Frequency Matters

Let’s try something. Sing your ‘ABC’s. In your head, or if you are confident in your vocal abilities, out loud. Also, please record it. And send it to me. Just kidding, don’t do that. I’m about to share a pretty big secret with you. We learn by repetition. That is how we are first taught as children. In fact, it is how we continue to learn as adults. And repetition is how we remember our ABCs. Yeah, it’s not really a secret.

But let’s speak ad speak for a minute. In the world of advertising, repetition has another name. It’s called ‘frequency’.

The first request that clients come to us with is “I need to sell more.” That statement is usually followed with the client’s eye twitching. I can never tell if that’s caffeine or they just realized their product is not moving. The first thing I tell them is, “Great! Have customers learn your name.” That tends to get the eyes twitching even more. But, let’s explore this a bit more, shall we? It is not a difficult feat. But in a sea of advertisers, what many businesses neglect to do is understand the basics of advertising.

Advertising does three things for your business that are critical to success. First, it introduces you to new customers. That’s where most people focus. Second, it keeps your name in front of current and past customers. Third, it builds credibility which leads to more new customers and prompts your current customer to refer you.

Nowadays, we like to dazzle with creative. But think of the last ad that you remember after seeing it just once. Chances are you would not come up with many examples. But if I asked you to think of fast food, you might hear McDonald’s I’m Lovin’ It just pop into your head instantly. This is where frequency can prove to be more effective in the long run; keeping your name at the top of the mind of every consumer.

So, if a campaign is created in the woods, but nobody sees or hears it, is it really a campaign? It is your goal to create visibility for your brand. After creating visibility, it is also your responsibility to continue to keep it visible and memorable. That’s where frequency steps in. You are relying on your customer’s brains, quite literally, to keep thinking of you. You want to be remembered explicitly, consciously. We want our consumers to remember our name (remember, remember). However, when we are talking about memory, we are talking about something that starts to decay immediately after they’re formed[1].

What consumers need are prompts, cues, and repetition to keep specific memories alive. In the past, traditional media even came up with a name for these audio prompts and cues: jingles. So, how then do you stand out among all the rest? You need to keep showing up.

Do you catch a fish by casting one time? Or even just twice? No. So, why do we expect to catch a customer by casting just once? Imagine the universe is a big fishing pond with lots of bright, shiny fish. If you cast one time, you MIGHT catch one fish. But what if you cast a hundred times? You increase your chances of catching more fish. And that is the whole point of fishing/advertising.

Thomas Smith wrote in his book, Successful Advertising, something that rings true for this statement very well:

The first time people look at any given ad, they don’t even see it.

The second time, they don’t notice it.

The third time, they are aware that it is there.

The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it somewhere before.

The fifth time, they actually read the ad.

The sixth time they thumb their nose at it.

The seventh time, they start to get a little irritated with it.

The eighth time, they start to think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”

The ninth time, they start to wonder if they’re missing out on something.

The tenth time, they ask their friends and neighbors if they’ve tried it.

The eleventh time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.

The twelfth time, they start to think that it must be a good product.

The thirteenth time, they start to feel the product has value.

The fourteenth time, they start to remember wanting a product exactly like this for a long time.

The fifteenth time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.

The sixteenth time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.

The seventeenth time, they make a note to buy the product.

The eighteenth time, they curse their poverty for not allowing them to buy this terrific product.

The nineteenth time, they count their money very carefully.

The twentieth time prospects see the ad, they buy what is offering.

Bear in mind, he wrote this guide in 1885. It’s amazing how little has changed. Many businesses are worried about crossing the line and being construed as annoying if they are too repetitive or frequent in their postings or ads. Look, if it is becoming annoying, you need to shake up your creative. But don’t stop or reduce the frequency of your ads! Even if you may have a skunk butt website (an official term, see Zootopia for more info), it doesn’t matter. What matters is the advertising was so good that it got people to the skunk butt website.

I have personally noticed just how far frequency can take a brand. I first came across the idea at an RAB conference. A speaker spoke about OES: Optimum Effective Scheduling. All I remember out of that schedule was that thing called more frequency. In advertising, we are concerned with something called ‘reach’, which is essentially how many people you can reach with a campaign. So, say a radio station offers 70 reached with 3 ads (known as a ‘3 frequency’) is good. But the speaker proposed that we don’t settle for a 3 frequency. Go for a 4.5 or 5. Well! If a 4.5 is good, why not 7? For me, it was a lightbulb moment. How can more be bad? Repetition equals reputation. Repetition equals top of mind. And top of mind means that you buy me. So, I bought more radio and I quit trying to play the short game, and I stopped worrying about reach. And it worked.

Here’s what blew my mind: it worked because in the long term, a lot of people started hearing of the brands I worked with. And I started growing brands that did not have big budgets. I worked with a building company for many years. I know for a fact that within the ten builders doing radio ads, we achieved top three brand recognition despite having a small budget. We did this through frequency. We built a brand.

Through frequency, we even managed to change an entire marketing paradigm. Take this mortgage company that I work with. Mortgage companies used to advertise direct through B2B connections. We decided to talk to the customers directly through ads. What’s so great about frequency? It builds your name and brand, it builds your reputation, it builds your referrals. Not only are you getting new clients, you are getting clients remembering you because they keep hearing you. “Oh hey! I remember using them. Which reminds me, I need to tell Nancy about since she is looking for a new home.”

Good creative is important. But frequency and repetition is what allows consumers to remember your name, and it helps increase your brand’s awareness.

So, rinse and repeat, repeat, repeat, man!

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