Visual memory and branding

At dinner the other week a writer friend recommended a book to me.  She said, “Have you ever read Linda Seger’s Making Good Scripts Great?”

I said that I hadn’t.  

Later that night, when I was back home, I looked up the title on Amazon.  I immediately recognized the book’s cover.  In fact, I realized that not only did I recognize the book but that I already have it, read it and had a very positive opinion about it.  

I have a very strong visual memory of the book but a poor verbal memory of the author and title.

That got me to wondering about the methods we use to assess the strengths of brands.  One of the most common measures is Awareness.  In other words, can you remember the name of the brand?  In standard marketing research the Awareness questions are verbal.  It is asked first as an unaided awareness — “Tell me all of the brands of books on screen writing that come to mind.”  Then aided awareness, “Here is a list of brands of books on screen writing.  Please check all that you recognize.”

In that kind of research I probably would not have recalled Linda Seger’s fine book either unaided or aided.  Yet, if you had shown me the cover I would have instantly recognized it.  So is that a flaw of my memory, that I can remember what I have seen in a different way than I remember what I’ve heard?  Am I just a poor candidate for market research?

Which brings me to the title of this post.  

Many of the standard approaches to market research were developed in the 1960s and 1970s.  The technology of the time allowed for conducting research either in person or on the phone.  In person surveys were very labor intensive, time consuming and expensive.  Phone research had the great advantages of speed and lower costs.  These influenced the types of questions asked.  Jump ahead a few decades and we find ourselves in the internet age where the surveys are now conducted online.   This allows for the same phone questions to be asked online.  

The typical brand tracking study now asks the standard unaided and aided awareness questions online.

This gives rise to an interesting phenomena.  The standard research questions were developed around the  limitations of an old technology.  The new technology should allow for a rethinking of how the questions are asked.  It is now possible to visually  show the brand in context in the awareness questions.  And, in fact, some companies are moving in that direction.

In general, market research is using new technology to do old things.  Instead it should allow for creating more robust techniques for uncovering what is in our minds.  

As we learn more about the way memory works and have new technologies for market research, it provides a wonderful opportunity to develop better methods for assessing brands.  

As the late Peter Kim was fond of saying, “Question everything.  Assume nothing.”

1 Response to “Visual memory and branding”


  1. 1 researchrants January 5, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    I agree 100% with this, and was making a similar point just the other day. The web is a visual medium, and there’s no reason not to take advantage of the advantages that produces — like the ability to now show a respondent a corporate logo or the cover of a book or a photograph of a candidate.

    Although, I’m sure there’s a tracking problem in many cases — they’ve been asking the question with nothing but labels for so long that they can’t switch now, since (I suspect) doing so would suddenly make respondents much more likely to recall brands they’ve actually SEEN advertising for, and not just those with the best-known names.


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