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Katy Katz9/10/15 4:21 PM8 min read

#Inbound15 Live Blog: Dr. Carmen Simon's 'The Neuroscience of Memorable Content'


Dr. Carmen Simon offered an encore session today at Inbound 2015 in Boston for her talk on the neuroscience of memorable content. The marketers at Inbound were all very excited about the prospect of transforming their content with marketing psychology this week. They should have given Dr. Simon a ballroom because the line was wrapped around the conference center!

Dr. Simon discussed the neurological basis for memory triggers and how to apply those concepts to your content marketing strategy. There was a lot of exciting information which is summarized below. She is also offering an additional training workshop on October 14th for those that are interested.

How Much Do People Really Remember What We Share?

To kick off the presentation, Dr. Simon said that there are two major trends impacting the content marketing world:

  • Amnesia - People are more forgetful because of the great deal of information they encounter each day.
  • Deja vu - Competitor content is starting to look more and more similar, and internal content is becoming repetitive.

This phenomenon leads consumers to question, "I think I’ve forgotten this before." Tweet_This

While this elicited a decent chuckle out of the audience, Dr. Simon went on to say this really is a serious matter when it comes to business because a company’s success is founded on its ability to be memorable.

The problem is that most people forget 90 percent of the content we share with them. Tweet_This

The Forgetting Curve

This is due to something called the forgetting curve. People forget fast at first and slower as time and goes by. This forgetting curve applies to anyone who visits your content without the intent to remember. Think about how many of your visitors this applies to. Inbound marketing is designed to target this precise phase of awareness, so most of the content that businesses create for this purpose has the potential of falling victim to the forgetting curve.

To test this theory, Dr. Simon conducted a study of 1500 people. She was curious to discover how many slides they would remember from her presentation of 20 slides, with one message per slide. On average, the audience remembered four out of the 20. But one-third didn’t remember any at all. Some didn’t even remember that they attended her presentation that day.

Dr. Simon asked the audience today to imagine living to be 100 years old. If you forget 90 percent of your life, that leaves you with 10 years of memories. What would you like these memories to include? Most likely it would be the years that you did something amazing, or the years you did something that impacted someone else.

The Control Problem of Memory

The problem is that we often have a hard time controlling our own memories, much less those of visitors to our content.

Dr. Simon shared an example of a presentation she attended this year in Italy. The only thing that she remembers from that talk was that in Italy, 17 percent of people believe that it is okay to have sex and text at the same time -- that is not the stat the speaker wanted her to take away from a training session.

While your customer’s only remember 10 percent, it’s impossible to place a strict number on what people take away from your content because there are so many variables that impact what they see.

The important question is whether they are remembering the right 10 percent. You don’t want people to extract the random pieces from your content; walking away remembering facts about Italian sex lives instead of important messages for your brand.

Use Brain Science

Dr. Simon reiterated that it can be incredibly lucrative to control what people remember about your business. And that you can do this with brain science.

We are many decades away from fully controlling the brain but we understand many of the regions and when you combine the neuroscience data with cognitive psychology, we can understand the foundations for how people remember.

Memory Begins With Attention

Why do people forget so much? Because they don’t pay attention in the first place. Attention paves the way to memory. People make decisions based on what they remember, not what they forget.

Attention + Memory + Decision = Action

Plan Content With Memory In Mind

Always start your content by asking yourself what your customers should remember. What is the most important message you are attempting to share? There is an abundance of information out there and as marketers, we rarely take the time to start our content from a point of clarity. When you start with the essence, you will have a better chance of reaching your viewer’s memory.

Dr. Simon shared an example in the book In Defense of Food, which she says has a clear value proposition of the 10 percent of its most important information. The book takes a complex topic that’s easily simplified down to the importance of nutritious food. And it even has a three-part statement of “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This statement is easy for people to repeat and subsequently, remember. Because repetition leads to memory.

Ask yourself when you are forming these value propositions, do you see people saying this when you’re no longer around? If you do, you will have a much better chance of finding a place in their memory.

Gaining Attention Despite Habituation

Attention is not necessary to gain access to people’s memory, but it makes the process a lot easier. Part of the problem with getting access to attention is the natural human tendency for habituation.

Habituation is the process of a diminished cognitive response to a frequently-occurring stimulus. Tweet_This

Some examples of habituation that the audience shouted out included:

  • Call center calls in the office
  • Traffic noises
  • Online display ads

Think about all of the things in your life that your brain automatically tunes out. Your audience is doing the same thing.

Habituation has evolutionary value. We would go crazy if all of those things stimulated us. And humans habituate very quickly. Once we are done receiving a reward, we are ready for the next reward. In order for you to stay satisfied, you have to stay at that level or you become disappointed.

Habituation is influenced by two factors:

  • Stimulus internal variation - the degree of change over time (i.e. it’s harder to become habituated to television because there is so much changing and happening, but it’s easy to become habituated to a fan because there is just one repetitive sound and motion)
  • Subjective arousal - the perceived novelty and familiarity (an individual’s personal experience will alter what may become habitual for them

Complexity is not always the solution to avoiding habituation, however. Because brains pay attention to variations, they would get bored if everything was completely simple. At the same time, if your content is entirely too complex, people will get overwhelmed. It’s important to find a middle ground. As a good rule of thumb, “less but better” is the way to go. Tweet_This

Consistency and Variation

Dr. Simon advised taking advantage of changes to draw attention to your content while remembering to stay true to the important 10 percent. The brain equates consistency with credibility. So if you keep little repetitions throughout, people will start to see the information as trustworthy.

In other words, vary content but keep the important thing “deathly constant.” Tweet_This


Habituation and Dopamine

The reason that habituation is so powerful is because it causes dopamine to be released into the brain. Dr. Simon explained that you need dopamine to want to get chocolate, not to like chocolate, which is a subtle but important difference.

Dopamine controls craving and reward. When that chemical is present, people are willing to make an effort in your favor. Even if that effort is simply to give you attention.

Dopamine and Drive

Dr. Simon shared an example of monkeys and bananas to help illustrate this. During the tests, the monkeys were rewarded with bananas for pressing a lever. The bananas are a treat for monkeys, so dopamine is released into their brain when they receive them and this is an action that they want to repeat.  

What was really interesting about this test, was that when they added anticipation of the reward (showing the monkeys the bananas ahead of time) the dopamine level went up even more.

In other words, dopamine is not about the pleasure, it’s about the anticipation of pleasure. Tweet_This

This test can be easily replicated for content marketing audiences by creating a sense of anticipation. The increased dopamine response will incentivize your readers to take an action with your content, even if that action is simply paying attention.

There are three ways to increase dopamine responses to your content:

  • Reward
  • Anticipation
  • Uncertainty

Uncertainty and Content Marketing

The brain only appreciates organization and structure temporarily. So the concept of uncertainty is an interesting opportunity for businesses to build memorable content. Uncertainty can be infused into content with:

  • Alternatives
  • Suspense
  • Discovery

The brain is in a constant state of anticipation. So if you merge something familiar with something that surprises them you will trigger this state of uncertainty. In other words, take a common expression like “asshole” and turn it into a pun that surprises and triggers that memory, like “SaaSHole.”

But bottom line, make sure that it ties back to the ever important 10 percent of the information that you want your audience to remember. To learn more about identifying this 10 percent, check out Dr. Simons website, Memzy.

Now that you know how to make your ideas memorable, here’s a checklist to organize your WICKED content from start to finish (I've been in Boston too long, y'all). 
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Katy Katz

Katy comes to us from the higher education industry and you could say she has the learning bug. She has two undergraduate degrees in Art History and Entrepreneurship as well as an MBA in Marketing. She is passionate about growing her skill set by expanding her knowledge and continually seeks out certifications and conferences to keep her at the forefront of industry trends. Katy believes in finding the unique personality of each client and helping it shine in their marketing content. And she’s not afraid of injecting a little humor or fun into her work. With nearly 10 years of experience in process-building and project management, and expertise in content strategy, social media, and the fundamentals of inbound marketing, she can help you whip your next campaign into a masterpiece.