Remote Memory

03 Jul 2014|Nina Rahmatallah

Were you once able to remember phone numbers, but now barely remember your own? Did you used to remember how to get somewhere you haven’t been for years, but now can get to the end of the road without a sat nav? Are you constantly pressing the ‘forgot my password’ button? Is your life dictated and run by reminders beeping from your phone? You’re not alone.

Your contacts, your diary, anniversary dates, how to get from A to B, how to cook tonight’s dinner – it is all so much harder to remember these days. But it’s not all down to us getting older these days. It is also down to our memories – they have stopped taking responsibility, handing it over to our mobiles and technology devices. As a consequence our ever more intuitive mobiles are evolving from phones to personal assistants. Research we’ve conducted on behalf of several different clients indicates that many feel that our memories are worsening as a result of us outsourcing this once primary brain function to our mobile devices.

In fact, the study into mobile usage confirmed that today, only 20% of our mobile device usage is centred on contacting friends or family. The remaining 80% is centred around general tasks, such as shopping or getting directions, all of which are made easier and quicker via our smartphones. We are outsourcing our memories, simply because we can. So are we getting more forgetful?

Some argue that we are not, and that we have always outsourced our memories in the past, using diaries, address books and paper maps where we now use Apps. Some say it’s due to the speed at which we are now presented information and through lots of different channels and touch-points, which in turn is fragmenting our attention. The more bombarded by stimulus we are the less focussed on any one thing we become, and as such nothing sticks to be stored in our memory banks.

Others argue that we definitely are more forgetful. A reliance on the digital world, and Google in particular, is being blamed by Harvard University professors in a recent study for increasing forgetfulness. Daniel Wegner, a professor at the University, and Adrian Ward, a senior research associate at the University of Colorado, wrote in their paper published in Scientific American “Using Google gives people the sense that the internet has become part of their own cognitive tool-set”. In effect our own memories are becoming lazy because they are not being ‘exercised’ as often as they used to be. Our own consumer research suggests this is the overriding theme.

Regardless of the cause, the truth is that many people feel like they struggle to remember things far more than they used to. Part of the reason we are outsourcing our memories is arguably because the option is available. It’s infinitely easier than holding on to all that information in our own minds. So the real question we should be asking ourselves as marketers is what should brands be doing as a result?

Whether digital is or is not a cause, it is certainly the answer. If people are looking to outsource the information they historically used to retain in their heads then brands that can play a role in facilitating this stand to gain.
With their resources and data, brands can have a better understanding of what their consumers need and when they need it than they do themselves, giving them a key opportunity to provide utility. Providing genuine help to the consumer can carve out an appreciated role for your brand in their lives.

At the most advanced end of the spectrum sit entities such as Google Glass, which evidently will enable you to outsource remembering people’s names, details, social media activity and connections using face recognition technology. Presently brands are already using data to provide helpful reminders aimed at driving sales; think of Interflora reminding you that your sister’s birthday is coming up, or prompting you that your car insurance is due for renewal and offering you a quote.

But simple reminders are only the tip of the iceberg. Brands need to reconceive these initiatives as delivering consumer benefit first and foremost, adding value through understanding their lives and activities. Such utility is anything but dull. Just take Nike Plus – a simple running tracking mechanic made sexy and aspirational as well as serving a core need in its customer base. Or look at Barclays’ Pingit app, which makes paying friends back quick, easy and mobile.

Our mobile study highlighted that the greatest area consumers want more help with when it comes to their memory surrounds security. Being able to outsource ID and payment information in particular would please baby boomers and generation Y consumers across the world. So the packaging of the offering is key. Brands need to ensure that they are positioned as helpful partners, not data predators plumbing customers’ personal details purely for their own bottom line.

The memory opportunity is about much more than pure sales, because if you’re going to outsource your memory to a brand, you need to trust it deeply. Pitched right, it creates retention, loyalty and ultimately takes brands into a new emotional space with their consumers.

To reap these rewards, brands need to think hard about where they can fill a genuinely useful role in the busy lives of their customers, freeing up headspace so they can focus on what they want. Brands need to adjust their mindset from sales to service, and appreciate that the point of purchase is the start of the journey – not the end.


Written by: Nina Rahmatallah, Brand Director, Added Value UK


Image source: Thinkstock photos

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