Repeating repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing

I’ve noticed that many people have a strong aversion to repetition. It isn’t that they can’t tolerate others repeating a message; it’s that they don’t want to risk echoing their own communications. That’s particularly true when it comes to developing their marketing communications materials — but that’s when repetition is most important.

I’m not sure of the source of this distaste for repetition, but I suspect that it comes from the mistaken belief that “new” is always inherently better. We’re conditioned to react to anything that’s new with the assumption that it must be an improvement over whatever it replaced. Despite plenty of experience to the contrary — everything from New Coke to fall network TV schedules — we eagerly snap up anything that’s presented as innovative.

The concern about repetition crops up most often in planning for ongoing marketing programs, such as ad campaigns or customer newsletters. There’s a belief that everyone hangs on every word we say and commits it to memory, and that they’ll immediately recognize any repetition on our part. Even worse, we’re convinced that the reader will react to that repetition with revulsion and anger. “How dare they talk about the importance of starting with a budget? They mentioned that three months ago!”

“…repetition is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be a very powerful tool.”

However, repetition is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be a very powerful tool. Why? To help you appreciate the value of repetition, I’d ask you to consider several important points:

First, no prospect, customer, or client will pay attention to what you say as closely as you do. I mean no slight to your corporate (or personal) ego, but it’s a simple fact. You and your team may have spent an hour tweaking and twisting that particular sentence to get it just right; your reader skimmed over it in a few nanoseconds. She didn’t take the time to analyze the word choices or consider the quiet subtleties you so carefully added. She came away with a general impression of what you said, and that’s it. Frankly, that’s the best you can hope for.

Second, your prospects, customers, and clients will remember only a small amount of what they learn today, and it’s a safe bet that your message will not be among them, no matter how important it may be to you and your organization.
Third, your prospects, customers, and clients encounter literally thousands of pieces of information every day. From TV commercials, to billboards, to news stories, to social media posts about cats that want cheeseburgers, they are simply inundated with information. That means your message may be one in 10,000 that crosses their mind today. Even if it stood out, it may be among 100 other standouts.

Finally, most people must see your message many times — perhaps dozens — before it takes root in their minds and affects their behavior. That’s why successful advertisers have long understood the value of frequency. With rare exceptions (such as the overpriced and overhyped Super Bowl ads nobody remembers three days later), they run their ads again and again.

Given those realities, spewing all sorts of different information at your target audience is going to be far less effective than repeatedly targeting them with the same message or two. If you have 100 opportunities to connect with your prospects this year, rather than sending 100 different messages one time each, sending one message 100 times will dramatically increase the likelihood that you’ll break through the clutter and implant that message in your audience’s mind.

Besides, if the message you presented the first time is correct, does it become any less correct in the retelling? Most likely, no.

Beyond improving the chances that your audience will remember what you have to say, repetition also reinforces the validity of your position. When you make the same statement again and again, those words appear to be part of your philosophy. People realize that your message isn’t an off-the-cuff remark, but something that you share because you believe it. That kind of consistency builds confidence. (Need proof? How much more seriously would you take the current crop of presidential contenders if their statements remained consistent from month to month?)

If you’re still hesitant to repeat yourself and feel a strong need to change your messages from time to time, be careful that you make those decisions based on your audience’s point of view instead of your own.

I remember a situation in which an ad took several weeks of tweaks to work its way through a client’s approval process. Once it finally did, the client asked when we were going to start running a new ad, because he thought this one had been seen too often. We gently pointed out that although he may have seen it dozens of times, it had never appeared in a publication, so it was safe to assume that his target audience didn’t share his fatigue.