Maybe it’s a sign of age, a growing reliance on technology, or just impatience, but when I’m introduced to someone now I forget their name literally the moment they mention it. But then there are things that people say that I wish I could forget but can’t. I’m not talking about disturbing, unsettling, or insulting remarks – my mind does a good job of erasing those memories. No, I’m talking about random thoughts that are seemingly insignificant at the time, not good or bad, but somehow stay with me forever.

For instance, every time I wash a cooking pan, I think of an old co-worker named Chuck. When I was a newlywed, Chuck goadingly quipped to my new bride how he’d bet that I was so lazy that I didn’t wash the handle when washing the pan. (It turns out he had been admonished by his wife for the same oversight.) “Yes,” my then wife replied in a frustrated voice, “and it drives me crazy!”

Not only did Chuck’s off-the-cuff remark land me a place on the couch that evening, it lodged in my memory forever. I can think of other instances when acquaintances and friends made random comments and observations that replay in my head like a bad infomercial. Not all of them were sarcastic, or critical. Sometimes they were funny and even sweet. They all had one thing in common. They all occurred when I was in the midst of performing menial tasks that I do everyday that do not require thought nor ones that I associate with any person or brand.

As a marketer, that stickiness is what we shoot for every time. If I was somehow able to do this cognitively and in a positive way, I’d be onto something. The challenge of course is finding these open spaces. And not just tasks, but sights and sounds: the windshield wipers on your car, your laser printer spitting out another page, etc. These open spaces are golden opportunities to associate products and services with targeted customers.

Who or what do you think of when you are washing a pan? I’m willing to bet no one and nothing. Who do your customers think of when they are using the products and services you market? Now we are zoning in the essence of branding. We are always striving to have our company/product top of mind. But unless it’s new technology, there are a lot of competitors trying to do the same thing. Digital marketing has allowed us to better pinpoint more of those open spaces while social media provides a way to punctuate those points.

Open spaces should not be confused with the practice of selling benefits over features. I’m not talking about marketing the sizzle over the steak. I’m saying that these open spaces may have nothing at all to do with your product. What do polar bears really have to do with drinking Coca-Cola? So there’s no reason why I can’t think of your software went hiding my shoelaces, or remember your breakfast cereal when I hear the beep of my car alarm. Rather than shoot for the low hanging fruit of marketing and compete with an army of others, we should be searching out that Achilles’ heel. So rather than the pan, look to the handle.