Sticktion: Memory as the catalyst for a better customer experience

December 18, 2014

The study’s authors were able to help Pizza Hut UK turn around their sales by focusing on the customer experience.

Lou Carbone, CEO of Experience Engineering, came to share his work with Professor Kathy LaTour’s marketing classes (services marketing, principles of marketing). Carbone and LaTour have been working together on various projects for the last fifteen years, after meeting at the Mind of the Market Lab at the Harvard Business School.

Professor LaTour’s work on memory reconstruction offered important insights into how marketers can “backward”-frame an experience by influencing how consumers remembered the event. Carbone’s work on experience design had primarily focused on engineering the experience prior and during by implementing clues that guide how consumers interpret the experience. Most recently they published an article in the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly on “Sticktion: Assessing Memory for the Customer Experience” (

In preparation for the class visit, Professor LaTour had students read the article. It addresses how the authors were able to help Pizza Hut UK turn around their sales by focusing on the customer experience.

Evan Wait, a student in LaTour’s marketing principles class, wrote:

Lou Carbone’s lecture really helped highlight the Sticktion article, which makes a lot of sense in the world of brands. Carbone’s emphasis on the experiential brand makes a lot of sense to the marketing layman…

The importance of Sticktion 1 towards Pizza Hut was that the brand was not selling memory to the end of the meal. People remembered going, but not leaving. Also, people remembered the server, but not very well. This points to the necessity of having a fuller, in-depth experience at the restaurant.

Marketers are aware of their targets in a general sense, but may not realize how important the little clues are in reaching their audiences.

In class, Carbone presented his overall approach to experience design. His enthusiastic presentation was well received by Cornell students. Isabel Fortuño (SHA student) said:

I was fascinated by the information Lou presenting in class this week. The most interesting part was his discussion of context clues. I think most marketers are aware of their targets in a general sense, but do not realize how important the little clues are in reaching their audiences. It has forced me to be aware of my surroundings in the past few days.

Rick Saxe (non-SHA student) commented:

I also feel like his humor engaged me. And I agree that the move to “sense and respond” is a superior one. Experience is crucial — something I have always known but have never really applied to business. Knowing that marketing is going in that direction is comforting because it seems almost too obvious.

Customer experiences will continue to be positive with this approach, so hearing Lou Carbone introduce us to this concept was really fantastic.

Hannah Kim (SHA student) wrote:

Personally, I thought the most interesting discussion point he made was the “leverage role of the unconscious mind.” It related to many of our previous discussion topics about the importance of the whole experience beyond the tangible attributes of a product or service, like the Share a Coke campaign. I also liked that he used well-known examples like Disneyland and FedEx to make his points, and that he also included a personal example of his barber shop experience.

The barbershop example Hannah refers to was a story Lou related of a time when he had visited a barber shop in Toronto and they treated him like a king, shining his shoes, putting a linen protective coat on him … but the haircut itself was a disaster. Yet he continued to visit this shop, scheduling his business in Toronto to accommodate his hair-cutting needs (which isn’t very rational, as he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota). George Melby, an SHA student, related to this type of extreme behavior:

With no disrespect to Lou, one of the main reasons I enjoyed his barber shop story is that my mom behaves in the same way. Similarly to how Lou waits for his meetings, my mom waits about four to six weeks for her gardening projects to build up before she has to take a bunch of branches and weeds to the dump (about a 30-minute trip).

Lou discussed the importance of Next Practices rather than Best Practices, and of basic research like the memory studies LaTour has developed. Additionally, he offered students the opportunity to get involved as he beta tested his new experience app that measures the customer experience in real-time.

Justin Bennet (SHA student) said:

I am most interested in learning more about the app that Experience Engineering is now beta testing. I think the app has great potential to take average firms and make them firms of endearment. When the app goes public, it will definitely make closing the loop easier. Customers will have better access to quality control by the app’s facilitation of complaining. It is without a doubt that Lou and his company are at the forefront of developing better customer experiences.

One of the more fun examples was when Lou discussed “toilet paper triangles” to make the point that a clue is expected, but that it can also be overdone. His presentation included some examples of toilet paper art that went a bit far, and told the class he was asked to write a coffee table book on this phenomenon and asked them to share any examples. Several uploaded some examples for him.

Alana Askari (SHA student) commented:

His idea of the toilet paper and other clues left in hotel rooms was very true. As soon as he said it I thought of many of my own experiences in which I internally judged a room, but did not really realize what I was judging or why I was making those assumptions. I think his work is extremely important because there are many times I haven’t gone back to a hotel for little reasons that the property is most likely unaware of. It is great that his software has the capabilities to capture images and then update them when the problem is solved. I think that is vital to the upkeep of a property.

The main takeaway of the class was that companies today need to recognize the importance of the customer experience and develop ways to analyze and improve service offerings.

Companies today need to recognize the importance of the customer experience.

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