THE BLOG

Everyone Has Two Versions of Self?

22/03/2013 15:06 GMT | Updated 21/05/2013 10:12 BST

Is there more than one version of a person we should be thinking about? Daniel Kahneman, the Godfather of behavioural economics, thinks there is. He talks about the fact that what we experience and what we remember are two very different things. He illustrates this brilliantly with the story of someone who had been listening to a symphony and for most of the recording the music had been glorious, but just at the end of the recording there was a terrible screeching sound. The person in question reported, apparently quite emotionally, that this had ruined the whole thing. Now this is clearly not true. What they experienced was 59 minutes of amazing music and a few seconds of screeching, so it didn't ruin the whole experience, but what it did, was ruin the memory of the experience.

The implications of this are profound with regards to how we should think about the concept of self. Kahneman points out that this example clearly demonstrates we are in fact made up of two different versions of 'ourselves'. There is the experiencing self who lives in the moment - this is the person the doctor asks "where does it hurt?" and then there is the remembering self - this is the person who the doctor asks "how have you been feeling lately?"

Marketers spend somewhere in the region of £20bn in the UK each year, much of it with the express objective of making consumers feel more positive about their brand. The impact of this is currently measured through questionnaire based surveys where consumers are asked "how positively do you feel about this brand?" or "how likely are you to recommend this brand to a friend?" giving each question a mark on a 10 point scale (or something similar).

Most marketing money is spent talking to the experiencing self, reaching consumers in the moment. We give them a rich experience that is the perfect embodiment of the brand and we serve up the same experience over and over again in a plethora of advertising formats. The problem with that approach is that it is the remembering self that is asked the questions by tracking surveys.

The remembering self responds differently to the experiencing self. It responds well to novelty, we remember new things much better than the familiar, the remembering self habituates towards things it has seen before; it is on the lookout for the new. It also responds well to storytelling. A good demonstration of this is if you take a random list of words and ask people to remember them. They will remember around eight or nine words, however, if you ask them to form a story using that same list of words their performance will be transformed, easily and quickly remembering 30 or 40.

Being more literal with Kahneman's example, marketers could look to use communications to overcome the "screech effect". Many marketers are starting to turn their minds to Rio and the next football World Cup in 2014. Now, we all know that it will be a summer filled with some tremendous highs, but will ultimately end with a very large "screech" as England fail to live up to their potential, stumbling out of the competition on penalties. Now, perhaps there will be no getting over this for the diehard fan, but there is a great opportunity for advertisers to change that lasting memory. They could easily capture all of the great moments together, playing them out at the end of the tournament for people to remember the great experiences they had together, with the World Cup actually being the smallest prize on offer that day and the journey together being what really mattered.