There’s a standard in the marketing/advertising field that someone has to be exposed to X number of messages about your product or brand before they choose to make a purchase. In some cases that’s up to a dozen instances of what’s called “effective frequency” in others it’s as little as three. A good chunk of the content marketing industry is based on that premise, since putting more material out there to either pushed to the public or available to them via search.

There may be some truth to that, but a new study shows less of that marketing may be influential than previously thought.

At least that’s the conclusion that can be reached after reading a new study showing people don’t use as much information in their decision making processes as they claim to. What the research found is that people tend to overestimate how deeply they ponder or evaluate factors and new inputs to appear smarter and more prone to deep contemplation and evaluation. Instead, the actual decision is made early on and is predicated largely on an emotional reaction to the first instance they’re exposed to.

To coin a phrase, first impressions matter.

Think about that the next time you’re considering a campaign that has as a central tenet reaching the same audience a dozen or more times. Everything beyond those first couple of ads or messages hasn’t done much at all to change someone’s feelings or opinions of your product or service if they’ve already elicited a negative emotional reaction in the audience.

Advertisers and marketers are used to that old adage “Half my ad budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half,” an expression of the frustration felt over not having insights into which parts of a campaign actually changed people’s minds. This study would suggest that it’s whichever half is devoted to repeatedly putting the same message in front of the same segments. Such repetition isn’t reinforcing anything, as the decision was likely made well before the campaign got to that point.

The researchers ran several tests in a variety of environments to come to their conclusions, and it may be worthwhile for marketers to devote time and resources to conducting their own testing about how much frequency actually moves the needle on interest or intent.

Here are some question to ask:

  • Is the audience’s intent substantively different after the second or third repetition compared to after the 10th or 12th?
  • How are you altering the media mix to reach different segments instead of the same one or two over and over again?
  • Can you increase interest or intent by reaching the same segment with markedly different messages each time instead of the same one repeatedly?

There are more, of course, that can go into your message testing, but having some idea of how repetition truly changes people’s minds has the potential to help you make more informed media placement decisions. That means you’re getting more return on spending, something that should be a priority for every marketing professional around.