What does a bucket of ice have to do with brand experience?
Daniel Kahneman of Princeton ran an experiment. He asked participants to submerge their hands in buckets of frigid ice water up to their wrists. Sounds more like fraternity hazing than the work of a well-respected psychologist, but Kahneman was curious about something:
What makes us remember an experience?
The experiment had 2 types of episodes. The short episode lasted 60 seconds, and participants immersed their hands in water that was painfully cold but not intolerable. The long episode lasted 90 seconds; the first 60 seconds were identical to the short episode, but in the final 30 seconds, a valve released slightly warmer water into the tub, raising the temperature just enough to be noticed by participants.
All participants immersed their hands three times. In the first two trials, they experienced the short and long episodes. Before the third trial, they chose which episode they wanted to repeat.
Khaneman predicted that most would choose the long episode for the third trial. He was right. Four out of five participants chose to repeat the long episode. And while participants were aware of choosing the longer exposure to pain, it didn’t matter. They made an intuitive choice about which experience they liked better. Kahneman had made a discovery:
We remember experiences by two things: the peak and the end.
How good was the experience at the very best moment? How good was it at the very end? Those two questions are critical. That’s what we subconsciously ask ourselves when we recount any experience. From rock concerts, to staff meetings, to family vacations, the peak and the end are how we remember experiences.
The same principle applies to building a brand. We talk a lot about brand experiences at Joe Smith. Consultants focus sharply on identifying a human need and building solutions that address a particular pain point. Those things are important. But building a brand is not just about delivering something that’s focused and precise. It’s about crafting an experience that delivers a moment of joy—the peak—and finishes in a memorable way—the end.
Something like a tiny stream of warmth injected into an icy situation.
For more insight into Daniel Kahneman’s research, check out his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s a bit dense, but is a fascinating tour through the principles human decision-making and judgment.