Déjà Neu

26Apr07

I’m sure you’ve witnessed the fatigue felt by consumers when faced with overwhelming choice. Their antipathy toward trying to play spot the difference between poorly differentiated products is observed in research and echoed in our daily conversations. There’s sometimes a sense, beyond the focus group-think cynicism, that people have simply ‘seen everything before.’

I wonder if we are witnessing Déjà Neu. Déjà Neu is how I describe the world-weary feeling that you’ve seen it all before.

Every time you view the latest summary of ongoing research, scan for new market trends or see a new creative concept presented for the first time, your mind references relevant links to things you’ve experienced and remembered. This helps you to perceive what you believe is important, relevant, different, or worth considering in the new thing you’ve encountered.

This neural flood of personal experience and opinion-based data helps you decide if you like something or not. And whether you believe something is new, derivative or an amalgam.

As previous experience is based on perception and not fact, there is inevitable blurring. Facts merge and ideas percolate together. Personal objectivity is merely an opinion informed by a stream of imperfectly recalled thoughts and events. It’s about impressionism, not realism.

As you experience an increased number of interactions, views and ideas, does your mind-space for considering new ideas start to shrink then? I don’t believe so. But like a search engine, you achieve more memory hits and it takes further effort to sift through the information beyond the top results your filed memories and opinions revealed. You often accept the views that stood out most prominently in your memory rather than digging through and contemplating lesser thoughts and feelings.

You carry a growing weight of evidence supporting your opinion on every subject. You may become cynical and perceive you’ve seen this supposedly new thing all too often before – Déjà Neu. Over time your beliefs may calcify. Your viewpoint may start to travel on set rails of pre-conception, solidly branching out behind you in a web of related information and views.

And this shapes your perception, prejudging ideas and information you are more likely to receive positively in the future. You are never truly open to a new idea, because you try and categorise it against previous experience.

Your mind is pre-programmed to first respond to any stimulus emotionally, so when reading or seeing something new, your first opinion is emotional – you like or dislike something. If challenged to articulate this emotional view, you start to rationalise and create arguments to support your view. You collate the available data.

This internalised view may then be moulded or informed by peer group opinion. Do you like something because other planners do? Does Richard Huntingdon like it? Surely that would means it must be good? But such a change in your opinion is moderated by the peer group you are exposed to. Not every consumer has a better informed pool of reference to draw upon.

So if a viewpoint is emotionally led and largely informed by previous opinion and experiences. Think about the affect this has on consumers who perceive they now have less time to consider anything. They feel pressured and in a hurry.

As well as spending less time contemplating anything, consumers feel cynical about anything being new or different. They are then confronted (disrupted) by poorly differentiated and profligate competing brands and this may increase their frustration and bewilderment..

Are we creating a barrier through profusion of choice without offering sufficient emotional distinction? How will your brand quickly identify itself to consumers as relevant and different?

Could Déjà Neu put your marketing under pressure to identify a brand as clearly feeling different first (targeting the initial emotional response) and then justifying itself to rational scrutiny second?

Originality is scarce. But Déjà Neu may be the undoing of challenger brands that fail to challenge with conviction and self-apparent emotional difference. After-all, you’ve seen this new thing all before haven’t you?

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