What do truck-bed liners and college graduates have in common?
A few years ago, an ambitious truck-bed-liner manufacturer spent his whole annual ad budget on a single Super Bowl spot. The response to his million-dollar one-shot ad? Well, nobody seemed to notice.
And the job-seeking college grads? They'll usually send out 200 résumés, which might seem reasonable enough—except when they're addressed to "Sir or Madam" (that is, to nobody) at 200 potential employers, once and only once each.
Reach is an admirable goal. But if it's coupled with a frequency of once, it's a money pit.
Some small business owners fall into this trap, promoting their businesses with spray-and-pray sales efforts that never reach the frequency they need to gain traction. Are your most successful salespeople the ones who create the most touch points (call, visit, letter, e-mail, follow-up, follow-up to the follow-up)? Probably so.
We've spoken to many business owners over the years who have dabbled in a single medium like local radio, seen non-magical results after two weeks of placement, and then decided that radio doesn't work. Then they're off to put a toe in the water in newspapers, or magazines, or online sponsored search, or an inch-deep try at multiple media.
So how frequent must your communications be to reach and activate your audience? Long-standing research in advertising tells us that it takes three to seven impressions before a message registers. A frequency of fewer than three messages is a waste of money. But a frequency beyond seven continues to have a cumulative benefit; diminishing returns doesn't set in for a good while. You'll get tired of your ads long before your prospect does.
Three vs. seven? Note the huge difference between the budget you need for a frequency of three and a frequency of seven. How can we explain why some messaging needs twice as many repetitions—at twice the cost—before the audience really starts to pay attention?
The answer usually lies in the memorability, consistency and creativity of your message. The well-crafted ad—or e-mail, letter, any type of message—that manages to surprise, delight and inform its audience; that focuses on a meaningful benefit; that makes the brand stronger, more differentiated and more urgent: That message is going to break through sooner and take root more permanently.
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There's a valuable premium for consistency and continuity, once you've resisted the temptation to be all things to all customers. Your brand will really stand out if it stands for something, and then it takes less effort to reinforce that story year after year. Volvo means safety. Las Vegas means edgy, risky excitement. What does your brand stand for?
Your prospect wants, needs, to put your brand in a pigeonhole. Don't fight this urge by trying to be more than one thing—customers won't believe you. Choose. Choose well, and stick to it, and build on it over time.
You could demand the highest price in your category, hoping to be perceived as the highest quality, as L'Oreal, Johnnie Walker Gold and Middlebury College do. Or you might represent the low-cost provider, like Wal-Mart and Hyundai. Or the fastest response, or one-stop-shopping, or brilliant problem-solving, or…something. Some one thing.
What should you stand for? You have lots of choices, but at a minimum, your story about your brand must be true, provable, understood by everyone in your organization, and meaningful to your best prospects.
And that's not just for big brands. Every competitive business must be decisive about its brand story, whether it's a restaurant or an airport shoeshine stand. Product or service, B2B or B2C, large or small: You must be what your competitor isn't.
A word of caution: We've all heard stories about Zappos and its extreme customer service. And it works for Zappos. But we recently asked 51 CEOs in one industry whether "customer service" was the reason they were a better choice than their competitors. And 51 out of 51 said yes.
At the risk of sounding obvious: Nobody will believe it if everyone is saying it. In that industry, the customer-service pigeonhole is already full—and no doubt it's full in yours, too.
Tell that story, and it will work after a frequency of seven. But tell a more credible story, and tell it well, and it will start working after three.
OPEN Cardmember Bob Killian is the chief creative officer of Killian Branding, an agency that consults with clients of all sizes in virtually every category.