Ever heard “Better the devil you know”? This colloquial saying originated in 1300s Ireland. It’s referring to what was later confirmed by science and coined the mere-exposure effect. It is one of many cognitive biases humans are hard-wired with.
Our minds regard new things as potentially dangerous or risky. Consider, in a pre-civilized setting this would assure your survival by making you wary of new things in your environment. However, with frequent exposure, the new something proves itself to be non-threatening, even friendly, since our brains see that we leave each encounter safe and sound.
The pioneering confirmation of the effect came from the work of Fechner (1876) and Titchener (1910), who referred to the “glow of warmth” felt in the presence of something that is familiar. The effect was studied more in-depth by Robert Zajonc in 1968.
The mere-exposure effect is easy to see in the marketplace as a new brand hits the market looking to go from zero recognition to achieving a high level of brand clout. Tech startups and large businesses looking to reach enterprise-level must attain enough exposure before consumers feel comfortable considering them a contender and buying from them.
Marketers have long known and harnessed this effect. They know if we are exposed to the same brand and messaging again and again, it becomes familiar. Once it is familiar, it feels truer than something we have heard or seen for the first time. With more familiarity comes emotional connection and brand loyalty. As Nobel Prize economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman sums up in his best selling book Thinking, Fast and Slow, “Familiarity breeds liking. This is the mere-exposure effect.” He goes on to cover many cognitive biases and warns that our brains will choose what we love and justify the decision by working backward from there.
Keep this in mind as you are planning your overall marketing strategy. To speed up the time it takes for consumers to become aware and comfortable with your brand, there are a few things you can do.
1 Communicate Regularly
This is a challenge for most brands and businesses. Marketing to your audience with one singular instance of your message will not yield results. Studies show consumers need to be exposed to your message multiple times before they will respond to a call-to-action. Remember, frequency breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds trust.
2 Use Retargeting
Retargeting isn’t just for reminding customers about an abandoned cart. Retargeting helps people get more familiar with your brand and offerings. It also focuses your marketing dollars on prospects who have already shown an interest by visiting your website.
3 Use a Media Mix
The best results come from showing up across various channels (i.e., digital ads, email, social media, PR, print, outdoor, and so forth). Use the right mix for your target audience based on previous research and by keeping an eye on revenue attribution reports. Implement variations in your ads to recapture your audience’s attention but keep the messaging on-target and on-brand.
4 Re-Leverage Your Content in a New Asset Form
Creating high-value content takes time and resources. Once you have enough and can determine from analytics what is performing the best, take that unicorn content and re-leverage it in a new form to delight your users. A blog post can become a video, infographic, or eBook. Content that is valuable and useful will be well-received and get you those eye-balls.
Seeing your brand everywhere builds familiarity, which often leads to an instinctive trust in your business. You’re creating cognitive biases towards your business and brand.
In order for the mere-exposure effect to work, remember to protect your branding. If your brand’s look and feel is inconsistent, you are wasting a lot of money and resources. Start with a locked up logo (the final form of the logo) and brand style guide to keep your brand cohesive and consistent across all media.
Lastly, be wary of over-exposure. Overly aggressive marketing can lead to exposure fatigue. Just think about that song you once loved that you played too many times, and it became annoying. The same can happen for marketing. Just look at the Reddit threads and online petitions against Tide commercials that are driving people up the wall. Consumers are swearing off the product and switching detergent to send a message back to the brand. The tide has certainly turned on them.
Striking the right balance is crucial in today’s ad-saturated digital world. A carefully crafted marketing plan will include repeat exposure along with other essential elements and strategies that can carry a brand from just a name to a market leader.