Is There a Science to Staying Top-of-Mind?

If you had to guestimate, how many ads would you calculate seeing every day? A few thousand? Would it surprise you to know that as an average American we are exposed to 4,000 – 10,000 ads per day depending on our use of media and exposure to in-home and out-of-home marketing? That is nearly double the number we were exposed to in 2007 and over five times the number of ads many of us saw or heard growing up in the 1970s.

If you are a financial advisor or agent trying to get your name out there, the process can seem quite overwhelming. How can “Brand You” break through?

As it turns out, science points to a few key principles that can give even brands-on-a-budget an edge in staying top-of-mind. One is the Mere-Exposure Effect.

Coined in the 1960s by social psychologist Robert Zajonc, the Mere-Exposure Effect is a precept that states when people are familiar with something, they prefer it. Further, given a choice of two options, they’ll prefer the one they’ve been exposed to the most.

For example, a 2012 study of the Eurovision song contest discovered that the number of votes the contestant received paralleled the number of times the times the contestant was seen by an audience.  

Just like the Eurovision voters, customers tend to prefer something the more times they see it. This preference leads to purchase. Okay … so if mere exposure matters, does this mean subliminal advertising works? The answer is yes and no.

September 12, 1957, James M. Vicary, an independent marketing researcher announced that subliminal advertising did, indeed work.  He called a press conference to announce the results of an unusual experiment.

Over a six-week period he had the slogans, “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola”— flashed for three milliseconds, every five seconds, onto a movie screen in Fort Lee, N.J., while patrons watched the movie Picnic. The messages were too fast for viewers to read but noticeable enough for the audience to subconsciously observe. His data “proved” so by increased soda sales at the theater by 18 percent and popcorn sales by 58 percent.

This naturally infuriated a public already afraid that Madison Avenue could control them like puppets. But when researchers tried to replicate Vicary’s findings during the late 50s and early 60s, none succeeded. Five years later, Vicary confessed that his experiment was nothing more than a gimmick, but this confession got far less attention than his publicity stunt.

Many researchers still believed in the power of subliminal advertising and continued to try and recreate Vicary’s results. In 2002, a group of Princeton University researchers inserted some frames of a Coca-Cola can and some frames of the word “thirsty” in an episode of the popular TV show “The Simpsons”. Participants reported feeling 27% more thirsty after watching the whole clip. The control group was “slightly less thirsty” after watching the clip without the inserted messages.

But what is truly important in these observations, is that further experimentation showed that only when the viewer was thirsty at the time, were they more likely to ask for the brand of beverage they saw in the clip.

And this has followed with all documented research into the subject of subliminal advertising: an individual’s vulnerability to subliminal suggestion depends greatly on a number of variables, including his or her physical needs and habits at the time they are exposed to the message.

There is power in other everyday “hidden” persuaders such as scent and sound.

For instance, in 2005 Rob Holland and his colleagues at Radboud asked 56 students to list five activities they hoped to undertake during the next few days. Half of the participants encountered the citrus smell of an all-purpose cleaner in the room, whereas the other half worked in a scent-free lab. The first group did not report noticing any scent, yet 36 percent of them wrote that they planned to clean their apartments. By comparison only 11 percent of the subjects who worked in the odor-free setting wrote ‘cleaning’ down as one of their goals. Holland and his colleagues concluded that the citrus scent had increased the cognitive desire to clean. (Who knows if these subjects actually accomplished their cleaning goals – this information was not a part of the study.)

Indeed, such hints do not last long in our memory. Environmental triggers appear to be most potent in scenarios where we can act on them immediately, a fact that makes them useful in certain commercial settings. For instance – when teen girl’s clothing stores play upbeat current pop music, it is meant to put young ladies in a fun, “buying” mood to increase sales.

Music also appears to have a direct and unique effect on the spending habits of restaurant patrons. Adrian North, when at the University of Leicester in England, varyied the music in a restaurant dining room for three weeks: classical to pop, to music free. Classical music resulted in patrons spending an average of $45, $40 when listening to pop, and when there was no music – only $39 on average.

The Mere-Exposure Effect takeaway? Essentially, repeated exposure builds brand awareness. When the time comes to make a purchase decision, the buyer will be more likely to choose the brand they’ve been exposed to more often. However, subliminal advertising cannot “brainwash” a buyer into purchasing an item. It can cause them to trigger thoughts of wanting or needing an item (for instance, thinking about what would happen to their loved ones if they were no longer around to care for their family in the future.) However, only if a person is hungry, thirsty, or otherwise in need of the purchase of an item (such as life insurance) — can an advertiser leverage the fact that the consumer has recently seen a message that influences a particular purchase. Familiarity and proximity within a short timeframe of purchase decision simply places “Brand You” above your competitors in the mind of your target audience.

Is there a science to building recognition through repetition? Yes! Let’s look at Two-Factor Theory.

Professor Daniel Berlyne developed one of the leading theories on the effect of repetition on consumer behavior while working at the University of Toronto in the 1970s. Called the Two-Factor Theory, or wear-in/wear-out theory, this hypothesis suggests that repetition has a positive effect for a period, and then begins to have a negative effect.

During the first phase, (wear-in), repetition of an ad creates familiarity with the brand, often overcoming consumer reluctance to purchase a new product or brand. As the repetition continues however, consumers can become overly-used to the brand and may enter a second phase, called wear-out. In the wear-out phase, consumer exhaustion regarding the brand and the repetition of ads can even cause consumers to stop buying the product or brand altogether.

The Two-Factor Theory takeaway?  The key is to stay true to your branding message but vary your content. Email your clients and prospects insightful e-Newsletters or Weekly Market Commentaries … Send emails with e-Storyboards, e-Videos and e-Checklists to trigger thoughts of needing life insurance, or are focused on other sales-triggering topics … Email e-Cards for birthdays, and traditional and non-traditional holiday cards to show you care about more than just the sale. Make sure all messages have your name, logo, photo and contact information – NOT a “powered by” message that proves to the client or prospect that contacting them is business, not personal to you. With e-Relationship, each email is a personal message from “Brand You.”

Just as you wouldn’t want to be emailed every other day, don’t email your contact list every other day. Let e-Relationship tailor an automated digital marketing calendar to meet your specific needs. It is scientifically proven to space the correct mix of content in a way that builds a lasting relationship between you and your target market.

So yes — there is a science to staying top-of-mind with clients and prospects. It is part psychology, part technology and part a quarter-century of MDRT financial services knowhow that preceded the creation of e-Relationship. We continue to evolve by facilitating more advanced features and content … but we remain focused on ever remaining #1 in generating hot leads with every group of digital marketing emails our subscribers send!  

Leave a Reply