How often does a marketer need to repeat his message? The answer used to be “as much as possible.” The answer today is “it depends” — an answer marketers can now support with data.
This message repetition is known as “cadence.” Getting this right can be every bit as important as sending the right message. The goal is to reach the customer no more than necessary. There is no magic number to go by. You have to find the cadence which works.
If communication is too infrequent, the message does not get through. Repeat it too often and the customer tunes out, or worse, unsubscribes. Knowing when to approach the customer, how often, and with what kind of message is the marketer’s data-driven art. It is not black magic.
Messages Do Not Live By Cadence Alone
Cadence is not the sole factor governing market communication or advertising. It often has to be paired with another factor to reach the customer somewhere in the funnel.
One approach is to pair cadence with relevance.“Make sure you present a message which resonates with the audience,” says Cassie Lancellotti-Young, EVP for customer success at Sailthru, a multi-channel marketing firm. It is usually the client who holds they keys to unlocking relevance, since he is usually sitting on a treasure trove of unused data that the marketer can analyze.
There is more to relevance than the right message. “A lot of factors affect cadence,” says Mark Priebe, president of Proximity Marketing, a firm that specializes in e-mail marketing.
Can you deliver specific content based on the information the customer provides about his or her behavior and past engagement? That engagement can be seasonal — a customer may want to hear about winter vacation offers, but not in the summer.
“Opt-outs increasing tells me that we are not delivering relevant material” Priebe says. “Drill down and understand what makes the customer tick.”
Frequency can be effective or acceptable, notes Dr. Louisa Ha, professor of media production and studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Effective frequency (wear-in) measures how many times an ad must be shown to create an impression on the individual. Acceptable frequency (wear out) is the maximum number of times an ad is served to an audience before the ad becomes annoying.
“There are studies on the wear-out effect which show different ad themes have different threshold of wear-out. To avoid wear-out, there should be variations of the ad so that the same message is reinforced without showing the same thing,” Ha says.
The Short-Term Temptation
Clients live in a real world where they have to make their quarterly numbers and sales goals. The bottom line matters. It is no surprise that clients will go where marketers fear to tread: succumbing to short-term pressures and going for the hard sell.
Clients mistakenly assumed that the best strategy was to push the message is through all channels. “They believe if you throw enough against the wall, something will stick.” Lancellotti-Young says. “When reaching out to your own subscribers, not one size fits all. That is the problem.”
Firms can take an algorithmic approach, measuring what affect cadence has on their audience, showing what percentage of subscribers are lost within x days. What one needs to avoid is the short-term pressure that leads to the hard sell, Lancellotti-Young adds. “Use the numbers as a jumping-off point for targeting.”
Data is lending a lot of sophistication to marketing, giving the client a broader view of customer engagement, Priebe continues. Engagement can be tracked across channels. “You start to understand what feels right with the audience.” he says. That could mean product updates only or daily notices, but that insight will come from the data.
Clients sometimes fumble when they step up cadence to create fake immediacy. “people see through insincerity,” Priebe says. The marketer has to be respectful.
“Because of the many individual variation in acceptance of ads and advertising execution, it is hard to have an optimal one for everyone.” Ha adds.. “A company should do a pretest on target consumers to develop an optimal frequency for their particular ad.”
The hard sell is not a good move in the long game.
The pressure to make numbers may force a client to burn through customers to gain a temporary bump in sales. Once that passes, a business is forced to find more customers to fill the funnel, Lancellotti-Young explains.
“Cadence is for creating impact.” Ha notes. “ For an established brand, cadence is more for brand loyalty cultivation. For a new brand, cadence is to facilitate awareness and interest.”
Aim is a Fragile Virtue
In short, cadence is one of several variables that must be adjusted to craft aim—being able to hit your target audience without a lot of collateral wastage.
In the digital realm, data helps with aim, as everything a customer does online generates data. Sadly, the systems needed to keep up with this data and effectively integrate it with aim are not quite there yet. Your marketing message may be a good one, but flashing it in the wrong place at the wrong time can help kill a sales opportunity. The cadence may be right, but misplaced.
Priebe gives one example that happened inside his agency. A member of the creative staff was shopping for a gift for his wife, visiting web sites featuring jewelry. Unfortunately, his online activity generated web ads that were fed into his home system, with targeted jewelry ads popping up suddenly at sites his wife was visiting while she was online, ruining any surprise value the gift might have had.
The story underlines cadence in the wrong context. A consumer does not want to see an ad for a refrigerator weeks after buying one, Priebe notes. The message is no longer relevant and its frequency is irritating.
“Cadence is more often wrong than right, only because the marketer did not take the next step” monitoring the customer’s activity, Priebe explains.
Data and software tools give marketers new powers to reach the customer, but judgment needs to catch up. Lancellotti-Young recalls one wise observation made by one of her business school professors: “Marketers need to observe the ‘spandex rule’: just because you can do something does not mean you should do it.”
“Be ethical and respect for the intelligence of the customer and the editorial content of the media vehicle,” Ha adds. “Good quality ads can mitigate the negative effect of cadence and people love watching or reading it.”
“A marketer’s job is to present solutions to the customer that are real and valuable,” says Priebe.