We Are Who We Remember Ourselves To Be

Early Memories Shape Us

When I was 10 years old, I broke my leg playing with my brother, Adam, and best friend, Jeff, on our trampoline. This was back when we didn’t have the fancy things kids have nowadays like handheld video games, social networks or safety.  We had gravity and we tried to defy it at all costs.  What stands out about this memory is that as I lay on the ground waiting for the ambulance to arrive, I was not crying.  I was not shouting in pain or anguish.  In fact, those around me said they hardly believed my leg was actually broken since I was so calm about the whole thing.

I am a person who remains calm in the face of adversity.

Our Memories Are Proof Of Identity

I don’t believe this just because I can write it down about myself.  I believe this because when I think about who I am, it’s memories like these that come to the surface.  I have a history of proof, filed away in my subconscious, which can be used at any moment as a citation for this statement.  Fact checkers will be directed to my past.

In 1931, Alfred Adler proclaimed, “There are no ‘chance memories’: out of the incalculable number of impressions which meet an individual, he chooses to remember only those which he feels, however darkly, to have a bearing on his situation. Thus his memories represent his ‘Story of My Life’” (Adler, 1931, p. 73). What Adler was saying is that our memories support our identity.

Who Are You?

To put it another way, we are who we remember ourselves to be.  But who are we?  Cognitive psychologists offer, “The self is a mental representation of oneself, including all that one knows about oneself (Kihlstrom & Cantor, 1984; Kihlstrom et al., 1988).”  It sounds a bit redundant and confusing.  For that, I apologize.  The mind can be a confusing place to play.  However, what Kihlstrom, Adler and his colleagues demonstrate is the important role of memory in defining our identity.  In fact, even John Locke was part of a group of thinkers who acknowledged “a person who remembers nothing of his or her past literally has no identity (Kihlstrom & Klein, 2002).”

So as we live life, some of our experiences are stamped into our long-term memory while others drift away into the mist.  It’s the role of those memories we keep in our perception of our identity that is relevant to this post.  We each have certain beliefs about ourselves that are formed by our memories.  As we age, the process starts to reverse slightly and we begin to remember more clearly the events in our memories that support these beliefs about ourselves.  At Brandtrust, this is what we call our mental models, which strongly shape all of our ensuing perceptions and emotional reactions and then leave an indelible stamp on how we make decisions.

Mental Models Are Shortcuts

The role of mental models is to give the mind a shortcut.  Instead of processing every single memory in our past every time we think of something, we have a shortcut that helps us figure out how to act.  My memory, over time, has demonstrated to me that I am a person who remains calm in the face of adversity.  This is my shortcut.  This is my mental model of who I am.

As marketers and brand managers trying to understand consumers, the first place to begin shouldn’t be a social network, a Twitter page or a simple survey.  To understand who a brand’s consumers truly are, we should start with their memories relating to that category and that brand.  Psychology supports this practice, as many approaches to therapy begin with an exploration of memory.  We must first uncover the mental models consumers have for themselves and the mental models they have in relation to a brand in order to succeed in making that brand more relevant and appealing to them.

So, is your brand the sort that is memorable?  Is your brand the sort that could be a facet of someone’s identity?  If it isn’t, it’s time to start making some memories.

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