Our memory is a very fickle thing.
We are constantly being bombarded with new stimuli and new information, and only a very small percentage of it is actually remembered. So if you want to be a thought leader, marketer, or persuader of any type, you need to learn how memory works and how you can create ideas that take root in people’s minds.
In the new book Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions, cognitive scientist Carmen Simon shares how to create messages that are easy to process, hard to forget, and impossible to ignore. She fuses the latest science in psychology and neuroscience into very practical tips on how to improve your message no matter what it is.
According to Simon, a good rule-of-thumb to keep in mind is that your audience is only going to remember about 10% of whatever your message is:
- “Despite a lot of forgetting, there is the opportunity for a small percentage – that ‘10% – to become part of our audiences’ long-term memory, and it is important not to leave it to chance. I’ve been asking this question of business professionals, ‘What is your 10%?’ – to challenge them to identify the critical message that they want to make memorable to their audience.”
This is a great question to keep in mind whenever you are presenting an idea to your audience. But how do you determine what 10% they will remember? This article will share key tips and guidelines mentioned in the book to help you create that memorable 10% that takes root in your audience’s mind and motivates them to take action.
Making a memorable slogan or catchphrase
A memorable slogan is one of the most effective ways to get your ideas stuck in people’s minds.
Most of us associate various companies with their slogans effortlessly without needing to think about it, such as Nike’s “Just Do It” or McDonald’s “I’m Loving It.” How can you create your own slogans and catchphrases that are just as effective and effortless to remember?
A team of researchers at Cornell University analyzed memorable lines from movies on the popular site IMDB.com. They used this data to determine what attributes make a catchphrase popular and contagious.
One of their key findings was that memorable lines are often portable. This means that they can be applied to a wide-range of circumstances and different situations. For example, the Jerry Maguire line “Show me the money!” is a line you can easily use in all sorts of different situations that involve money: a friend who owes you, winning a bet, or when it’s payday at work.
In a controlled experiment, scientists presented words to an audience and asked them to recall words later on. They discovered that words that were presented in multiple contexts were more likely to be remembered. For example, if the word you are trying to remember is “chocolate,” then seeing it presented in the forms of “chocolate milk,” “chocolate bar,” and “chocolate cake,” will make it easier for you to remember then if you just saw the word “chocolate” presented by itself multiple times.
Another important way to make catchphrases memorable is if they touch on a fundamental human need or desire. This is especially true if the slogan is aspirational and motivational. For example, Apple’s slogan of “Think Different” touches on our human need to be creative and unique, and the U.S. Army’s slogan “Be All That You Can Be” touches on our human need to be a better person.
Of course it’s important to make your catchphrases short and simple. The more wordy or complex they are, the less likely they are to roll-off-the-tongue. However, it’s also important to not make them too cliché – you want your audience to associate your slogan with you and only you.
A slogan is a fantastic way to get your idea stuck in people’s minds without much effort.
Using the power of sensory distinctiveness
If you’re giving a power-point presentation, or writing a blog, or making a commercial, it’s important to pay attention to how visuals can influence a person’s memory. If your entire presentation looks very similar, then whatever message your audience takes away is very much up to chance.
One way to highlight certain ideas throughout a lengthy presentation is to use the power of “sensory distinctiveness.” This means that any change in font size, color, or imagery will draw people’s attention to that difference rather than if everything blends right in.
For example, changing the color of a key phrase or boosting the font size is a great way to grab people’s attention to a particular idea in your presentation that you think is very important to remember.
In one study, psychologists asked participants to remember a string of 10 letters and numbers. When the list was 9 numbers and 1 letter, the participants were more likely to remember the letter. And when the list was 9 letters and 1 number, participants were more likely to remember the number.
Psychologists call this the “isolation effect.” When one thing stands out in a crowd of information, our attention is naturally going to go to the thing that stands out – and that will make it far more likely to become a part of our long-term memory.
Any type of visual contrast will help single out a stimulus that differs from the rest. We can use this effect to catch people’s attention and direct it toward a specific idea within our presentation.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
One of the most commonly recommended ways to strengthen memory is through repetition. This holds true whether you are trying to study for an exam or whether you see an advertisement on TV multiple times.
The more you are exposed to something, the more likely it will take root in your mind. This isn’t a surprising discovery, but it does play an important role within the context of the ideas we’ve already covered.
Once you have a catchphrase or a key idea, repetition can be an important way to continue to drive that idea into a person’s mind. When a company has a slogan, you’ll often see that slogan repeated in a variety of different contexts: their commercials, their shopping bags, their clothing – even employees may be trained to repeat a catchphrase to customers at the beginning or end of an interaction.
The important thing about repetition is that it should only be used for essential ideas. By re-visiting these essential ideas multiple times in multiple situations, your audience continues to associate those ideas with you, your message, or your brand.
It can be very powerful during a presentation to highlight a core idea and then repeat it whenever it’s relevant. I recall a recent episode I saw of Shark Tank where a group of women who create mango preserves would continuously repeat the phrase “Spread it! Mix it! Shake it! Stir it!” whenever they were showing the many ways their product could be used.
By the end of the presentation, all of the “sharks” were repeating the phrase out-loud to themselves without even needing to be asked. Repetition of the right phrases can be very influential.
Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions is a new book on communication and persuasion that teaches you how to create a powerful message that actually takes root and sticks in people’s minds. Carmen Simon does a phenomenal job drawing on the latest research in psychology and neuroscience, combining it with countless case studies, real world examples, and practical advice. This is a must-read if you’re a thought leader, marketer, teacher, presenter, or persuader of any type.
Linking the novel to the familiar
When we create a new memory, it doesn’t happen in isolation. Often we link our new memories to old memories – and without being able to “anchor” our new experiences to our previous experiences, it’s very unlikely that the memory will take root and be retained in our minds.
A company recently tried to pitch me a new video streaming service and they told me “It’s like if Netflix and Hulu had a baby.” By linking their service to these other well-known services, I was given a clearer idea of what type of company they were and what they were trying to sell me. Another example may be a social networking service for business executives which can be pitched as “It’s like Facebook for CEOs.” You get the idea.
This can be a very powerful tool, especially if our product or message is very novel and unfamiliar to our audience. It’s important to always remember where your audience is coming from, including what they know and what they don’t know. So when you’re trying to share something new with them, you have a starting point to help better explain your message to them.
If a person is being told a message but they have no other experiences to associate it with, then their brains won’t know how to categorize the message, what it really means in the context of their life, or what use it is to them. Our memories are interconnected with other memories.
This is another reason why metaphors can be a very useful means of communication. They help describe a new experience in terms of another experience that is more familiar.
It’s always important to ask yourself, “How can I hook my content to something my audience already knows?” By linking the novel with the familiar, you step inside your audience’s mind and create a new message that makes sense to them on their own terms.
Evoking perceptive, cognitive, and affective
When delivering our message, it’s important to evoke a combination of perceptive, cognitive, and affective stimuli. Often a combination of these 3 elements can be far more powerful than any one by itself.
- When our message is perceptive, this means it includes sensory perceptions within a given context. For example, a food commercial can describe the food by how it looks, tastes, and smells. These individual sensory perceptions can make us feel that we are physically there and experiencing the food for ourselves.
- When our message is cognitive, this means it includes facts and conceptual thinking. That same food commercial can describe how the food is healthy for you, how its low on calories, or how it contains important vitamins and nutrients for our bodies.
- When our message is affective, this means it includes an emotional message. This can often be done by providing a story or narrative around our message. The food commercial may describe a couple going on a first date and bonding while eating their meal. In this way, the message becomes bigger than facts, but also includes a powerful sense of meaning that conveys a “bigger picture” behind our idea.
Senses, facts, and emotions all play an important role in delivering a complete and persuasive message.
If a message is solely based on facts, it will only activate the “thinking parts” of our brains and not motivate us to take action. But if a message is solely based on emotions, it only uses the “feeling parts” of our brains and may make us feel that we are being gullible or naive.
However, when all three of these elements are combined, it activates multiple areas of our brains and empowers our overall message no matter whom our audience is.
Frame in terms of gaining a reward or avoiding a punishment
The goal behind Impossible to Ignore isn’t to just make our ideas more memorable, but also to eventually get our audience to act on our message.
All persuasion is designed to get people from Point A → Point B. It won’t matter if people remember your catchy slogan if they don’t see the point in your product and therefore aren’t motivated to actually go out and buy it.
To get your idea to not only take root but also grow into new possibilities, we must frame our message in terms of “getting a reward” or “avoiding a punishment.” So ask yourself, “What’s the main goal behind my idea? What does it offer people in their lives? What need does it fulfill?”
The basics of human motivation are either seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. When you think about making a motivating message, it’s important to keep this simple dichotomy in mind.
For example, if your business is a theme park or cruise line, you want to focus on all the good experiences that await your audience. Focus on pleasure: delicious food, exciting rides, great entertainment, friendly staff, relaxing by the pool, etc. The more you can get your audience to anticipate pleasure and reward, the more motivated they will be.
Or if your business is a new cleaning appliance, you might want to focus on how it helps you avoid bad experiences: don’t worry about big messes or dirty floors, this new vacuum cleans up everything with no hassle or stress. The more you can get your audience to want to avoid the pain of keeping your home tidy and clean, the more motivated they will be.
This principle applies no matter what your idea is, even if it’s not a product or service. How does your idea add pleasure or subtract pain? Why should people care about it? What real world consequences does it have on their lives?
Get people to participate with self-generated content
In the spirit of getting people to “take action” with your ideas, another valuable tip is to include “self-generated content.”
This means to include some type of participation in your message – so that it’s not only you delivering content to your audience, but your audience is able to engage with it themselves and feel like they are a part of your message.
There are many ways to do this and it often requires some creativity. One common way to get your audience to participate is to ask them questions (“Raise your hand if…”) or tell them to close their eyes and imagine a specific situation.
Another popular way people strengthen their message (in schools, presentations, or seminars) is to have short group exercises. Perhaps give participants 10 minutes to think of their own ideas or have them compete in a game for prizes.
Nowadays, even commercials can have ways for you to participate in small ways, such as asking you to “like” them on Facebook to enter a free giveaway or receive special discounts. Or a website may have an interactive game or interface so that people feel that they are more engaged with you, your brand, or your message.
Often when delivering a message to your audience it can feel very one-sided. You do all the talking and they do all the listening. But by allowing self-generated content the relationship between you and your audience feels more real and it becomes an interactive, two way street.
This can be a very powerful way to increase engagement with your message. It also primes your audience to “take action” in one form or another, which can increase the chances of them continuing to take more action in the future.
Overall, Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions is a very thorough and detailed book on how to harness the science of memory to deliver your message more effectively. This is one of the best psychology books of the year so far, and it’s a must-read if you’re a thought leader, marketer, presenter, teacher, or any type of persuader. Learn how to make your ideas stand out from the crowd!
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