The real power of a brand lies in memory

by Nigel Hollis | March 12, 2018

I have seen ‘brand’ referred to as if it were something to rank alongside production, supply chain and capital; a part of doing business rather than something reflective of how people remember their interaction with a brand. But to do so diverts attention from the importance to shaping and framing those memories to best effect.

The real power of a brand comes from its ability to alter future category choices in its favor: to make people more willing to buy the brand than they would be otherwise and pay the price asked. This is why it is so important to establish motivating feelings, ideas and associations linked to the brand in people’s memories, so that when they try to make up their own minds about a purchase those impressions shape the way they respond.

Brand is not just a thin veneer created by a distinctive logo, a nice design and some carefully crafted ads; it is everything that people experience, which means that whether a brand adds value to people’s lives is paramount. Experience of the product or service is ultimately going to trump anything else the brand owner says and does. But like everything else that experience is mediated by memory.

My colleagues at Kantar TNS sometimes use a chart that quotes Daniel Kahnemann from a TEDtalk titled “The riddle of experiences versus memory”. The quote is as follows,

“There is confusion between experience & memories, we actually don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences.”


Only exceptional experiences make a difference to future behavior, most people do not think about their use of a brand, and most interactions leaves people’s memories unchanged, even if it might habituate them to using the brand. In the absence of a really positive experience that makes a customer feel valued marketing can frame their experience, influencing what people remember and guiding future purchase behavior.

Similarly, marketing activities that create positive memories before people even think about shopping a product category can influence what people remember when they do come to buy. The influence of this marketing is all the more powerful because exposure is decoupled from the purchase decision. People do not fear being manipulated by advertising because they cannot remember when or where their impression was formed.

Of course, this does not mean that marketers can forget about search marketing or sales activation, but now the challenge becomes one of triggering positive and motivating memories rather than trying to make a sales pitch, helping people respond to ideas and feelings that already exist rather than trying to create them on the fly.

So why do you think that so many people relegate ‘brand’ to being one more thing to do than encompassing everything people experience? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Rajat Basu, March 31, 2018

    Dear Nigel,

    The headline drew me in. I wanted to know more about the role of memory.

    You make a valid point that experiences of usage in most product categories are not memorable.

    In that regard, can you please elaborate further on how Marketing can frame their experience for better memorability.

    Any examples?

    Thanks & Regards


  2. Nigel, March 23, 2018
    Good point, Reshmi, most of the really compelling brands have a visionary or senior conductor who coordinates activities across the company to best serve customers and so build the brand. 
  3. Reshmi Nambiar, March 14, 2018
    Hi Nigel, thanks for this article. This is a simple and good read. One of the main reason why I feel people think brand as one more thing is that many organization structures have Brand as a function rather than something owned by everyone in the company (activated by few). Thus, putting the onus of brand on a team and giving it a much more tangible feeling rather than something you would look at as a feeling or emotion. 
  4. adri f, March 14, 2018

    I agreed totally, I do some storytelling for the products of different brands founded on these bases, it is easier to remember a product if you have a story on your mind, a purpose of it, a memory of a good feeling of an experience. Now a days, is very useful.

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