How Much Repetition Is Too Much?

Recently, I had a conversation with a client and an agency about sales copy. It was the agency staff’s contention there was too much repetition. I disagreed. Which got me to thinking: When is too much repetition, well, too much?

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Recently, I had a conversation with a client and an agency about sales copy. It was the agency staff’s contention there was too much repetition. I disagreed. Which got me to thinking: When is too much repetition, well, too much?

When I refer to repetition, I don’t mean repeating a sentence word-for-word, but rather, rephrasing or reframing an idea in another way.

A strong idea or point deserves repeating. Why? People scan. Attention spans are short. And it’s repetition of an idea or unique selling proposition that reduces the chance that the casual reader will miss what’s most important. Skillful repetition of your idea builds long-term memory.

So why do some marketers think repetition is bad?

I think it’s because, all too often, marketers and their creative teams start to believe they are their own prospective customer and, thus, evaluate everything they read through that lens.

In addition, the marketer or copywriter has read the message multiple times, so it’s familiar — too familiar — to them. It’s not being read with a fresh set of eyes. So when they see an idea repeated, even when craftily reworded, it’s perceived as repetitious, and therefore it’s deemed bad, weakening the sales message.

In the not-so-long-ago days of the most successful of direct mail packages, where I had a hand in their creation, a strong idea would be:

  1. Teased on an outer envelope.
  2. Brought to life in a letter’s headline and lead (and probably repeated elsewhere, especially in a long-form letter).
  3. Stated in a brochure, lift note or other enclosure.
  4. And it sure as heck had better have been repeated on the order device …
  5. … and perhaps even snuck, yet again, into the guarantee.

Repetition starts the path to short-term memory which, as a minimum, is needed to clinch the sale. But well-crafted repetition — or reinforcement of an idea, positioning, or unique selling proposition — leads to forming coveted long-term memory. Long-term memory can succeed in converting a prospect into a paying customer. Better yet, with long-term memory of your idea or USP firmly in place, you increase the likelihood for repeat purchases in the future.

My advice: Don’t be afraid to repeat, or rephrase, a thought.

  • When using email, link thoughts from the subject line to the email copy, once opened.
  • For landing pages, use sidebars or other call-outs.
  • Video content can pass quickly — all the more reason to emphasize important points with repetition (and videos on landing pages should emphasize what the page says).

People scan. Their eyes dart around on a webpage or printed piece. Attention spans are short.

Don’t assume that one passing mention of an important selling message or concept is going to be quickly absorbed by the casual reader. It won’t. Repetition may feel too strong to the marketing team, but chances are your prospective customer is going to remember your message.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

Author: Gary Hennerberg

Reinventing Direct is for the direct marketer seeking guidance in the evolving world of online marketing. Gary Hennerberg is a mind code marketing strategist, based on the template from his new book, "Crack the Customer Mind Code." He is recognized as a leading direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He weaves in how to identify a unique selling proposition to position, or reposition, products and services using online and offline marketing approaches, and copywriting sales techniques. He is sought-after for his integration of direct mail, catalogs, email marketing, websites, content marketing, search marketing, retargeting and more. His identification of USPs and copywriting for clients has resulted in sales increases of 15 percent, 35 percent, and even as high as 60 percent. Today he integrates both online and offline media strategies, and proven copywriting techniques, to get clients results. Email him or follow Gary on LinkedIn. Co-authoring this blog is Perry Alexander of ACM Initiatives. Follow Perry on LinkedIn.

3 thoughts on “How Much Repetition Is Too Much?”

  1. I could not agree more. Virtually all top copywriters know and practice repetition. Young marketers think we are being redundant because they have not tested it.

  2. Yes! Repetition is very, very important. How many of your favorite songs have repetition in the lyrics or the music? And repetition has done wonders for some politicians, even ones I don’t care for. All I would add is to make sure that you’re repeating the USP of your offer! (I like to do that in the letter’s PS as well).

  3. I’m from back in the days of Direct Mail and TV and Radio spot advertising buying. I worked with rep organizations and the networks. My clients were primarily non-profit service organizations, so my stuff had to stick. I found repetition meant everything to direct response TV and radio.

    The direct telephone responses were good and got even better with more repetition of the spots in the schedule. And professionally done qualitative studies backed up the staying power of the message and of the USP.

    Clients ask me the same questions your novices are apparently asking. Why so much repetition? My short answer was that I’d rather reach 20,000 people five time, than to reach 100,000 one time. And that just works better.

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