The YouTube In Your Head
When most of us think of the concept of memory, we envision something similar to YouTube®. We picture our mind as much like a giant server storing videos of our life, ready to be recalled and replayed at any moment. If we enter the search term “birthday” into our consciousness – our own personal Google, if you will – we can quickly bring up small clips of birthdays from our past. Each one is ready to be clicked and reviewed.
Yet the mind doesn’t quite work that way. It only feels like it does. Instead, there really is no central server for memory. What many scientists believe is that instead of a video that can be recalled, we are left with a pattern of connections. Every experience that is memorable to us blazes a trail through the neuronal network of the brain. When the real, current experience has passed, we are left with an engram; a path of neurons left modified by the experience (Squire & Kandel, 2009). This becomes our memory.
Sharpening Your Image of the Pencil
If I ask you to think of a pencil, you can quickly conjure up the image of one. The reason you can easily see a pencil in your mind is that, to your brain, you really are seeing the pencil. The neurons which originally responded when you actually saw a pencil in an external reality, fired again when you thought of the pencil. Your mind is essentially duping your consciousness and it’s doing so using every image of a pencil you’ve ever seen before.
This is what Israel Rosenfeld argues in The Invention of Memory (1988). We do not actually remember individual items but we remember categories, associations and meanings. Therefore, when we think of a pencil in our minds, we’re thinking of an amalgamation of every pencil we’ve ever seen. Our mind is activating the many different engrams related to pencils and then presenting them to us in a coordinated and cohesive vision. This allows us to navigate and manage a world in which everything we have encountered in the past helps us understand and respond to everything we will encounter in the future.
All Brands Are Averages
Brands are no different. Every encounter with a brand leaves behind an engram in the mind of the consumer. And each subsequent, new experience with that brand expands and refines that engram even further. This makes the mind a bit forgiving. If a brand fails a consumer, it might sting right away, but the mind will usually average that memory into the balance of all other memories of that brand. But it also means managing a brand is a critical job. The behaviors, actions and communications of the brand – both intentional and unintentional – are continuously teaching its consumers and potential consumers how to respond to it. The hope is that when the consumer activates the engram that represents your brand, the average of positive and negative experiences ends up on the plus side.
Squire, L.R. & Kandel, E.R. (2009). Memory: From Mind to Molecules. Second edition. Roberts & Company, Greenwood Village, Colorado.
Rosenfield, I. (1988). The Invention of Memory. Basic Books, New York.