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?

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.

The 3 Levels of Memory: Marketing’s End-Game

Why Is long-term memory a direct marketer’s coveted end-game? Because our minds are wired to remember certain types of messages. If you want a favorable outcome, your marketing and sales success is more likely when you instill long-term memory in your prospects. Creating long-term memory enhances your ability to …

Tom Marin brainWhy Is long-term memory a direct marketer’s coveted end-game? Because our minds are wired to remember certain types of messages. If you want a favorable outcome, your marketing and sales success is more likely when you instill long-term memory in your prospects. Creating long-term memory enhances your ability to make the sale and close the deal.

In today’s world of relentless distraction, it’s become challenging for our marketing and sales pitches to stick. So for today, here’s a look at three levels of memory, and where you can plug in to channels and approaches that will help create long-term memory of you and your product.

For a couple of years I have become increasingly intrigued with new discoveries of brain research. Parallel to that research is my analysis of the brain’s pathways of thinking and decision-making, and ultimately how people move themselves to take action.

It’s my belief that to be successful now, you must first create at least short-term memory, with the most desired and successful level being long-term memory.

Synthesizing memory to three levels, marketers often begin with glance and forget marketing, moving to short-term memory, and the ultimate place you want messaging to breakthrough is with long-term memory about your organization and product.

In a post from earlier last year, explaining in detail why direct mail won’t die, I shared these three stages of memory:

  • Glance and Forget means that in seconds we forget what we just saw or read. The vast majority of social media and mass media, just to name a couple of channels, is just that: glance and forget. That’s why in these channels, repetition is key to move the prospect up the ladder to short-term memory.
  • Short-Term Memory evaporates in just minutes or hours. This may be just enough time to move a person to action, but with the risk that there may be a misunderstanding of your product leading to cart abandonment, underutilized product potential, or cancellations.
  • Long-Term Memory lasts several hours, a day, maybe a week, and in a few instances, a lifetime. Once you achieve long-term memory, your odds of closing the deal are significantly enhanced. Moreover, this is how your customer becomes an advocate and sticks with you in the long run.

How do you move your prospect to long-term memory about you?

5 Copy Approaches to Influence Gut Reaction

Call it a gut reaction, but oftentimes our prospects and customers make decisions and respond based on intuition, a hunch, or professional judgment. In direct response, we want quick action. We know if the prospect drifts away from our message we’ll lose them, usually forever. So while the logic and quantification of your sales story may be overwhelmingly in your favor, it can be intuition that turns the prospect away because

 

Call it a gut reaction, but oftentimes our prospects and customers make decisions and respond based on intuition, a hunch or professional judgment. In direct response, we want quick action. We know if the prospect drifts away from our message, we’ll lose them, usually forever. So while the logic and quantification of your sales story may be overwhelmingly in your favor, it can be intuition that turns the prospect away because of something that felt too good to be true, leaves room for skepticism, or an unintended nuance in copy that you overlooked and loses the sale for you.

Even if all the arguments you’ve made in your content are authentically and credibly in your favor, a person’s gut decision often prevails.

And here’s what is frustrating: Studies suggest that often a person’s gut reaction is wrong because it’s subject to bias. Your prospect might overestimate his or her ability to assemble a product, for example. Or may think it takes too much time to read your information, learning materials or book. Perhaps when your prospect has made a mistake related to what you’re selling, he or she doesn’t understand why, or is hesitant to ask for help or feedback. And she or he forgets. That is, customers forget the last time they made a poor decision based on their gut instead of listening to logic.

How do you overcome gut emotion and reaction? You have to help your prospective customers or donors through the decision making process. Do it with these ideas:

  1. Lead your prospect to a sense of revelation. That happens when the obvious in your conscious mind finally learns something that your subconscious mind already knew. Ask yourself: When are you most creative (what you might consider right brain thinking)? For most people, it’s when we are exercising, walking, jogging, listening to music, in the shower, or in an unfamiliar environment. Some of my best ideas have struck me while on vacation, when my mind is suspended from the consciousness of day-to-day responsibilities. Lead your prospect to an awakening.
  2. Give ’em chills. A reaction inside the mind often is accompanied by a physical sensation. It could be chills or goosebumps. For some people, it may be an unusual feeling in the stomach or throat. You can create these physical sensations when copy is accompanied by strong visuals that paint a picture. Music is another way to stimulate a physical reaction. While you can’t pipe in music to printed material, you can use music in video or on your website.
  3. Past experience recall. Your brain’s hippocampus stores long-term memory. Long-term memories are with you for your entire life, unless something comes along to pave new grooves and create a new memory. You aren’t likely to replace past long-term memories, but you do have the opportunity to create another memory that neutralizes a bad memory, or enhance a good memory. Creating new memory is harder to do than drawing on a past memory. When you can, allow your content to take your prospect to a positive place, or hit a negative memory head-on with something so strong you can overcome the negativity.
  4. Challenge the perceptual rules made up in the mind. For some people, changing an ingrained rule is impossible, even if it’s wrong. If when a person can’t articulate why the rule exists, you may be able to use an overwhelming amount of empirical data or statistics from credible third party sources to turn around a rules-based individual. But don’t count on it.
  5. Recognize Patterns and Cross-Index. Help your prospect see something familiar to engage intuitive skills. The more material about your product or service that you can provide to cross-index in the mind, the higher likelihood your prospect’s intuition will kick in on a positive note for you.

You won’t always be able to prevail over intuition or gut reaction, but when you anticipate that probability in your copy, you can turnaround a potential lost sale.

Digital Onslaught: I’m Losing My Brain, and What’s Left Is Being Rewired

I am convinced that the ubiquity of and access to knowledge—largely digital and increasingly mobile—that I have come to depend upon today is rewiring my brain. What I used to commit to memory, I increasingly assign to libraries on my computer and in the cloud. Am I being lazy, or old, or am I equipping myself to a new age of information—and analysis-on-command?

I am convinced that the ubiquity of and access to knowledge—largely digital and increasingly mobile—that I have come to depend upon today is rewiring my brain. What I used to commit to memory, I increasingly assign to libraries on my computer and in the cloud. Am I being lazy, or old, or am I equipping myself to a new age of information—and analysis-on-command? While the pursuit of knowledge is universal, perhaps how the next generation learns is different from how I learn, or used to learn. I’m late to the party, and I am either caught or willfully going through the transition.

I am not alone. The collective universe of the human brain is being rewired by digital communication: Out of necessity, the brain is being “trained” to skim instead of read. Even worse, British researchers are now theorizing and calling for further study on the possibility that simultaneous multi-screen viewing may destroy brain grey matter.

To counteract this “danger,” perhaps it is necessary to set aside time to read—the way we used to. Parents should assign books for their kids to read from cover-to-cover, and preferably in print and not on tablets. I make sure to read The Economist in print from cover to cover, but I had better put some books back in the mix fast. Discipline dictates that you should not rely solely on screens to absorb knowledge—because maybe you won’t absorb any all, and even if you do, it won’t be accurate.

One expert—who is committed to reading books online—says the only way to absorb knowledge on a screen is to physically take notes on what you’ve just read. The act of writing helps to commit the content to memory.

This is pretty serious stuff. I wonder if we really are having our brains rewired—or diminished—by digital media, just what do society, education and family households need to do counteract this phenomenon? Yes, we need to skim, but the Slow Reading Movement needs to take hold.

You can start by not reading this blog—online that is.

The Mailboxes of My Memory

In my life, I’ve had a lot of mailboxes. My current box (New York, N.Y.) is part of an apartment building cluster box—and one that proudly holds about four to five days’ worth of mail, including magazines and catalogs. I can run off for a day or two and the incoming mail safely, securely collects there without my having to fill out a “hold mail” card at the local Murray Hill post office

It’s the height of summer in New York City—seems like we shrugged off the chills—and my mind has turned to lemonade, fresh berries, the beach at Fire Island and my upcoming class reunion in Ogallala, Nebraska.

Getting nostalgic is something I think I have a knack for … Funny, even as I experience present moments presently, I sometimes find myself wondering how I will think about each memory years down the road. Pretty convoluted—experiencing “now,” and thinking ahead about thinking back, all at the same time. The weekend of my class reunion, I literally will be reliving a time a few decades ago, except this go-around on my terms.

In my life, I’ve had a lot of mailboxes. My current box (New York, NY) is part of an apartment building cluster box—and one that proudly holds about four to five days’ worth of mail, including magazines and catalogs. I can run off for a day or two and the incoming mail safely, securely collects there without my having to fill out a “hold mail” card at the local Murray Hill post office. Before we remodeled our building’s lobby, I had a tinier cluster box—installed in the 1960s—that could barely hold a day’s mail. The mail carrier sometimes would just come up the elevator and leave my mail on the mat by my door. He was probably not following protocol, but I bet he was just as happy as I was when we installed the larger boxes.

Before New York City, and a few prior addresses ago, I lived in Newtown, CT, with my family during my college years. There we first had a standard USPS mailbox with an up-and-down flag, the kind you still find at Sears. Mom was an avid direct shopper. Her L.L. Bean and Lands End deliveries were stuffed in the mailbox and sometimes dangled out over the open lid. (The QVC purchases came by UPS and were left by the garage door.)

After a series of snowfalls, when the town plow took out the mailbox for a second or third time, we had had it. A friend of my Mom’s engineered a piece of genius: a super-jumbo mailbox that set on a sliding rail that in wintertime could ride forward over the snowbank to easily meet the reach of the mail truck. We could slide the mailbox back from the road during snowstorms to keep it from getting whacked. It also held a lot of mail order packages.

That was my favorite mailbox—but it also was a favorite of yellow jackets during springs and summers. Each year I had to spray it with insect killer to eradicate a growing hive. (Aside, we always hear about letter carriers and dog bites—but how many bee stings do letter carriers endure?) I also remember the hearty hostas perennials that would grow so fervently around the base of the mailbox—and to this day, hostas are my go-to ground cover in any area beset by sand and road salt leftovers from the winter.

In Ogallala, NE, we actually had a “city style” single-residence black mailbox with a top lid and two parallel curling hooks underneath for flyers and my Boys Life magazine (my first piece of regular mail, that I can recall), attached to the house by the front door. I had my first pen pal then, too—a school principal I corresponded with from Melfort, Saskatchewan. Nothing unusual in this mailbox setup—until my big sister (well, allegedly, one of her friends) was found to be hiding a stash of 70’s illicit paraphernalia inside a corner of it. Talk about special delivery! I wonder if she shared any of it with the postman.

Then I go back to childhood—in Williamstown, MA. There we had a roadside mailbox, where one of my daily chores was to check for mail (we didn’t always get mail) and to put outgoing letters in the box with the flag up. It was the 1960s. I remember Mr. ZIP ads on television, his likeness on the sides of the mail truck, and the occasional special letters written to me from Grandma and Grandpa that always were addressed (until age 12) as “Master Chester Goodale Dalzell II”—no mistaking that for a note sent to my Dad (also named Chet).

As a kid, I hated firecrackers, and one day Stewy, a guy next door, lit a cherry bomb that exploded inside the mailbox when I was just a few feet from it. The mailbox endured, but my fear of fireworks only grew exponentially. (I love fireworks today, after therapy.)

I’ll never forget that noise—but I also will always love another noise, actually a sequence of noises, that I fear is going away soon … the sound of the mail truck driving up to the box, the squeak open of the hinge of the mailbox lid, the flag being dropped when an outgoing letter is picked up, and the squeak shut of the lid just as the truck drove off. No matter where in house I was standing, and no matter what I was doing, I could hear it. Those noises triggered in me a sliver of daily excitement—”what’s inside today’s mail?” and I would run out to check the mailbox, sometimes fast enough to wave at the postman as he continued with his appointed rounds.

Do you have a mailbox memory you want to share? How about “posting” one here?