Editor’s note: This column is an updated and revised article based on one from December 2011.
“That bears repeating.”
Speakers, preachers and teachers have used that phrase since the beginning of recorded history, and with good reason. It draws your attention and focuses your thinking.
Napoleon Hill, the author of the classic motivation book, “Think and Grow Rich,” puts it this way: “Any idea, plan or purpose may be placed in the mind through repetition of thought.”
So with repetition, whether it be seen, heard out loud, or repeated in the mind, has a profound impact.
There is power in repetition. It’s arguably the most critical principle used in advertising. Who hasn’t seen and heard Geico’s mantra “15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance?”
In the past couple years, most of the major car insurance companies have followed suit: State Farm’s “She shed” campaign; Farmers’ “We know a thing or two”; Liberty’s “Liberty, Liberty; Liberty.”
Some are clever, and some are annoying, but they all tend to work. And repetitive campaigns have staying power. Advertising of cigarettes on TV was banned decades ago (in 1970). But if you are over 55, chances are the jingle, “Winston tastes good (clack, clack) like a cigarette should,” is still etched in your brain.
Most of what we hear and learn is soon lost from our available memory. I squirm a bit when I ask what percentage of all the tests I have ever taken in my life I could pass today. Likely less than 10 or 15 %. Of course, education and understanding are more than just recalling information, but all of us have certain things we should or must remember.
Whether it’s clients’ names, a musical selection or key concepts of our profession, by and large, those things we do remember are based on the power of repetition.
Like many of you, I was raised in a church environment and attended church for most of my life. We have been inspired, instructed, and at times corrected by those thousands of sermons we have heard. But most of us would likely have trouble remembering the sermon of a month ago, let alone even this past Sunday. Again, like education, the long-term impact is not measured by just what we can recall but, still, recollection is essential.
Where I first really learned about the power of repetition goes back to a sermon I heard from the Rev. Dr. Raymond Blair in Tallahassee, Fla., more than 25 years ago. It is the only sermon I can honestly say I remember to this day in more than 60 years of hearing thousands of sermons.
One Sunday evening, Blair was talking about the value of not giving up and quitting. He spoke about a fellow in the New Testament named Demas. Throughout the sermon Blair used the phrase, “and Demas quit” at least 50 times.
As commentator Robert Collier has said, “Constant repetition carries conviction.” Across the years when I have been tempted to give up on something, Blair’s lesson about ole Demas has stuck with me. The last thing I want to be known for is “Daake quit!”
The power of repetition is significant in business. Advertising experts tell us that a customer may only notice a new product or service if we repeat the message a minimum of seven times. Of course for some advertisers, it’s more like 70 times seven. As a business person or an individual trying to sell a product, service, or even yourself, use the power of repetition — but use it wisely.
Many times a powerful logo can equal the impact of a verbal message. Ironically one of the world’s most potent brands — Nike — payed a graduate student Carolyn Davidson $14 a day — for a grand total of $35 for the original “strip” which became the Swoosh design. (Thankfully, they later did give her some stock worth about a million dollars today.)
Below are three guidelines that will help you to tap into this powerful concept.
First, keep your message as simple as possible. What you are selling, whether it be a product or yourself, is often very complex. But with short attention spans, people will only pay attention to a simple message.
Across the years, Coca-Cola has mastered this concept. Who can forget the campaign, “It’s the Real Thing?” Coke’s message was steady, simple and repeated thousands of times.
Second, make sure your message is truthful. Unfortunately, some people will believe almost anything if repeated enough times. That is the philosophy behind “The Big Lie” approach. But nowadays, because of instantaneous communications, the widespread use of the Internet as a verification tool, and social networking, your message better be truthful.
Third, make your message consistent. Most of us want to complicate our message and make multiple claims. That is OK once we have established a relationship and have more time to explain the finer points.
We might have the best product with 18 outstanding features. So we are tempted to list all 18 attributes — that makes our message confusing and hard to comprehend. Who can forget one of the best and longest-running advertising campaigns of all time — the Chevy pickup truck ads “Like a Rock.”
Rather than pitching the truck’s many notable features, they simply and consistently used Bob Seger’s theme song to carry the message of durability and Americana. The power of repetition magnifies a consistent message or theme. So there it is — the power of repetition.
While you might not remember the details of this article in a week, chances are you’ll remember the central idea since I have used “repetition” or some from of the word no fewer than 13 times.