Posts Tagged ‘memory structure’

Thinking mostly very slow

April 22, 2014

I went to see Daniel Kahneman speak a couple of weeks ago – the psychologist who won a Nobel Prize for Economics and wrote ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ – which is a book I see lots of people with but which even Kahneman jokes that few probably finish. [I was given another copy of the book at the talk so shout if you want it.]

Kahneman

 

 

 

 

 

 

It made me conscious yet again of all the new insights and provocations that have emerged in recent years from the fields of behavioural economics, neuroscience and psychology, and the difficulty of articulating a clear point of view when clients ask.

So I’m going to use this blog as a way to clarify for myself the bits that I find useful and perceive to be connected, and maybe that will be of use to others.

System 1 and 2

Kahneman has popularized the understanding that our minds have two main modes of operation:

‘Fast’ System 1 (the ‘autopilot’): automatic, effortless, intuitive, impulsive.  Capable of providing instant answers to questions like ‘what’s 2 + 2?’, interpreting facial expressions, grabbing a favourite brand off the shelf or driving a familiar route, and so much more.

‘Slow’ System 2 (the ‘pilot’): conscious, effortful, evaluative, voluntary.  What we use when we have to pay attention – e.g. to answer questions like ’What’s 24 x 17?’ or ‘Who might be the next Man United manager?’, or choose an important gift, or park in a difficult space.

We assume we are primarily guided by System 2 – that we are rational, reasoning beings – but actually System 2 is the back-up mode that kicks in only when required – the vast majority of our decision-making is automatically being done by System 1. If we used System 2 all the time we would react too slowly and would be overwhelmed by all the choices available (System 2 is limited in capacity whereas System 1 has a huge capability to process every single bit of information perceivable by our senses at any point). And System 2 is described as ‘lazy’: people generally avoid expending mental effort – it feels tiring and has been demonstrated to be physiologically depleting of blood sugar.

A key point is that the two systems don’t operate mutually exclusively – especially not System 2. System 1 is implicitly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. Most of the time System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification – you believe your impressions and act on your desires (you follow your ‘gut instinct’). But sometimes System 2’s reasoning might override System 1’s impulses (e.g. when you decide that the noise that woke you up feeling alarmed is not actually someone breaking in).

Another key point is that System 1 is not, in contrast to the ‘rational’ System 2, ‘irrational’. System 1 generally makes very good decisions, using innate instincts we were born with plus knowledge, skills and associations we have learned over time. But System 1 is particularly emotional: feelings are often the main driver and feelings largely derive from our memories – how we felt in similar situations in the past is extremely influential on our System 1 thinking.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the work in this field but already it throws up some profound issues for marketers. We have long assumed that people make far more considered decisions about our brands and communications than they actually do – that all options within a category are considered, that persuasive messages are read or heard, that product performance is assessed objectively, … whereas in fact people decide extremely quickly and intuitively, based largely on emotional memories which are highly subjective and imperfect.

This connects up with something that has resonated for me in the work of Byron Sharp, which comes from the quite different perspective of mathematical analysis of patterns of brand growth …

‘Memory structure’

I have written before about Sharp’s book ‘How brands grow: what marketers don’t know’ and its provocative but convincing arguments (based on the work of Andrew Ehrenberg) about the need to focus on increasing penetration not loyalty, and the benefits of targeting light buyers.

Sharp talks about the importance for brands of maximizing ‘physical availability’ (distribution and in-store presence) and ‘mental availability’ (the ability to get noticed or come to mind in relevant situations, accompanied by positive associations that encourage purchase). The combination of these two things makes brands easier to buy – in Kahneman’s terms more capable of being suggested by System 1 and not screened out by System 2.

Sharp refers to ‘memory structures’, the collection of mental associations we have in our minds linked to a brand name, developed and refreshed over time through experiences such as buying and using the brand, being exposed to its marketing and hearing about it from other people. The more extensive, fresh, coherent and emotionally positive a brand’s ‘memory structures’ are, the more likely it is to get noticed or thought in buying situations.

Hence the key task of advertising is to enhance memory structure for a brand: to refresh existing positive associations and add new ones. And it needs to be ultra easy for people to process communication using System 1, so the more it uses distinctive assets already in memory (colour, logo, pack shape, executional devices, etc.), the more likely it is to be assimilated (although not necessarily consciously) and stored in memory, linked to the brand.

I am constantly amazed by how few marketers really understand this and put it into practice. We are people who love creativity, change and get enormous energy from new ideas … but this isn’t necessarily in the brand’s best interest.  This has been evident when brands change their design too radically – e.g. Tropicana allegedly lost €30m in two months and returned to their previous packaging. System 1 automatic recognition of the pack was decimated by the change of pretty much all the easily identifiable elements (remember that in shops we are often viewing packs using peripheral vision – which is blurred).

tropicana040209

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course sometimes brands need to change their advertising. But when everything about a memorable campaign that really resonated with consumers is left behind I feel very uncomfortable. Lloyds Bank recently ‘relaunched’ (from Lloyds TSB) and replaced their long-running, distinctive, charming and effective (IPA Effectiveness Award winner 2010) animated campaign with something that is visually, aurally, tonally and emotionally miles away:

lloyds cartoon

Lloyds 1

 

 

 

 

 

Lloyds 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have no evidence of the new campaign’s effectiveness but I can’t believe it’s high.

But nor is it usually in the brand’s best interest to just endlessly repeat stuff and not innovate with products nor refresh communication, since consumers will eventually get bored, categories move on and competitors may build up more effective memory structures. David Taylor of the Brand Gym uses the term ‘fresh consistency’ to describe the need for careful balance: to stick to brand ideas and distinctive brand properties but keep them refreshed, relevant and interesting over time.

Yet it is very rare that I hear any discussion of what those distinctive brand assets are and how they should be exploited and refreshed. In research we are inclined to despair slightly when consumers keep referring to old advertising years later, but we should be working harder to understand why they have remembered it for so long and how we can build from that. Where is the box on our brand positioning frameworks for this stuff? The only example I’ve seen is the ‘Root Strengths’ box on the Unilever Brand Key format.

In advertising pitch situations, or when results aren’t looking good, clients and agencies are too keen to throw out everything that’s gone before – whereas the more intelligent approach may well be to build from the best bits that already exist. I’ve been working recently on advertising effectiveness for Specsavers, which has achieved a fantastic return on investment through constant refreshment of the same memorable idea: ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’ – used since 2002 but most effective in recent years. My personal favourites below – so different yet so similar:

Specsavers ‘Vet’ ad

Specsavers ‘Collie’ ad

Next time we’re racing to reinvent some marketing let’s think about whether there’s a case for ‘thinking slow’.