In a world driven into a frenzy by 24 hour news cycles and constantly changing data feeds it’s easy to forget just how essential and fundamental memory is to our cognition.
Our memory serves not only as the store of our knowledge and emotions, but also as the scratch pad on which our present experiences and activities are doodled. As victims or Allzheimers’ disease sadly remind us – Without memory we literally cease to be.
Memory’s central place in human experience has motivated physicians and psychologists to study it in depth, and our topic in this post is the Serial Position Effect (SPE), one of the earliest modern theories about memory, and one which remains relevant to this day.
The Serial Position Effect
The Serial Position Effect was first proposed by a German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) – best known for identifying and studying the Learning Curve. Ebbinghaus was fascinated with how we remember and how we forget.
With precious little pre-existing research to rely on, Ebbinghaus had to establish his own experimental methodologies, which he based largely on learning and then attempting to memorize strings of nonsense words, with the goal of identifying how much of what he’d learned he could recall after given periods of time.
Primacy & Recency
It’s as a result of these experiments that Ebbinghaus was able to propose his Serial Position Effect Theory which states that when we attempt to remember any series of data (names, events, experiences, etc.) we’re likeliest to remember the first one (Primacy effect) and the last one (Recency effect). When we plot the likelihood of memory on a graph, it creates a U-shape – The start and end of the graph have a high chance of being remembered, but everything in the middle tends to be forgotten.
It’s interesting to understand why this happens. Later studies contributed understanding regarding the contextual distinctiveness of the first position and the last positions in any series of events. In essence the first memory and last memory are, by definition, interruptions to the occurrences that preceded or followed them, and as such are distinctive, and easier to remember. Another theory explaining why these positions are easier to remember relates to the type of memory we use for remembering each position.
Leveraging SPE for B2B Marketing
How is Serial Position Effect applicable to everyday B2B marketing situations? Two easy examples are trade-shows and pitch scenarios.
Primacy & Recency Affect Your Memory of Trade-show Leads
Whenever your company is participating in a trade-show, or any networking event, due to the Serial Position Effect it’s naturally easier for you to remember the first few people you meet, and the last few, but everyone in the middle is likely to be forgotten, unless you take precautions and make an extra effort to remember them by collecting their business card and jotting down a few details of your conversation down in your CRM.
For a Memorable Bid Pitch Use Primacy
Another example of how you can leverage Serial Position Effect to your benefit is whenever you’re pitching for a bid against other offers. By now you can already guess that according to Serial Position Effect you should strive to be either the first to pitch, or the last. Those are the pitches your audience is likeliest to remember. That being said, due to the inevitable cognitive depletion that the pitch evaluators will experience throughout the process, it’s probably best that you always aim to be the first to pitch on any given date.
So primacy effect plays to your advantage in pitching when you’re first because people find it easier to remember the first thing in a list.