Jan 27, 2021

Branding Is Memory Curation

By: Josh Dougherty


I’m walking into my freshman English class and see a chair on top of the teacher’s desk. I look around and I see that all of us are looking confused. Ten minutes later, our 60-year-old professor hopped on top of the desk and jumped in the chair. He began to read. His bushy mustache bounced along with the prose. Tears began to well up in his eyes. 

He had captured our attention. We couldn’t take our eyes away. We couldn’t stop listening. We couldn’t stop reading. 

He had made the Iliad come alive to a bunch of college freshmen.

It’s been years, but I still remember the moment that Dr. Reinsma, an English professor in his 60s made me fall in love with a 700 page ancient classic. He was captivated. He couldn’t get enough. He drew me into the drama like it was happening on a movie screen right in front of me. In fact, I don’t think a movie would have done it justice. 

I can still picture the classroom all these years later. I can still hear his voice.

An English Professor, A Memory, & Your Business

Dr. Reinsma was a brilliant professor. But I had a lot of brilliant profs in college. I’m sure you did as well. So, why do I still remember him so clearly?

Because Dr. Reinsma was unique. He had a passionate approach. This wasn’t an act. It was core to who he was….it was real, it was authentic. Every student loved him.

Dr. Reinsma left a lasting imprint in my mind. That imprint is still so strong nearly 20 years later that if I could go back to school and register for the class again, I would.

Dr. Reinsma is a great example of the power and importance of memory. Memory is transformative. And it’s something each and every one of us need to think about for the companies we represent and lead. 

Here’s why.

At the end of the day, a company is only as important as the memory it leaves in its customer’s minds.   

Sit with that statement for a minute.

Your company is only as important as the memory it leaves in your customer’s minds. 

A Unique Memory Is A The Core Of Each Unique Brand

If that memory is unique, you can rise above the crowd and solidify a position ahead of your competition. Your customers and prospects will think of you first when they need help with a problem. 

If not, you’re just another face in the crowd.


This memory forms the essence of your brand. Your brand exists in the mind of your customer, not in your slogan, your logo, or even your company experience... although all of these things help to form that memory.

Think about the great brands like Disney or Harley Davidson. Disney makes us feel like magic is possible, even though we’re not kids anymore. Harley Davidson makes us feel free, even if we only ride our motorcycle 80 miles a year. 

It’s the memory that matters. And great companies have gone to great lengths to make sure that memory is clear and unique.

Unique Memories Are...Memorable

Like most of you, I travel a lot for work. At least I traveled a lot before the pandemic With clients all over the country it’s just part of business. And I’ve made my fair share of evening flights. 

Most of them are just a blur, but there’s one trip that stands out.

On this particular night I was going through the motions at the airport. You probably know that auto-pilot feeling.

I can pretty much navigate from my car, through Clear and TSA Pre-Check and to my gate plus a stop off at the coffee shop without really thinking. It’s hard to overstate how much I just glide along, only really realizing that I’m traveling when someone slows me down.

This night was no different. I parked, put my bags through security, grabbed my coffee and headed to the gate. I drink an almond milk latte if you’re wondering. Cafe Vita in the C Concourse at Sea-Tac is worth the stop if you’re in the area.

As I slipped into my seat on the plane I put on my Bose headphones and prepared to isolate myself with a good book and some music until I landed in Denver.


You’ve done this too, right? Be honest, I’ve seen you. We’re all boarding together, enjoying our elite status. Smug about getting on first and then hurrying to make sure we have to talk to no one. Then you curl up just like a cat and pretend there’s no one else on board as the steel tube you’re in flies the sky.

That was my plan that night. But then I was interrupted.

About halfway through the flight the flight attendant came to my chair and dropped off a placard and a chocolate announcing the Alaska Airlines acquisition of Virgin America. The design was crisp, the chocolate was a nice touch, and it was delivered with the typical understated good service you can expect from the best airline in the United States.

I remember thinking that announcing the acquisition mid-flight was a pretty cool touch, before I went back to my book.

Then I got to the gate. As I walked off I was greeted by a whole set of new signage announcing the acquisition, and the benefits it would bring to Alaska Airlines elite travelers like me. 

I don’t know how many other flyers had a similar experience that day. It doesn’t really matter. Alaska Airlines managed to make a significant impact on my perception of them that I still remember a few years later. 

And it was only a 3 hour flight from Seattle to Denver.

A company is only as important as the memory it leaves in its customer’s minds.

Pedestrian Memories are Forgotten

Ok. ok. I know what you might be thinking.

“Airlines merge all the time.” “What’s so interesting about chocolate and placards.” Or, maybe you’re quietly thinking something else like. “Damn, I wish I got that when I flew on United.”

Either way, I hope you’ll suspend your skepticism. Come back with me to that Seattle to Denver flight. I think it was on a Wednesday night. Let’s imagine what a different experience could have felt like.

In this version of reality I board the plane, slip on my headphones, and doze through the safety briefing. For a couple hours I’m engrossed in my book and then I deplane, grab my rental car, and check in at another nondescript business hotel ahead of my meeting the next morning.

Meanwhile, the airline has big news. They wanted to get it out to everyone, so they decided to do the most corporate thing ever. Issue a press release. They also wrote a blog and sent an email that they hope 20% of their elite travelers will open and a significantly smaller number will read. And then they went on with business as usual.

Do you see the difference? Sure, Alaska Airlines did all the basics as well. But if they had stopped there they would have left all out the magical moments. The ones that you remember. The ones that I’m still talking about a few years later.

Why does this matter? Because at the end of the day a company’s only as important as the memory it leaves in its customer’s minds.


Curating A Unique Memory Is the Best Way To Safeguard Your Business

It doesn’t matter what your customer says when they’re talking to you, how intently they listen to you during a presentation, or whether you close the deal.  

All that matters is the memory they have of you after they’ve stopped interacting with you. It’s the only thing that sets you apart from a sea of competitors that’s getting more saturated every day.

So. It turns all of us who are entrepreneurs or business leaders are in the memory business. The business of creating a memorable brand.

In fact, I think that discovering the unique memory you want to create - curate is actually probably a better word, because again we can’t control people’s minds - is the best way to safeguard the future of your company.

Imagine if I was up here telling a story about an experience I had with your company three years ago. That would be amazing. As an entrepreneur I would do almost anything for that. I think you would too.

How To Start Curating Your Unique Memory

Ok, so what gives? If you’re convinced that you need to start curating the memory to safeguard the future of your brand, I’d recommend starting by thinking through three questions:

  1. What is the memory that your company leaves in the minds of its customers?
  2. If you asked your team what your company does, how many answers would you get?
  3. Are You confident your company could succeed even if your leading talent left?

If you can answer question one easily and answer questions two and three in the affirmative, you likely have the beginnings of a strong brand memory in place. Your task is to ensure that memory flows into every part of your business. If, on the other hand, you can’t answer any of the questions easily, you have work to do to identify your unique memory.

Either way, you’re not alone. Check out our online resources: The Secret To An Accelerated Branding Process to learn about what we believe is the best method for identifying your unique memory and crafting it into a memorable brand.

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