Marketing needs a memory

In August 1953, Henry Molaison lost his memory on the operating table at a hospital in Hartford. He was being treated for epileptic seizures. The surgeon successfully removed an area of Henry’s brain known as the hippocampus. While the operation reduced Henry’s seizures, it also left him with global amnesia. Henry was completely unable to make new memories. One consequence of this was every person he met and interacted with after that point was effectively a stranger – Henry had to start from scratch with them, every single time.

Now, imagine for a moment that you’re someone who met Henry after his operation. Every conversation you have with him means going back to the beginning. Think of how frustrating it must have been to constantly to tell and re-tell (and re-tell) the same story and information.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have to imagine too hard as this scenario is all too common when we deal with large companies. Most organisations suffer from their own version of global amnesia, and particularly so when it comes to marketing interactions. Every outbound contact feels like it comes from a relative stranger. There is no context and little connection.

I had an acute experience of this recently. I was in the unfortunate (and somewhat embarrassing) situation of having been involved in three minor motor vehicle accidents in a relatively short space of time. Each required me to call to my insurance company who felt obligated to collect much of the same data each time. Even though I pointed this out and they could see the timeline of events in their system, every contact was a new conversation with zero continuity; we were starting from scratch every single time.

Unlike Henry, who lived with his condition for the rest of his life, there is a simple way for organisations to shrug off their global amnesia – data.

Data that is made accessible across touchpoints can give an organisation a memory that it can use to both recognise and acknowledge an existing customer relationship. And data can make customer interactions simpler, easier and more authentic. In short, data gives marketing a memory.

And our memory, it turns out, provides a kind of social glue in our relationships, enabling people to form social bonds more rapidly and easily, and to maintain them over the years. Even when people who suffer from global amnesia meet new people, the inability to consciously recollect those people, their names, the places and times they have met and what happened likely further hampers social functioning. And it’s exactly same for organisations.

Among the many opportunities for data to create value, its ability to give an organisation a memory in its interactions with customers should not be underestimated. In fact, it’s the key to creating a relationship that feels more authentic and personal.

Which begs the question, just how good is your marketing memory?

  • Andy Bell is the general manager and head of strategy at Rapp. 

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