Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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The Memory Shortage

You know how when things really look their bleakest, there's always some optimistic voice that chirps up with some truly obnoxious advice? You know the ones. The folks who say, "Don't worry. Be happy!" Or "Hey, nothing lasts forever. " Or "Get a good night's sleep. Things will look better in the morning."

When you're at your lowest, these are the people whose lights you want to punch out. But the truth is they're right. Things do pass quickly. Maybe too quickly. Want proof? Watch this:

At this time last year, nearly everyone on the planet was running around freaking out about Y2K. Post offices displayed "countdown clocks." Cults were checking out of the planet for fear of the great Apocolypse. PC consultants were raking in triple rates.

Ask kid in junior high about it today, and he'd likely tell you Y2K is a new show on VH1.

The point is that a major by-product of the information age is our shortage of memory. Everything happens so fast, with such rapidity, that even the news you hear during your morning drive is old hat by the time you break for lunch. More data through the pipe means less time per datum, with our craniums scanning each piece, holding it in our cerebral flash ROM, and dumping it when the next story hits.

I bring this up because the memory shortage is becoming a tool that, like fire, can be used for good or evil. Politicians, religious zealots and certain tire manufacturers tend to go the evil route, hoping that if they just dance long enough, the public will eventually be distracted by some other salacious story. In business, though, the memory shortage can be used to teach us a more positive lesson:

Eventually, no matter how bad things get, people get over it.

It happens to everyone. Even Richard Nixon -- the only President in history to ever resign from office for his gross abuses of power -- died "a great elder statesman who opened relations with China." Wow. Talk about a change of heart. In 1974, Americans across the country were forming lynch mobs for him. The man kicks off, and twenty years later, Watergate is a teeny little footnote. China's the big story.

Memory shortage.

Of course, you can leverage memory shortage to your benefit. Mainly, when things go terribly wrong in your own business. But it's how you handle it that counts. For example, making good on your mistake -- even when your own culpability is in question -- leverages memory shortage to the max. A simple, "Gee, I guess I goofed. How can I make it up to you?" wipes out a bad experience a whole lot faster than does a "Too bad, we don't give refunds -- can't you read the sign?"

People do get over it. How fast they get over it is up to you.

Recently, announced that it was changing its privacy policy regarding its users' data. Oh my gosh, they're actually going to leverage the names and addresses and God-knows-what-else they've collected from us. Fact is, Amazon owns a ton of data assets which they should be exploiting, just like everyone else on the web does. They'd be nuts not to. Anyone who fills out a web form should know that despite what anyone tells them, privacy is never guaranteed. People change their minds. Companies change their policies (although I personally think policy changes like that only serve to torpedo your brand credibility, but that's another story).

So what do you think is going to happen with Amazon? Sure, they'll get some press, which is good. A couple of loudmouths will complain, which is bad. And Stone Philips or some other talking head will re-hash the old "privacy on the net" nonsense, about which he doesn't have a clue. And then, people will get over it and get on to bigger, more important issues.

Like what Britney Spears wears to the Grammys.

Rob Frankel

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