By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

It’s really important for brands to create meaningful and memorable experiences for their audiences, and creating these experiences often requires some knowledge of the psychology of memory. In this article, we’re going to dive into some key psychological components of memory so you can plan meaningful virtual and real-world experiences for your customers. 

We remember peak moments.

People typically remember peak moments, but they forget about the length of an experience, whether it’s too long or too short. For example, we can wait hours for a concert to start, yet once it starts, we completely forget how miserable and boring it was standing around waiting. When we look back on the show, we remember peak moments like when the band played our favorite song or when the guitar player let go on a mind-bending solo. 

According to the work of the psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, we remember the peaks because it carries the most relevant information with respect to whether we want to participate in that experience again. If we had a poor experience and that opportunity comes up again, we want to immediately remember what the potential costs, risks and downsides are.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that we seem to remember negative peaks as well, or even more, than positive peaks. Brands that create positive memories will be rewarded, but brands that inadvertently create negative peak moments will be punished. 

We gravitate toward landmarks.

We create big landmarks around important experiences like marriage, birthdays, New Year’s Eve, and graduation. Brands can take advantage of these natural landmarks when they engage with customers.  They can also get creative and come up with their own landmarks that don’t necessarily align with the typical landmarks we celebrate.

For example, Fitbit gives out their 747 Badge if you climb up 4,000 flights of stairs, which is the altitude that a 747 would fly. Banks could celebrate if you reach some sort of savings milestone. Car insurance companies could celebrate if you avoid getting into an accident over a period of time. There’s a lot of data that companies have about their users, and they can use that data to help them celebrate milestones unique to that brand.

We remember when you go above and beyond to help.

Companies tend to invest the majority of their efforts pleasing those who are unhappy compared to boosting the experience of their satisfied customers. For example, they estimate that 80% of resources are spent trying to improve the experiences of unhappy people (check out the book The Power of Moments, by Chip Heath, to learn more). It turns out you’ll have a better return on investment if you work on improving the experience of people who are already happy with your product, compared to the small majority of unsatisfied customers. 

Typically, people who are unhappy will likely not use the product or service again. Enhancing the experience of those who are happy means they’ll be more likely to not only continue to use your product or service, but to also be a positive advocate to others for you. Elevating the positives returns nine times more revenue than eliminating the negatives. That keeps everyone happy. 

While this is important to keep in mind, it’s not necessarily intuitive. We’re people pleasers by nature, so trying to win back the unhappy people is our instinct, but in this case, our instinct might not be correct.

Another instance where our instincts fail us is the fact that people tend to report better customer service if you make a few mistakes, but you then correct those mistakes in a thorough manner. Complete perfection isn’t always noticeable, but if you make a mistake and do an excellent job correcting the mistake, it’s often perceived as better customer service. 

Your IT department is likely aware of this little quirk of human perception. If it’s been a while since you’ve thought about your IT department, then now might be the time to go and thank them for quietly keeping everything running smooth. 

Rituals help cement new changes.

A final thing for brands to think about is that experiences help us process and reflect. This is well demonstrated in rituals like funerals, which help us process the death of loved ones. It’s less appreciated in business, but it can help people understand when to transition from one viewpoint to another. Steve Jobs recognized this and held a funeral for the Mac OS9 operating system in order to let everyone know that the operating system was gone for good. The ritual helped people realize that Apple was serious about “out with the old, in with the new.” 

Be sure to consider the psychology of creating memorable experiences the next time you’re planning virtual or real-world events. It’ll help you connect with customers and create meaningful memorable experiences around your brand.

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