Branding is all about making an impression.
And, making an impression is all about doing two things– making an impact at the moment in time in which a person interacts with your brand, and making that impact in such a way that the person will remember it.
Marketers tend to invest a lot of energy in the former by gussying up their image and messaging like models about to hit the catwalk. But, by studying how the brain works, we can impact the later as well.
Scientific American Mind explores this topic in a series of articles on memory in their January/February issue.
Like nearly every other publication on psychology I read (and -- nerd alert -- I read a lot), these articles focus on people’s experiences in the real world. However, this research might also provide us with some helpful clues that we can use to communicate with people in virtual environments.
(Or, perhaps I'm extrapolating too far here. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.)
According to Scientific American Mind, “Although emotion powerfully bolsters our memories of an event, it also edits and sculpts the particulars of what we recall.”
From a social media perspective, this is a great reminder of why it’s important to engage with your audience instead of simply marketing features and benefits to them.
The first impression that you make online with your community is an important one, so make it as emotional as possible if you want them to remember it.
Let the engagement be about them, not you. For example, compliment a social contact on their new avatar, ask them a question about something they just shared, or commiserate with them about their frustrations. It’s this act of “tending to your social garden” that will make your brand stand out in people’s minds as one that is invested in them and their feelings.
People are more apt to remember those connections with your brand that cause them to snap out of their normal way of being. As one article explains, our memories are shaped by the unusual things that jump out at us, “like a bright object flitting across the grass.”
In a social environment, where everything is actually flitting across your line of sight, this means that you need to place even more emphasis on the content you share and the artfulness in which you present that content.
Titles in all caps and lots of exclamation points just ain't going to cut it.
This could mean taking the time to reframe content using more compelling language before you retweet it, including images with your content so it pops out in a feed or using optimized and exciting titles for your blog posts.
To make the strongest brand impression, you need to combine both the emotional connection and the unexpected presentation – two things that complement and capitalize on each other.
As an article explains, “Emotions magnify the attention-snagging property of a stimulus,” and positive emotions, in particular, "may stimulate areas of the frontal lobe that process concepts.”
So while marketing to pain points may work well in general, perhaps presenting benefits – and connecting those benefits contextually to where a member of your community is at emotionally – will make a more memorable impact.
From a social media standpoint, this might mean skipping your plans to post pre-approved content from your editorial calendar to instead take advantage of an opportunity to interact with a community member and educate them in real time.
According to one of the Scientific American Mind articles, “People have a more accurate recall of the place and timing of an emotional event than for other aspects, such as who first told them about it.”
In the social space, I believe this problem is amplified considerably by the rise of social sharing and the increased speed at which sharing occurs.
More often then not, it’s a member of your community, and not your brand itself, who will be the ambassador of your message. So how do you make sure it still reads as “yours?”
On a tactical level, optimizing your social objects will ensure that they can be associated back to your brand, even if they are shared outside of your network. And having social monitoring systems in place will allow you to track your content (even when your name is no longer attached to it) and engage with those who enjoy it.
But, on a global level, brands might need to get more comfortable with the concept of social karma. If you put good content out there, people will feel good about your brand and good things will come back to you in return...but maybe not in the way you expect.
“Pleasant recollections activate the brain’s reward system,” Scientific American Mind reminds us.
In social media, these rewards can be simple. Responding to members of your community when they reach out to you or sharing their content in your brand’s channels can both help to reward people and strengthen your emotional connection with them.
Perhaps some rewards are planted even deeper. For instance, what if, like Pavlov’s dogs, an initial strong emotional connection with a brand (either online or offline) creates a positive impression and that positive feeling is triggered every time a person sees your brand’s avatar floating by in a feed – regardless of the content you end up sharing?
For instance, if I’ve met a thought leader and think he/she is amazing or read some of their work and think highly of what I've read, to what extent have I already been conditioned to assume that all of the content this thought leader shares is retweet-worthy?
And, what happens when that person or brand changes their avatar? Does that change my initial perception and subsequent reaction?
And, what happens when I associate that person's avatar with a reward? (For example, “If I share content with X, it is more likely to be re-shared, and – as a result – make me look better.) Does that reward condition to me to seek out that person when I have content I'd like to share socially?
Obviously, it's a brave new world of human interaction out there for us to study. Heads-up psychology pros...the fun is just beginning.
I’m a consultant, strategist, author, educator, and speaker with more than 30 years of professional experience. I’m passionately curious, fairly sassy, kinda dorky and seriously good at what I do.