Talking About Schema


I earned a minor in Psychology at the University of Findlay because I took 21 hours of it before deciding to major in English. As a result, I learned about “Schema” from Milton Peters, professor of my Psychology II class. He quoted Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development while speaking of Assimilation and Accommodation. During a Piaget discussion on the second floor of Old Main, we discussed Schema and the human behaviors associated with it. Fast forward 10 years and I’m sitting in a WOMMA conference breakout session, captivated by Steve Knox the CEO of Tremor, as he taught how schema related to WOM marketing.

To summarize the various definitions of the science; a schema is a mental structure we use to organize and simplify our knowledge of the world around us. We have schemas about ourselves, other people, technology, eating, exercising and in fact almost everything. For example, a child may first develop a schema for a dog. The child knows that a dog has fur, four legs and a tail. When the child encounters a cat for the first time, he might first call it a dog because it fits his schema of a dog; he sees an animal that has fur, four legs and a tail. Once the child is told that this is a different animal called a cat, he will modify his current schema for a dog and create a new schema for a cat.

During the session, Knox presented an image of the Miracle on the Hudson. Sully saved hundreds of lives that day and solidified schema-consideration as part of the marketing mix. When we look at this image we see something that disrupts our schema. We associate planes with the sky and not water so it’s something that we will remember and talk about. Would you be surprised to know that ten days after the Miracle on the Hudson there was a small aircraft crash that killed 14 people in upstate New York? I doubt any of us remember that plane crash because we weren’t talking about it. Unfortunately that story is true. To complete the analogy, when planes crash, schema allows us to know what happened to the passengers without having to see the wreck, although we can’t help but look. And we can’t help but look because a train wreck, like an air plane on the Hudson River with people standing on the wings is many degrees away from what we believe to be ordinary… and when it’s extraordinary, we talk about it.

Seventy-six percent of Americans talk about at least one brand every day according to a 2009 research study conducted by the Keller Fay Group. With three out of four consumers talking about brands, it’s essential that Brands give them something to talk about; and one certain way to ensure they are talking is to disrupt their schema.

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