Vegas is like being at a party in a house with no kitchen.

This statement is designed to startle your brain, which is naturally in a static state. It uses schemas to keep its carbon footprint at the bare minimum. Schemas are mental short-hand for how the world works, or for how the brain believes the world works. They allow the brain to function without exerting undue effort. Interrupting a schema stimulates thought; the brain needs to actively process the “unknown”, which stimulates conversation. Blending two disparate schemas together into a new mental model also creates the same disruptive patterns.

Academia has long embraced cognitive science as it applies to learning and rehabilitation. Now, application of cognitive science is gaining a foothold in the business world. A great example was presented recently by Steve Knox, CEO of Proctor and Gamble Tremor. They are using cognitive scientists to help understand word of mouth and why people talk.

Here are a few of the examples he gave during a presentation at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s (WOMMA) recent Summit.

Disrupting a schema: Let’s say you arrive in the UK and rent a car. Yikes. Before you arrived, you knew that you would be driving on the ‘wrong” side of the road in a car with a steering wheel on the wrong side of the car. Yet, you talk about it because it helps you resolve the disrupted equilibrium that happens when you disturb your normal mental model of driving. Eventually, you get used to this new driving pattern and do not have to actively think about it as you drive. But, when you return home, you may have to reset your “normal” driving schema.

Disrupting schemas is a way to potentially stimulate conversation and spread word of mouth.

Conceptual blend. This is where you blend two familiar schemas to create a new unfamiliar on. One of the examples that Knox used in his presentation was the I Phone. It was a phone AND a computer; the combination of which created a whole new category. People talked about it because the very combination of two familiar devices created a disruption.People normally viewed the phone and the computer as two separate, distinct devices. When a brand creates a new blend, it owns the space. It is the epitome of first mover status.

Knox cautioned the group that applying these principles requires deep knowledge of cognitive science and hard work to strike the correct balance. The key is to use the following four questions as a guide:

· What is the foundational truth of your brand.?

· What schemas are at play?

· What would disrupt a schema?

· Are there blends that make sense?

So, why does the first sentence of this post make you stop? First: our mental model of Vegas is decidedly not one of a party in someone’s house. And, secondly, every house has a kitchen, right? These disruptions can take us on an interesting path that epitomizes both the art and science of conversation. The application to the science of word of mouth marketing is interesting and intriquing.

Cheryl Treleaven

Cheryl Treleaven


Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.