Behind every single successful brand lies repetition. You have Nike’s “Just Do It”. Apple’s “Think Different”. Donald Trump’s “Build The Wall” and “Make America Great Again”. Snicker’s “You’re not you when you’re hungry”… I could go on forever.
Every single successful brand, every single successful political campaign… They repeat just one or two ideas over and over again, ad nauseam. And that repetition plays a critical role in their success.
Why it’s so damn hard
Most of us feel repetitive and uninteresting if we say the same thing more than once. Of course we do! We take the things we know for granted. To say them even once feels unnatural enough.
But other people can’t read our minds. They don’t even know what we do on a daily basis. How we can help them or what we think about certain things.
Heck, even if we tell them, chances are it won’t stick the first time.
The first barrier to repetition is the curse of knowledge.
Normally when we talk about the curse of knowledge, we refer to the fact that experts have a hard time explaining things to a total beginner (because they implicitly assume background knowledge that the beginner lacks). But there is another aspect to the curse of knowledge: we see 100% of our own tweets, blog posts, videos, emails, and podcast appearances. But others—even our followers—catch maybe 0.1% of it.
My email list has an average open rate of 38%. That means less than half of the people who have opted-in to receive my emails actually read any given email I send out. I could probably say the same thing in the next ten emails, and there would still be a sizeable portion of my subscribers that has no idea what I’m about.
We assume others are more or less just as aware of what we’re up to as we are. But nothing could be further from the truth. Best case scenario is someone sees and engages with every piece of marketing we put out into the world. And they still wouldn’t be nearly as aware of the message as we are (creation requires far more attention and awareness than consumption).
The second barrier is curiosity.
I’m insufferably curious. I love to explore new ideas, weird phenomena, the exceptions to the rule. My mental models are constantly changing as I try to develop a more nuanced and high-fidelity view of different things. I take ideas from one discipline and apply them to different disciplines to see if they apply (that’s how I concluded that the nature of brands is trinitarian). Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Curiosity is an extremely powerful trait, especially when you work in an industry like mine.
But there’s a serious downside to it:
The downside of curiosity is that you quickly get bored with things. You always want to chase the next interesting idea, and you never want to stick around to evangelize the first one. That may be alright if you’re a man of leisure, an aristocrat who doesn’t have to work.
But when you’re trying to grow a brand, it’s a big problem.
How to repeat yourself effectively and tactfully
Repetition creates stickiness. There are three levels of repetition:
- Low: Saying different things every time
- Medium: Repeating the same ideas
- High: Repeating the same phrases
The more consistently you express an idea, the more staying power it has, and the stronger the association between your brand and the idea becomes. Repetition of the same phrase creates the most stickiness. For proof of this, consider that everyone still remembers Trump’s 2016 platform: Build the Wall and Make America Great Again. How many remember Hillary Clinton’s platform? Do you?
For a lot of brands, stickiness is all they need. There’s an exception to this though: when you’re selling expertise, you also need depth.
You see, stickiness comes at a cost. To achieve it, you have to sacrifice depth.
Depending on how much depth you need to contain in your message, the appropriate mix of low (new ideas), medium (same ideas), and high (same phrases) stickiness communication changes. The bias, imo, should generally be towards excessive repetition rather than excessive depth. That’s something I need to fix in my own business too.
Something for you to think about: do you repeat yourself enough in your marketing? How can you become a more disciplined communicator?
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