, surrounded by the noise of the category. For a brand, this is dangerous because the shopper may be motivated to make the wrong choice (choosing your competitor), or the purchase may be delayed until the shopper has enough time to more fully research their options. In either scenario, a brand has given up the power of their intangible value and evened the battlefield to competitors. If a brand lets its memories die, it becomes a commodity.
Yikes, this seems bad. And it is bad, especially now. The internet has democratized information and has revolutionized the world. But it is also democratizing brands. For start-ups, this even battlefield allows untold opportunity to launch. But for every start-up, there’s another in the wings gunning for them. For every established brand needing to stay above this feeding frenzy, the memories and associations people have with you is the only real insulation from this swarm of small bites.
Three things your brand can do to grow in this framework:
- Be aware of this slippery slope and the construct that is developing. This alone will lead you to figure out solutions that are right for your brand.
- Control what you can. You can’t change the level of competition in your category, but you can better compete. Make sure you find opportunities to create and reinforce memories. Find exposure opportunities that drive higher levels of awareness, and resist focusing too tightly on media served at the point of conversion. For example, Search provides an important marketing function, but relying on it to drive preference gives way too much control to competitors.
- Market more, and make sure your marketing is visible. Corporate valuation is inherently tied to brand valuation. This means that creating and defining a brand has a huge financial impact on your company. It’s not a nice-to-have; it’s essential. Make more memories that matter. Go big. It’s your best chance to gain a competitive advantage, since product and service advantages are so easily duplicated in today’s world.