How to Use Retroactive Interference for a Winning Content Strategy

These examples show our incapability to remember old information as new information comes into play. The task for marketers ahead is to amp up unlearning (of competing products) to 100 percent. However, a content marketer has the uphill task of making people unlearn things unconsciously. However, you don’t have to wait for a crisis to happen to put retroactive interference to use. You must find ways to overcome retroactive interference by incorporating more visual content in your strategy or find creative ways to present statistics, as you can see in the example below: Image via Tina Kugler Provide a visual representation for your best ideas, data, and brand message using professional photography, graphics, cartoons, memes, and other imagery. Get Them Talking People forget things for multiple reasons, including encoding failure, time decay, and new oncoming information. This is the time where you creatively present your content in new ways. Instead of writing 10,000 word articles, break your content in short series and post them at regular time intervals. A drip email campaign is the best example of overcoming RI to influence your audience. Refresh the collective memory with advertising and content remarketing.

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How to Use Retroactive Interference for a Winning Content Strategy

It is no secret that marketers have been using psychological
gimmicks to influence consumer behavior for ages. From fear to hope
and greed, a lot of our emotions are manipulated and triggered.
However, this psychological warfare is usually employed only for
hardcore advertising and selling. In many areas such as email
marketing, content marketing, and social media, psychological
concepts are totally underused.

Here I want to look into a rarely discussed concept of
psychology called “retroactive interference” and reveal ways it can
affect your content marketing strategy.

What Is Retroactive Interference?

Retroactive interference describes a phenomenon where the latest
information or newly learnt information overshadows the recall of
previously learned information.1

Here are a couple of examples:

  • In school, if you had to learn ten lessons for a year-end exam,
    you were more likely to forget the lessons learned earlier in the
    year as newer lessons took up space at the top of your mind.
  • At a mall, if you see two products, you are more likely to pick
    a product whose ad you’ve seen most recently.
  • You remember your current email password, but not the one you
    had before that.

These examples show our incapability to remember old information
as new information comes into play. But why does it happen? Why do
we forget seemingly important information, when we remember trivial
things in life?

The reason is that the ability to forget is vital for
proper functioning of our memory
. If we didn’t have the
ability to forget, our minds would be chock full of data, leading
to information overload, stress, and eventual collapse. But for us
marketers, who hunger for brand recall, engagement, reviews,
loyalty, customer retention, and advocacy, RI can either make or
break your campaigns.

Back in 1996, Anderson & Neely proved
that retroactive interference can be manipulated with the help of
three factors:

  1. Signals with which target memories are associated
  2. Signals that prompt memory retrieval
  3. The links between signals and targets of interest to other
    items in memory

It’s possible to create a winning content strategy by centering
our content creation and marketing strategy on these three factors.
Here are some possible ways.

Learn and Unlearn

Retroactive interference is basically about unlearning. When you
learn something new, you unlearn something old. As developers
switch from one programming language to another, newer or better
one, they try to forget previously learned methods. This is an
example of conscious unlearning.

Many studies point out that unlearning doesn’t happen of its own
accord. According to Barnes and
Underwood
, unexplained suppression of memory is never more than
50 percent. The task for marketers ahead is to amp up unlearning
(of competing products) to 100 percent.

However, a content marketer has the uphill task of
making people unlearn things unconsciously
. For instance,
following a crisis, instead of writing articles about the crisis, a
company’s PR team tries to assuage the effect of crisis by
regularly sending out positive articles, updates, and messages.
Over time, most people tend to forget the crisis as the newly
acquired knowledge takes over. This is a case of unconscious
unlearning. (EU vs. Google, anyone?)

Domino’s Pizza tackled the
2009 crisis
with retroactive interference that led to
unconscious unlearning, and today, it continues to be among the
largest chain pizza stores in the world.

Dominos retroactive interference

However, you don’t have to wait for a crisis to happen to put
retroactive interference to use. You can also incorporate
unlearning in your day-to-day content tactics.

For instance, instead of trying to make your audience remember
your content, try to make them forget what they previously learned.
Don’t tell them how to do it right and risk of being preachy and
boring. Instead, show them how they might goof up or have already,
and they will sit up and take notice.

For instance:

  • 10 Reasons Why What Your CRM Tells You Is All Wrong
  • Cracking Your Knuckles Will NOT Give You Arthritis

I’m sure that, like me, even you have been taught for years not
to crack knuckles, but this new piece of information can grab your
attention and wipe away all those warnings and lessons thrown at
you for years.

What You Show Is What You Get

If I told you, “The percentage of email opens on the iPhone is
27 percent, Gmail is 17 percent, Outlook is 9 percent,” and so on,
all you might remember is some talk about email open rates and the
iPhone. The core message and statistical numbers will be soon
forgotten.

This is because the content is not presented in an ideal way.
The brain interprets images and text differently—it can remember
pictures more than words
, even if one spends less time looking
at them. You must find ways to overcome retroactive interference by
incorporating more
visual content in your strategy
or find creative ways
to present statistics
, as you can see in the example
below:

children's book data visualization
Image via Tina Kugler

Provide a
visual representation
for your best ideas, data, and brand
message using professional photography, graphics, cartoons, memes,
and other imagery.

If you present…

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