Daniel Kahneman speaks at a TED conference about the difference between remembering vs experiencing

Remembering vs Experiencing – Two Approaches of Marketing

For Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner for Behavioral Economics, sees remembering vs experiencing as two very different ways in which people are processing information – like two separate human operating systems of sense-making. This distinction has implications for marketing: It explains how communications/advertising and customer experience have vastly different effects on the image of brands in people’s minds.  

The remembering vs experiencing mode

As an example for the difference between the two modes, Kahneman recounts a visit to the doctor: with the question “How have you felt lately?“ the doctor addresses the remembering self, the memory, while with the question “Does it hurt now when I press here?“ he addresses the experiencing self. 

The remembering self is our inner storyteller that documents for us and others what is happening. This doesn’t mean that things occurred exactly like we remember them. From cognitive science, we know that memories give a clear picture, but that these pictures are not always true to the facts. We adapt memories so that they make stories more plausible or confirm our self-perception. Furthermore, the beginning and end of an episode provide stronger memory traces, which is known in psychology as the primacy and recency effect.

The experiencing mode, on the other hand, captures the here and now. It constitutes the psychological present, which lasts about 3 seconds. All sensory stimuli, thoughts, and feelings take place in it – like on a cinema screen. Although the experiencing mode is less reflected in conscious memory, as gut feeling it has a lasting influence on subconscious, emotional attitudes.

Remembering vs experiencing - two different modes of human information processing

Marketing Communication vs Customer Experience

How do the two modes, remembering vs experiencing, affect marketing? The difference between memory and experience becomes relevant to business when we have a look at various strategies in marketing. Traditional marketing is based on communication, which aims at the remembering self: Stories and symbols create meanings and mental associations, for example that a product is particularly smooth or is used by very sporty people, which are stored in memory and work at a later date. 

Customer Experience, which is based on brand behavior aka interactions e.g. in the store, during product use, or in the service hotline, also fundamentally shapes the image of a brand. But it does so via the experiencing mode, which triggers thoughts and emotions much more immediately and strongly. These thoughts and emotions also form the customer’s brand image, but more implicitly. For example, values like appreciation, transparency, or security are conveyed this way – with effects on long-term preference.  

It is important that experienced thoughts and emotions must be congruent with the messages sent in memory mode to be perceived coherently as a brand.

A video of Daniel Kahneman’s TED Talk explaining remembering vs experiencing is available here.


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