Today, people have hundreds of choices for every product or service, and brands have to fight for recognition in a crowded marketplace. So what makes a brand shine? What gives some brands like Nike and Apple an edge?

The answer is brand consistency — consistently branding a product or service so it’s easily recognizable in any context and touchpoint. When a brand’s easily recognizable, it builds memory equity and increases the overall value of the brand. This works because of the psychological concept of context-dependent memory. And it’s a big deal. 

How context-dependent memory works

It’s hard to remember random facts (at least, for most people). Often, you tie a memory to certain contexts or associations. Have you ever tried quoting song lyrics without singing it? (It’s a lot harder to remember all the words.) Or if you’ve lost your car keys, do you retrace your steps until you find them?

Context-dependent memory means that you rely on the context of where you learned the information to boost your memory. For example, if you learn song lyrics, you rely on the context of the melody to remember them. Or if you memorize a poem on the porch, you’re more likely to correctly recall that information when you’re on that porch. Or if you lose your car keys, you’re more likely to remember where they are if you return to the spot you left them.

This is no different for brands. Every brand relies on audience awareness (also known as memory equity) to take their product or service to market.

How context-dependent memory affects branding and marketing

Context-dependent memory is huge in branding and marketing, and it’s one of the driving forces behind awareness campaigns. Brands increase awareness by putting themselves in many different touchpoints, which are defined as any interactions you have with your audience.

When you interact with your audience using specific touchpoints, such as a social ad during their lunch break, you begin associating your brand with those contexts (lunch, social site). Your audience might forget about your brand when they leave that context (such as finishing lunch), but context-dependent memory means they’ll be more likely to remember you when lunch rolls around again. 

But this only works if your brand is easily recognizable again and again. When it comes to developing context-dependent memory, consistent visuals are your best friend (even more than copy!). This means consistently using the same brand colors, fonts, photography style, and visual designs across every single touchpoint. Whenever you change your look, you bring your memory equity back down to zero.

Build awareness and loyalty over time

Awareness is not a moment, it’s a journey. This means that generating enough awareness to make context-dependent memory work in your favor takes time. While first impressions still have an impact, most people need to encounter your brand at four to six touchpoints before committing.

By repeatedly showing up on specific touchpoints with a consistent look and sound, you can keep strengthening your audience’s context-dependent memory. This builds more memory equity, and slowly, your audience will move from awareness to trust. 

4 ways to strengthen your memory equity

Developing awareness into trust takes time — and careful strategy. Here are a few ways you can start making your marketing more memorable right away.

1. Associate your brand with specific positive feelings and experiences

We all know not to touch a hot iron. That leads to pain, and our brains generally see pain as a negative feeling to be avoided. However, other things (such as smiles and chocolate) release dopamine in our brains, so we associate them with positive feelings and go looking for them.

Feelings and impulses are powerful for marketing. Try to stop thinking so much about product features and service benefits and start thinking about how those features and benefits make people feel. The stronger and more relevant the feeling, the better people will remember your brand.

2. Make your brand approach unique and relevant

The brain auto-filters our senses so we don’t get overwhelmed by information. So when we encounter something different, our brain’s auto-filter bumps it into active thought, where we consciously notice and think about the information we’re receiving.

But being unique and different won’t be successful by themselves — it’s also important to be relevant to your audience. If the information isn’t relevant, your audience will consider the new and different for eight seconds and forget it quickly. Relevance plus unique content makes for a powerful memory.

3. Appeal to your audience’s wants and needs

People remember things that make their lives better. Instead of just talking about your product or service, talk about how your audience has a problem and show how your product or service solves that problem. Your message is even stronger if you solve both a physiological problem and an emotional problem. 

4. Keep your brand consistent across all touchpoints

Building memory equity depends on brand consistency. Even small changes to colors and fonts can give your audience an uneasy feeling — because even if they’re not sure what’s changed, they sense that something’s different. So if you rebrand, do so with care. Keep at least five years between major rebrands, because you’ll be scrubbing away memory equity and starting over from scratch. 

And just like the big picture, keep the smaller moments in mind, as well. Every social post and email needs to embrace your consistent voice and visuals — even down to the personal replies you write to social media comments. People should always feel like they’re talking to a real, breathing person. And that person should always be the same at every brand encounter.

Key takeaway

Using context-dependent memory to develop memory equity takes time. And because establishing memory and trust takes such a long time, it’s important to safeguard. So do your brand equity a favor, keep rebrands few and far between, and stay consistent across all your brand touchpoints. 

Every time you show up, maintain a consistent visual identity (fonts, colors, logo) and verbal identity. Brand consistency helps put you back in context so people remember your brand quickly and easily. Stay genuinely and authentically yourself, and you’ll find that loyalty returned.

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