Using Behavioural Science: The Von Restorff Effect


November 5, 2021


James Odene

Learn about a behavioural science bias and how to use it to your advantage.

What is the Von Restorff Effect?

The Von Restorff Effect predicts that an item that stands out from the rest is more likely to be remembered than others. It is a bias in favour of remembering the unusual.

Here’s an experiment to demonstrate it

Let’s go back to the experiment that gave the effect its name. In 1933, as part of her study on memorability, Hedwig von Restorff gave participants a long list of text, consisting of random strings of three letters interrupted by one set of three digits, for example: jrm, tws, als, huk, bnm, 153, fdy. The participants were then asked, after a brief period of time, to remember the items. The result was that the 3-digit item was the most recalled. 

What does this mean in the context of retail and hospitality?

Being distinctive makes brands memorable. This may sound obvious, but it is so often ignored. Creating a unique in-store experience is often the Holy Grail for brands. Imagine someone is placed in one of your sites, but wasn't told where they were - beyond the sign on the front, would they know it was you instantly? What is your distinctive brand atmosphere?

And what makes you distinct does not need to cost a fortune. Ikea has a unique shopping experience that's mainly built by their store layout, or what about Abercrombe & Fitch having low lighting...

Make sure you stay distinct and take the opportunity to turn even the mundane into something special. Imagine flooding the bathroom with a surprising soundtrack for customers to enjoy. You’ve just turned something which could be passive into a strong brand distinctive piece.

Actions you can take now to harness the power of distinctiveness

1. You need to resist the temptation to follow the herd, as your messaging will get lost in a sea of sameness. There is no safety in numbers, and if you’re doing something very similar and indistinguishable from your competitor, then how can the consumer tell the difference? That’s why we always recommend looking outside of your industry for inspiration and ideas as curating an atmosphere by only looking at what everyone else is doing will never lead to distinctiveness.

2. As Richard Shotton said on our ‘Are You Ready For Love?’ hospitality experience webinar; “A financial gain is an important driver in consumer behaviour, but a sense of excitement and surprise is also important. LEON’s random free item give away, which they call ‘Moments of Truth’, is a lot more memorable than, for example, buy 9 coffees, get the 10th free”. 

3. According to a 2020 report from McKinsey, 80% of customers want personalisation from retailers, extending to the entire customer experience and throughout their interactions with a retailer — with multiple, personalised touchpoints that enable them to allocate their time and money according to their preferences.

4. With app integrations, personalisation can become quite easy to achieve. Imagine a customer whose personal profile preferences or the context they find themselves in (such as the weather) influence the environment’s music and atmosphere in which they are in. App integrations create a world of possibilities.

Talk to us today about putting The Von Restorff Effect into practice!
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