March 30, 2020
We are our memories. What we’ve done, seen and learnt in the past shapes how we act, think and feel today. From crawling on all fours and learning to swim to our first taste of cabbage and first heartfelt kiss, every experience, every interaction, every connection makes us who we are.
Now, that might sound quite profound – the kind of speech you’d expect to hear at a yogi training camp or motivational work conference – but there’s no simpler description nor truer definition. Throughout our lives, we have filtered the important, the personally significant, the emotionally-charged and created ‘us’.
At Rebel & Soul, we understand the fundamental importance of memories to our existence and we pride ourselves on our memory-making prowess. That’s why all our crafted neuroexperiences are designed with memory in mind.
So, roll up, roll up and prepare to be dazzled. At today’s memory circus, we’re going to enthrall you with the different types of memories and how they’re formed. We’re going to bamboozle you with the brain’s amazing neuroplastic potential and the power of emotional attachment. We’re going to inspire you with tips and tricks to boost your own memory.
Our brain has unlimited capacity to store information for eternity. Let’s fill it with memories that make us want to cartwheel down the street.
What are memories?
You can ‘jog someone’s memory’, you can ‘take a trip down memory lane’, but can you say what a memory actually is? From consciously remembering the capital of France to instinctively steering clear of dark alleyways, our memories vary in content, storage and recall.
Let’s quickly start with the simple concepts as the chances are you’ve heard of sensory, short-term and long-term memory before. Sensory memories are short-lived snippets of what’s around you – the gentle hum of the aircon, the whiff of your colleagues socks – they come and go (hopefully) in a few seconds.
Short-term memory helps us work. Lasting up to 30 seconds, it enables us to store information for immediate use, such as learning and then dialling a phone number or following an instruction manual.
Long-term memories are your grandfather’s hearty laugh, the kitchen in your childhood home and your deep disdain for people who don’t wear shoes in the office. They account for everything that we can recall after more than 30 seconds and, in reality, are an amalgamation of information that we’ve perceived to be of interest; information that helps us survive or thrive, for example.
Every day, we encounter thousands of stimuli and entertain thousands of thoughts (60,000-80,000 per day according to some estimates), which the brain filters through two principal criteria: personal significance and emotional attachment. Things that make our jaws drop and heart’s pound get a ticket for the long-term memory express, while things that make us go ‘meh’ are bundled out at the short-term memory station. As memory-makers, we’re the conductor.
The mind-boggling wonder of memory
“Memory is the process of maintaining information over time”. Short, sweet and to the point, cognitive psychologist Margaret Matlin’s definition is a simple way of summarising a complex phenomenon; a phenomenon that involves billions of neurons, trillions of synaptic connections and a quadrillion pieces of information over the course of a lifetime.
The numbers are so mind-boggling that many people try and compare our brains to computers for perspective. According to the University of California-San Diego, we receive 34GB of information per day; more than the 7,000 songs you could hold on Apple’s 32GB Ipods. Luckily, the brain has almost infinite storage, so there’s no chance of that annoying ‘your memory is full, please delete old photos’ message.
In fact, Professor Paul Reber of NorthWestern University claims the brain’s processing power is around 2.5 Petabytes. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of those either, but it’s the same as 1 million gigabytes or in Reber’s words: “if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.”
While this shows we have lots of capacity for new memories, the computer-brain comparison misses a crucial point: memories aren’t regular data, they have the power to mould our lives. We can transform memories into incredible skills like playing the trombone with a blindfold or navigating the globe by hot air balloon. We can forge positive connections of love and happiness with people, objects, countries and ideas. We can – trying not to be overly dramatic here – use our memories to ensure we have the best damn possible stay on this planet.
The memory-making process
Given our life is made up of memories, wouldn’t you want those memories to be the best they could be? Filled with the most exciting, life-changing and mind-blowing experiences? Of course, you would.
Luckily, that’s exactly what we’re set up to do, but before we start boosting our memory capacity and filling our minds with positivity, we first need to understand how the ‘magic of memory’ all works. Here’s our 5 must read strategies for creating long-term brand memories.
Neuroplasticity is the technical term for our brain’s ability to change over time. Sometimes that change is structural, such as mastering a musical instrument or learning a foreign language, which physically changes the shape of your brain. Other times that change is functional, where our brain reassigns the functions of a damaged brain area to another. You know that saying about how losing one sense strengthens another? Well, that’s down to functional neuroplasticity. If we go blind, for example, the brain will teach the eye sensors to process other senses (such as hearing) so they don’t go to waste.
This incredible adaptability – discovered through ground-breaking work by Dr Michael Merzenich of the University of California – enables us to overcome neurological disorders, enhance our minds and create new versions of ourselves throughout our lifetimes. In doing so, neuroplasticity also affirms some common clichés – ‘practice makes perfect’ and ‘use it or lose it’ – and dispels others – ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ (you can) and ‘it’s hard-wired into their brain’ (no it’s not).
Ever wondered why autobiographies tend to yo-yo between the good, the bad and the ugly, but never dwell on the dull moments? It’s not just because readers find them more exciting, but because our brains are fine-tuned to record emotive subjects.
From the dawn of humanity, our emotions – rather than personal connection – have influenced the what and why of memory-making, so we’re more likely to remember where we were on September 11th 2001 than two Tuesdays ago due to the heightened emotional attachment.
In addition, emotions impact the when and how of memory recall thanks to mood congruence – remembering events according to how we’re feeling at the time – and mood dependence – retrieving a memory when we’re in the same emotional state as when we made the memory.
3. Memorability hacks
Living in the 21st century, we don’t have to spend years of deep meditation to improve our memory. Instead, we can use tips, tricks and technological hacks. Binaural beats, for example, allows us to induce particular brainwaves (and therefore brain states) by listening to two different frequencies and tricking our brains into making up the difference. According to the Robert Monroe Institute, binaural beats can “increase focus, problem-solving, creativity, memory, learning, sleep induction, pain control and enhanced learning”. Quite a lot, in other words.
High gamma activity is associated with being in ‘high performance mode’: processing, encoding and recalling information at incredible speeds like a quick-fire quiz describing who was at an event, the conversations you had, the background music and even the air temperature. Using light therapy, we can increase our gamma activity and even fight Alzheimer’s, while some video games and puzzle apps are designed specifically to boost our memory, so we can enhance our memory capacity without even leaving the sofa.
4. Different types of memories
Our long-term memory is not a democracy: memories are not created equally and some are much more powerful than others, whether we want them to be or not. Most memories fall into two categories: they’re either episodic – celebrating your football team winning the cup and the drunk waiter at your mum’s birthday – or semantic – the full-time score and the date your mum was born.
These memories can be explicit, which we consciously remember when we need them, but also implicit, which pop into our heads without us knowing why or where we learnt that information (think how many times you’ve started humming a random song without realising it was on the taxi radio 20 minutes earlier).
Our brains aren’t even the only place that remembers. Our hearts contain nerve cells and have been shown to transfer memories from donors to recipients during heart transplants, while theories abound whether plants and other non-neural organisms can remember too. As you can see, memory is much more complex than you think.
5. How memories are formed
Ok, memories aren’t all the same, but the process of making, storing and recalling one is similar for all.
First, let’s imagine there’s a rabbit with an afro playing dice on your doorstep. You’ve never seen this before, so your brain gets excited about this new information. As a result, we convert this info into the right storage format – like placing them in jars on a sweetshop shelf. Then, we dot these bits of information around the brain Hansel and Gretal style along various neural pathways. When we recall this information – either consciously or subconsciously – we head back across these pathways picking up the relevant information and putting them together to recreate the past experience in the present. The more we take the path (recall the same memory), the better we know it and the easier recall becomes.
How memory is crucial to neuroexperience
At its core, marketing revolves around forging positive associations of a brand in the minds of consumers. Or to put it another way, creating positive memories of a brand or product.
Yet, despite playing such a fundamental part in the marketing realm, few marketers have tracked how memory works. They have studied and analysed the worker bees of attention span and facial expressions, but left the Queen Bee of memory alone. Given our memory guides our future actions and behaviour and accounts for everything that happened more than three seconds ago, this seems a peculiar oversight. One that hasn’t evaded Rebel & Soul.
We’ve studied neuroscience and neuromarketing discoveries in parallel with the most memorable experiences in history across film, TV, print and live events and have created a neuroscience-based methodology that maximises memorability: INVOLVE®.
We use INVOLVE® in the design of every neuroexperience, not only ensuring that they are intriguing, vivid and exciting, but also that they trigger the right emotions to create a long-term positive memory. For example, our neuroexperience study found that having A-list stars didn’t automatically equate to high retention. In order to hit the longer term memory banks it was a combination of factors that was key. Where that combination ticked all of the INVOLVE® boxes we saw up to 52% higher retention.
Come and make memories with us
At Rebel & Soul, we think of ourselves as memory-makers rather than marketers. Well, award-winning memory-makers if we’re going to show off. We work with forward-thinking brands, co-designing fresh and bold neuroexperiences that stir the subconscious and leave long-lasting positive connections in the minds of your target audience.
Combining the power of neurotechnology, astute neuromarketing insights and our memory-making prowess into a formidable trinity, we’ve created a business that makes people remember. If you want to make some great memories, come and get INVOLVEd.
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