Just How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You? | DMA

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Just How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You?

It’s one of the oldest questions in the marketers handbook: how often do you have to repeat yourself before people sit up and take notice?

Having said that, in this era of hyper-sophisticated lead nurturing, it is easy for us all to get so involved in the quest for a single customer view and an innate understanding of the customer journey that simpler issues such as contact frequency and message repetition can seem just a little bit passé.

It has been the received wisdom for as long as I can remember that you need to tell people something three times in order for them to remember what you’ve said.

Or, to quote the wise words of many a dyed-in-the-wool direct mail copywriter, even within one letter or email, the secret is to: “tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them, then tell them what you told them.”

In fact, from summaries in presentations and articles to planned ‘opportunities to see’ advertising campaigns, the magic number that ensures awareness has always been three.

Three Is The Magic Number. Or is it?

Frankly, whether you’re talking ‘opportunities to see’, ‘steps to heaven’ or ‘times a lady’, three has always been the magic number. Until recently, as it happens, when I attended a talk given by the great business speaker Nigel Risner, who said that he found it necessary to repeat things a grand total of six times for them to be remembered.

Worse, I then discovered that in order to get bums on cinema seats, the rule of thumb followed by the movie industry in the 1930s was that someone needed to see or hear your message no less than seven times.

All of which made me think back to the response data generated by a recent lead nurturing program we conducted on behalf of a client who shall remain anonymous, largely because I am – with their kind permission of course – reproducing the data below.

The graph shows ‘Open’ and ‘Click to Open’ rates for a series of emails that were delivered over an eight-week period to a few hundred prospects that had already signed up to a thought leadership content programme.

As you can see, Click to Open Rates behaved much as you might expect as we approached the Magic Number three, and subsided in weeks four to six. But then, slightly surprisingly, they began to climb again in weeks seven and eight.

We were interested to see if this is a normal or atypical behavioural pattern, and Campaign Monitor reported that this type of response curve - with a rise following the seventh delivery - is typical of many of the content marketing programs their clients delivered.

Has Three Lost Its Magic? Or Are We All Losing The Plot?

So, should we be recalibrating our frequency measures in this age of digital distraction? After all, inbox overload isn’t going to go away anytime soon. And, according to research from MIT, attention spans online have dropped from an average of 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds by 2013. To put that somewhat worrying figure into perspective: the goldfish, proverbial for its inattentiveness, has an attention span of nine seconds.

All of which is amazing and concerning in equal measure, as it seems that the sensory overload of modern life means we now need to be told something six or more times just for it to register on our consciousness, and eight times to make it an actionable thought.

Maybe not though. While researching this subject in search of data to enlighten the subject, I stumbled upon Thomas Smith’s excellent 1885 tome: ‘Successful Advertising’, in which he noted: ‘The 1st time people look at an ad, they don’t see it.
The 2nd time, they don’t notice it.
The 3rd time, they are aware that it is there.
The 4th time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it before.
The 5th time, they actually read the ad.
The 6th time, they thumb their nose at it.’ In his experience, even in that simpler age, he believed that it was: ‘The 20th time prospects see the ad, they buy what it is offering.’

So, all things considered, if seventh time really is now the charm, maybe we aren’t doing so badly after all.

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