If you think Instagramming your product or service always spurs future purchases, you’re oversimplifying how our brains work, and possibly creating the wrong social media content. It’s worth taking the time to understand the psychology of memory and associations to get a better idea of how we make decisions.
If you’re a sommelier, you get to spend all day picking out wines. There are many to choose from, but it’s your job to focus on selecting the right ones without becoming overwhelmed by the number of options. This is important because our brains can be paralyzed by too many choices, even when picking out a jar of jam, as studies have shown.
How the brain goes about its selection process is important for brand salience, which is important for marketing. After all, brand recall is just one of the main reasons companies and organizations use social media regularly.
When we don’t have all day to make purchase decisions, our brains quickly narrow down the alternatives and we end up making final decisions based more on memory retrieval (even at a subconscious level) than on judgment. Granted, we take more time considering larger purchases, such as a home, or office building. But we also rely on some pretty basic instincts regardless, as well as peer knowledge. One Wharton study is proving just how deeply we are influenced in our decision making by those around us.
A study published by Griffith University states that “brands that come to mind on an unaided basis are likely to be in the consumers’ consideration sets and therefore have a higher probability of recall and purchase.” It also mentions that brands with negative associations, even if recalled quickly, will be rejected. Products and services that can be recalled quickly and easily will have a competitive advantage. So how does a brand get there, and stay there?
The answer lies in our short-term and long-term memory abilities because simple brand awareness isn’t enough. When shown a variety of images, even when distracted, our brains have an amazing ability to recall most of them. Using pictures and photos on social media to communicate about a brand increases the likelihood of those images being retrieved, despite the fact that we are highly distracted.
Take, for example, the image of a Hershey chocolate bar inside a s’mores with the marshmallow oozing out the side. Networks like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are perfectly designed for such content. Even though we saw that image, along with many others while walking through the mall, the next time we’re in the candy aisle at the grocery store, we’ll associate that product on the shelf with that image.
Brand salience, however, takes into account a richer set of associations. The part of our brain that stores long-term memories needs few distractions in order to be successful. Here is where the experience of making s’mores every summer while camping with friends and family activates a horizontal association. One example of a campaign from 2015 was “Disney Characters Shoppers Surprise” where Mickey and his friends suddenly appeared to be walking next to mall shoppers. They were backlit behind a frosted screen and mimicked the people’s actions. This pop-up promotional event for theme park garnered 4 million social shares.
Putting a product into an experience gives it a context that will later bring a competitive advantage. Getting users to experience an event, from a trade show to a fundraiser, is more likely to inspire their monetary involvement. It will be interesting to see if this translates into social media events, like what Facebook plans to do during the Super Bowl.
Knowing that customers and clients are making purchases within limited time frames, and taking into consideration how our brains work during the decision-making process can help our social media plans more effective. Brands that can draw from their fans’ long-term memories while also creating short-term visual cues and positive associations stand a much better chance of seeing results to their bottom line.
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