Making And Breaking Memory Structures

Quick Read: Generating awareness or influencing consideration, driving distinctiveness or establishing differentiation, the key is to effectively leverage memory structures.

Distinctiveness is said to be the key in driving penetration and hence growth. But what sort of distinctiveness is most effective? 

In other words, when a brand is launched/re-launched, how do you strike that elsuive balance –  between being rooted in the current to drive enough familiarity, yet bring in an element of newness to drive differentiation along a chosen set of dimensions to drive favorability. 

The key lies in memory structures. 

As this insightful paper says, while driving distinctiveness for a brand, a key consideration is how much of your mix should reflect the existing perceptions of your brand locked in consumers’ “memory structure”, and how much should break with this.

And why are memory structures important?

This is because, as per Phil Barden in Decoded, we are known to first process any new stimulus from a brand (advertising, packaging, activation) “implicitly”. This is a subconscious reaction based on our intuition & past experiences locked in our memory structures. And that’s where most of the heavy lifting is said to happen before the rational mind kicks in for decision making.

Blog Decision Making(Implict and Explicit processing of stimulus, Source)

So it must come as no surprise that some of the smartest techniques in creating awareness for new brands are those that do a great job at playing with our existing memory structures.

Two recent, notable (and slightly non traditional) examples.

Dumb Starbucks Coffee

Dumb Starbucks Coffee(The Dumb Starbucks Coffee store in LA. Source)

No it’s not a joke. This has been an actual store with everything from the signage, menu, the cup sizes, right till the music CDs sold by the cahsier looking exactly like that in a Starbucks Store, albeit with one small modifier – the word ‘DUMB’ as a prefix.

And why DUMB? Parody law. 

As this awesome FAQ reads: “Although we are a fully functioning coffee shop, for legal reasons Dumb Starbusks needs to be categorized as a work of parody art. So, in the eyes of the law, our “coffee shop” is actually an art gallery and the “coffee” you’re buying is considered the art. But that’s for our lawyers to worry about. All you need to do is enjoy our delicious coffee!”

Rated as one of smartest Guerrilla Marketing stunt by Comedy Central to generate buzz around their new show, this attempt created a social media sensation in just 2 days before it faced a ‘notice of closure’.

Despite being a shortlived ‘experiment’/art installation (or whatever we chose to call it), by playing smartly on our existing memory structures “Dumb Starbucks” proved itself to be an ingenuous idea from a venture that wanted a big bang for a small budget.

And boy did they get it!

CitizenM Hotels

Can you create awareness by challenging our existing memory structures of a category?

A new campaign from CitizenM hotels shows how. See the ad here

I liked how it evokes all the memories that we have of conventional hotels untill it just shatters them, thereby piquing our interest levels in the brand. In fact – depending upon the viewer’s context –  I would argue that it does a briliant job at more than just generating awareness.

All managed by neatly piggy backing on our existing memory structures of a category.

(H/T to L Bhat for the CitizenM film, and to Robert for this riff on Dumb Starbucks. Featured Image: source)

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9 thoughts on “Making And Breaking Memory Structures

  1. I think branding campaigns like this challenge our tendency as a culture to be overly cautious. Why are there 20 Starbucks in every city? Because we know that we enjoy our grande lattes with skim milk, an extra shot of espresso, and lite whip, all for roughly $4.15. We want consistency in the small things because we then feel like we have some sort of control over the big things. But consistency is boring – where are the adventurers who opt for Dumb Starbucks’ totally crazy marketing? Or even better, that funky new coffee shop down the road…
    We’ve been doing a whole lot of different over at http://cayisa.wordpress.com/ – mostly by asking people to rethink their purchasing motivations. Organic is a trendy different so it’s working. But we need more innovation ala CitizenM to break our culture of it’s habitual nature. Unique branding doesn’t scream hipster, it screams clever.

  2. Pingback: Making And Breaking Memory Structures | ldy89

  3. I loved this blog post because it related to one of my assigned readings, Made to Stick by by Chip Heath & Dan Heath. They mentioned memory and what tools to use to get a personal brand or idea to stick in one’s mind. I love how you discuss the importance of memory structures; “This is a subconscious reaction based on our intuition & past experiences locked in our memory structures. And that’s where most of the heavy lifting is said to happen before the rational mind kicks in for decision making” Our minds are making decisions and developing opinions before we are even conscious of it. Our subconscious holds on to so many first impressions and bad reputations that brands have to be very careful of how they portray themselves. For bands, it was enlightening to read that “the smartest techniques in creating awareness for new brands are those that do a great job at playing with our existing memory structures.” I think this can be applied for products in addition to personal branding. Establish yourself using things that people are already familiar with and enjoy.

    – Emily

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