Why repetition works


David Stenbill, Monica Bigoutshi and Shana Tirana. These are fictional names provided by Daniel Kahnemann in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.

Kahnemann demonstrates that if you read these names again further down the page, you’ll recall that you were first introduced to them a few minutes ago in this article. For a while, you’ll know that these aren’t real people or ‘minor celebrities’

A few days from now, if I show you a list of names, some of which are celebrities and some simply made up names and ask you to put a tick against the name of each celebrity, there’s a good chance you’ll tick David Stenbill’s name.

The name ‘David Stenbill’ will look familiar, so you’ll assume it’s the name of a celebrity. You’ll have forgotten about this article, but the familiarity will remain. Words that you’ve seen before become easier to see again, even when shown briefly. When something is easy to notice, you get the impression of familiarity.

Familiarity leads to trust, and in marketing, trust is a necessity before a purchase.

Repetition leads to familiarity, which leads to trust 

Within the advertising industry, it’s been agreed for a while now that the goal is to create repeat interactions with the customer. The number required to make an impact is debated, Working on the principle that only one out of nine ads is ever seen by a the target customer, and that an ad needs to be seen at least three times before it leads to action, Jay Conrad Levinson estimates that you need to put your business in front of the target audience 27 times before it makes a difference.

I know, this all sounds like theory. Something cooked up by the professor in their lab, but in the real world it doesn’t work.

The thing is, it’s true, or at least the principle is. I can’t testify that the exact number 27 1 works. I think it differs depending on what you’re advertising and to whom. But, I can say from my own experience that you can send the same marketing message to the same group of people several times. Each with the same call to action, and the results come later.

On the first few times, you get the odd success. But 8 or 9 attempts later, suddenly there’s a huge uplift. Same on the 10th. Nothing changed other than the fact that the recipient recognises the message. They recognise the brand, the call to action, the copy. It’s familiar, which means it’s safe, which means it’s less risky to expend a little time reading it or clicking through.

That means with some direct marketing, you need to persist. You do need to test, but don’t give up a campaign entirely just because you didn’t get the results you were hoping for on the first attempt. Test the copy and delivery. Test the offer and the call to action. But, don’t stop just because you aren’t getting the clicks you wanted.

This is where online marketing works so much better then anything offline with repetitive messages, because it costs you nothing to repeat the message. You’re paying for the click, so yes it’s noisy in a Facebook feed, but you’re paying for the click not the impression. If you’re using a remarketing tag, you’ll just keep showing up in a feed. A person won’t click your ad on the first impression, but that doesn’t mean they won’t click on the 10th. They may not even be consciously aware that they’ve seen the ad before. But as with David Stenbill, it’s becoming familiar.

Display ads work when you send them to the right person

This is where display ads work, because you can design them around your brand, making your brand more familiar. You can’t do that with Google search engine ads.

Same with email. One of the advantages of regular email marketing is the constant drip and familiarity you build with the recipient. You’re not trying to sell with every email. You’re trying to build a relationship and deliver value with each email. At some point down the line, you ask for payment in exchange for exclusive value. But, with each email (delivered free of charge), you build familiarity through repetition and value.

When you start an advertising campaign, create a budget and expectation that you’ll need to deliver a message 27 times. Anything less and you’ll quit just before the results start to come through.

  1.  Jay Conrad Levinson, p. 34 in The Guerilla Marketing Handbook 
Avatar By Liam Curley

Are you looking for ways to find more sales leads? This site is for you!

Liam CurleyHi I’m Liam. I created this site to help businesses in B2B make the initial breakthrough with prospective customers that are otherwise unaware of what you can do for them –  You can read more about my background here.

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