the magic (and neuroscience) behind memorable moments

if you would ask me to name my favorite brands off the top of my head, I’d immediately come up with a selective, yet strong list of preferences. however, what I would end up enumerating would not be brands, but memorable moments that took place between me and other people, facilitated by what we collectively agree to call “a brand”.

for example, my favorite olive oil, which is from a bodega in Mendoza, Argentina, reminds me of the kind moment when the owner offered a full, fresh bottle of it for free because I came all the way to visit their little production factory (and the oil was oh so delicious, mmmhmm). my favorite body creams are Italian, because of their above-and-beyond packaging (you seriously feel like royalty when opening a box of their velvety body cream), and the outstanding product quality (a patch of cream will make your skin radiant and you’ll smell like a sweet, spring garden for the whole day). the list of favorites can go on and on. ultimately, these moments and memories, which are nothing short of magical, sealed the deal between me and the brands they represent. all these people working behind the brand gained a fan for life because they cared enough to shape unforgettable micro-events for me and the rest of their devotees.

a memorable moment or experience is an event that engages people in an inherently personal and genuine manner, thus creating a hallmark of that event in people’s lives. it can be attending that long-awaited conference that you found to be amazing, meeting somebody special, staying up on the beach to catch the sunrise, or even just unboxing the latest internet gadget that you have been waiting for.

to a certain extent, these occasions do depend in intensity on our brain makeup, and on past experiences and preferences. the same person who drops everything to make space in their calendar for Tomorrowland might not be that keen on joining their cousin’s cello concert, or at least, not as much as their aunt. but the red thread that defines all memorable moments is that they are deeply personal, surprising, and able to trigger a strong reaction from us, either good or bad.

great moments get imbibed and stored in our memories because they transmit very important information to our brains. from a biological and evolutionary point of view, when one goes through a heightened emotional experience, the brain perceives it as an important survival-related event. thus, the big guy or gal in your head wants to record and keep that memory in the proverbial vault for as long as it finds it relevant to do so. if something bad happens to you, your brain hopes that the experience will make you avoid danger in the future. because you already went through something that produced a bad outcome, your normal response to a similar event should be to not get involved in the same situation or to exit the scene faster and/or easier the next time. on the other hand, if something good happens, well, let’s just say that our brains love treating themselves well, so they want to remember (and potentially repeat) what made them feel so good.

the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute has done a great job in distilling the neuroscience behind why memorable events provide such powerful connective potential. in their own words, “both extensive psychological research and personal experiences confirm that events that happen during heightened states of emotion such as fear, anger and joy are far more memorable than less dramatic occurrences.” the process, from a neuroscientific point of view, boils down to specific chemical reactions that take place on a cellular level in our brains. in the end, what makes a difference between the regular and the memorable is the role that a well-known neurotransmitter plays in the memory process: norepinephrine.

on a chemical level, norepinephrine, also known as the “fight-or-flight” hormone, adds its phosphate molecules to a specific receptor in our nervous cells called GluR1. this chemical reaction facilitates the creation of extra receptors, aka ways that “lock that memory into place”, as professor Huganir from the John Hopkins Medical Institute put it. that is how the information we receive during a memorable moment gets more easily stored into our nervous system: it reaches our brain in a smoother manner, and at a speedier pace. thus, when we experience heightened emotional states, you could say that the brain becomes even more of a sponge than it usually is.

this is the reason why you are more inclined to form deeper, personal connections with brands when there is a special moment to facilitate that relationship. it is the reason why you hate your internet service provider due to their network fuzziness that keeps popping up during Skype calls (aside from them offering you a poor service, you also form a strong negative bond with this brand because of the intensity of the moment, transforming you in a brand detractor). but our norepinephrine-based brain chemistry is also why the Beatles had fan mobs screaming their lungs out, why Apple devotees camp in front of stores before product launches, and even why you keep on going to the same restaurant over and over again – you know, the one where you always get your pasta carbonara exactly the way you like it (no cream, folks!).

from extreme brand fandom gestures to day-to-day feelings, memorable moments shape our interactions with the world more than we think. that means that these same memorable moments facilitate a person’s behavioral exchange with the brands that they have around them.

which takes us to your brand. now is the time to start asking yourself some deep-cutting questions about how you interact with others. for example, what are you doing to facilitate amazing experiences for your people? how can you best take advantage of positive norepinephrine-infused events, that make you click in the right way with your audience? what moments are people currently experiencing with regard to your brand?

take a moment today and list all the efforts that your brand is doing to generate such important connection points. and then, see what you can do to better your magic.

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