The Value of Remembering: Memory, Part 2

B0007066 Memory Credit: Neil Webb. Wellcome Images Illustration showing the number of different processes carried out by the human brain on an daily basis. The brain is responsible for all cognitive function including calculation, learning and memory, path finding and landmark recognition, logical thinking etc. Digital artwork/Computer graphic 2008 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK, see

Unlike tracking the return on investment on a marketing campaign, it’s hard to quantify the value of memory. This is true of human memory and institutional memory, as both influence marketing decisions, consumer behavior and resulting growth.

Human memory we know something about. It’s an individual thing, as Psychology Today explains:

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Memory makes us. If we couldn’t recall the who, what, where, and when of our everyday lives, we would never be able to manage. We mull over ideas in the present with our short-term (or working) memory, while we store past events and learned meanings in our long-term (episodic or semantic) memory. What’s more, memory is malleable.

Institutional memory may seem more vague, though its relevance in our every pursuit is vital. This is how Wikipedia lays out the concept:

Institutional memory is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people. As it transcends the individual, it requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group.


How these intersect — or don’t — gets complicated. We all carry bags full of memories, both personal and from circles we share with others. For now, let’s leave them at the door.

Last month’s column discussed memory in a general way. The focus was on brain fog: its impact on our recollection of the past, perceived or real, and how it impacts our ability to think clearly in the present or to make decisions for the future.

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In creating strategies to grow a business, our first step always is to examine past (where we’ve been),  present (where we are), and future (where we want to be). Unfortunately, all these years I’ve mistakenly assumed there is a present. I’m now (or should I say then) learning that scientists say there actually is no present. Only past and future. Which explains a lot. We’re moving so fast, there is no now.

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According to Marcelo Gleiser in “The Nature of Reality”:

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“Now” is not only a cognitive illusion but also a mathematical trick, related to how we define space and time quantitatively. One way of seeing this is to recognize that the notion of “present,” as sandwiched between past and future, is simply a useful hoax. After all, if the present is a moment in time without duration, it can’t exist. What does exist is the recent memory of the immediate past and the expectation of the near future. We link past and future through the conceptual notion of a present, of “now.” But all that we have is the accumulated memory of the past — stored in biological or various recording devices — and the expectation of the future.


All we have is the accumulated memory of the past and the expectation of the future? Well, there goes our solid footing. No now? The past is gone. The future uncertain. Help!

I digress.

That last column introduced an exploration of memory and left off this way:

It’s hard to see where we’re going. Connecting the dots — especially between big subjects like memory and the day-to-day of business growth, personal growth or creative process — takes time.

Personal or professional, day-to-day growth is something most of us strive for. It happens in many ways. To grow personally, we take a class, join a club, attend a show, listen to a talk, observe a view, read a book, get a coach, trust our kids, run a race. To advance a business or creative pursuit, we invest time, innovation, money, creativity and know-how to develop a good product and a good market.

You can play a mean guitar, write a good book, build a better robot, but, like it or not, growth is a direct reflection of marketing. And marketing, believe it or not, relies wholly on memory.

Brain fog can muddy our thinking, and Illusion, deception, wishful thinking and forgetfulness can shape our choices. A question of mind over matter, some would say we’re victims influenced by media, peer pressure, marketing. Truth is, most choices are ours.

You. If marketers had their way. / via
Us. If we forget to think for ourselves. / via

While certain choices are made for us, some are easier left to others, often creating a lemming effect. Many choices — most in fact — we own. Potent marketing can only be countered by the power of consumer choice, lending the audience control and a voice. While choice takes time, energy, thought and hard work, why be the swayee when you can be the swayer? When a consumer or audience remembers a product, it’s usually in response to a campaign that remembers and speaks to its audience.

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In an article on internal influences in consumer behavior through memory, Dr. Jill Novak says “marketing . . .  can be effective only if the consumer correctly understands the messages and remembers them when needed. Memory refers to a consumer’s ability to understand the marketing messages and assign them value and meaning. Value and meaning always together.”

Seemingly basic things like color, font, simplicity and consistency of message can’t be underestimated. Imagery (i.e. brand elements) combined with characteristics of the message’s receiver or consumer — their familiarity, involvement, expectations — plus the intensity, framing and timing (i.e. the environment) of the message or experience will ultimately determine how much growth takes place.

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While each of these is very important, if only three things can be absorbed at one time, don’t shortcut simplicity and consistency of message, involvement (engagement) of audience and framing (integration) of campaign.

As it takes the human brain eight impressions of the same message to have it really sink in, this one bears repeating: Understand the marketing messages and assign them value and meaning. Always together. The relationship between memory and marketing drives the decisions made by marketers to lure consumers. The same relationship drives decisions made by consumers to bite or not to bite. Marketing is indeed an intersection of art and science. The value of good marketing can be measured in its memory – a reminder that a good memory is priceless.

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Leslie Cargill
Leslie Cargill is a “smarketer” and communicator, privileged to work with leading brands like Boston Ballet, United Way, the Museum of Science and the Boston Red Sox. From baseball to ballet, she advances experience-based programs in the arts, tourism, education, entertainment, healthcare, fitness and sports. While the goal is to retain and grow an existing base of business, the trick is in developing new or "non-traditional" audiences. She was Director of Marketing and Communications with Boston Ballet before returning to her consulting practice where she serves as advisor, project manager and interim CMO for her clients. She believes in a good mix of marketing basics, a campaign approach, and both program and institutional strategies in branding, positioning, messaging and communicating. A dyed-in-the wool New Englander, she splits her time between Boston and her family home on the coast of Maine. She can be reached at Or call Leslie at 617.913.9000.