09/12/2012 10:36 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Of Lobster Tales & Cranberries

After years of avoidance I finally made a real honest effort to give lobster a try this past Labor Day.

All my life I never could understand the appeal of lobster. I know, I know drenched in butter and lemon it's apparently delicious. It's not so much the taste, but rather the act of getting to this supposedly delicious meat that has always thrown me.

So after some not-so-gentle prodding by my friends to "just give it a shot already," I resigned myself to just give it a shot already. If toddlers could devour and attack this animal with glee, so could I. Or at least I could try to. But, after much self-talk and mental preparation, when confronted with it at the dinner table I realized I couldn't.

Ultimately chickening out I found myself, well, eating chicken as I watched my friends in disbelief. These otherwise civilized, smart, and caring people had become downright barbaric -- cracking, breaking, hammering, pounding, biting, and snapping away in sheer merriment. Lobster juice squirting everywhere. The worst was the spillage. Oh, the spillage. The outpouring of green intestines that, to my horror, was then used as a form of soup to slop up the lobster bits with. This could not be normal behavior. Yuck.

Shaking my head in disgust, I returned to the roast chicken that I had thankfully decided to grab at the last second in the supermarket. Smart thinking I thought as I ripped off another leg, dunking it generously in BBQ sauce. Yum.

I was so enraptured in eating, mercilessly stripping off the meat and gnawing on the bone in delight, that I hadn't noticed the silence that had descended upon the room. When I finally did look up from my gluttonous trance, sauce splattered across my face and bone still poised in mouth, my friends were all looking at me in disgust.

We burst out laughing, the irony not lost on us. My yuck was their yum and vice versa. Yet at that moment, we all were pretty disgusting sights to behold.

As the weekend came to a close, I was left with a realization. It's interesting to think about our cumulative perspective and how it impacts our ongoing impressions. Previous experiences impact our interpretation of subsequent events. Of course we know this. I don't think it's a profound realization, but I wonder how often we actually recognize it "in action"?

Our cumulative perspective often goes unrecognized because it operates on such a subconscious level. It's always on and because of that it's pretty easy to forget it's there. Silently guiding all of our viewpoints in every one of our interactions with friends, family, strangers, business colleagues and our absorption of information from companies, advertisements, books, television shows -- our cumulative perspective is continuously infusing, assigning meaning, and ultimately informing our behavior.

Yet, rarely are we so starkly aware of our cumulative perspective's stance on issues and how it impacts our current and impending behavior, whether that behavior is attempting to try a new food, purchasing cereal or buying a car.

The weekend's dinner scenario allowed me to see my cumulative perspective in a very elementary way. Perhaps I was able to recognize and see it so vividly in the first place because it materialized after such an uncomplicated event. I consciously realized that I will likely always have a certain disdain for lobsters because of my accrued experiences with this particular sea animal to date. It also hit me how our personal cumulative perspectives impacted mine and my friends' interpretation of the same scene.

This type of interconnected priming happens to all of us every second of the day in our interactions -- whether we're conscious of it or not and whether that interaction is over the course of years or minutes and transmitted to us by physical experience, telegraphed on a billboard, presented in the pages of a magazine, or broadcast on the screen.

Cumulative perspective relies on the connective tissue of past incidents and can influence our perceptions and actions in discrete and integrated ways. How often have you asked yourself, based on your experiences to date, how you feel about cranberries, iPhones, roller coasters, and politics? The answer will depend on your present situation and how interrelated these topics are to you. If there's no apparent interconnectivity you'll likely consider each on a standalone basis.

If you're in a grocery store you might assess your feelings about cranberries, if you're at an electronics fair the iPhone could be at the top of your mind, while at the amusement park you might take inventory of how risk-loving you're feeling with respect to roller coasters, and perhaps every night for the past few weeks while watching the news or engaged in debate with friends about the upcoming presidential election you've thought about your stance on political issues.

However, if you were on your iPhone talking to your mom about the merits of a candidate's campaign agenda, then you might tie these two stimuli together. The next time you see an iPhone you might think of your mom, or alternatively a presidential candidate or anything else that could have entered your web of associations during that time.

Based on a trigger event, we'll draw applicable connections to the stimuli at hand based on what our cumulative perspective tells us about our previous experiences.

That's fine and I'm not saying we should arbitrarily ponder the existence of cranberries on a daily basis especially if nothing in our history of associations provides any rationale to doing so. But if you're a marketing manager at Ocean Spray you're really hoping that most of your target consumers are at least thinking somewhat about cranberries in their purchase of fruit juice. But are they?

If my cumulative experience doesn't lend itself to thinking about cranberries when I buy fruit juice then I won't reach for Ocean Spray. The brand, however, will actually benefit whenever I buy vodka because I do in fact think of cranberries during this particular product purchase. I will typically buy cranberry juice as a mixer to accompany my alcohol purchase.

My cumulative perspective informs my consumer behavior.

A thought brand managers and advertisers alike might meditate on is how to be a positive addition to the cumulative perspectives of their consumers, whilst recognizing that one person's yuck will always be another person's yum.