The Name on Everyone’s Lips: Effective Frequency

lucky 7I can’t count the number of times I have heard indies talk about getting a return on their investment when it comes to advertising. Most people consider an ad successful only if they make more money from sales of their books than the ad cost them.

It’s undeniably great when that happens. But that’s not what marketing is for. Marketing is not for selling stuff – at least, not directly. It’s for making your brand so familiar to consumers that they will decide they need whatever it is you’re selling.

A single ad does not familiarity make. There’s an old chestnut in the marketing business that it takes seven contacts with a prospective customer before you will see any results. In general, someone needs to see your novel seven times before they’ll decide to buy. The technical term for this is “effective frequency” (also known as the Marketing Rule of Seven).

There’s actually some dispute whether the “seven times” rule is still true. Thanks to the intertubes, we’re so overwhelmed with marketing messages nowadays that it probably takes even more impressions to, uh, make an impression. One blog post I read while preparing this article suggests the new number is 13. Although big numbers aren’t new; back in 1885, a guy named Thomas Smith wrote a book called Successful Advertising in which he claimed it takes 20 views of an ad before it makes a dent:

• The first time people look at any given ad, they don’t even see it.

• The second time, they don’t notice it.

• The third time, they are aware that it is there.

• The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it somewhere before.

• The fifth time, they actually read the ad.

• The sixth time they thumb their nose at it.

• The seventh time, they start to get a little irritated with it.

• The eighth time, they start to think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”

• The ninth time, they start to wonder if they’re missing out on something.

• The tenth time, they ask their friends and neighbors if they’ve tried it.

• The eleventh time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.

• The twelfth time, they start to think that it must be a good product.

• The thirteenth time, they start to feel the product has value.

• The fourteenth time, they start to remember wanting a product exactly like this for a long time.

• The fifteenth time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.

• The sixteenth time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.

• The seventeenth time, they make a note to buy the product.

• The eighteenth time, they curse their poverty for not allowing them to buy this terrific product.

• The nineteenth time, they count their money very carefully.

• The twentieth time prospects see the ad, they buy what is offering.

Personally, I think Mr. Smith went a little overboard. But I thought his most interesting point was number 10: asking friends and neighbors what they’ve heard. Word-of-mouth is the single most successful marketing you can get. And how do you get word-of-mouth recommendations? Why, from putting your name in front of prospective customers seven (or 13 or 20) times.

And even then, you have to get lucky. If luck didn’t play a part in it – if it was all about just throwing cash at advertising – then every book traditional publishers have ever advertised as the next bestseller would have been one. And we all know how that has worked out for them.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

30 thoughts on “The Name on Everyone’s Lips: Effective Frequency”

  1. Great post, Lynne. This is one of the reasons I almost always have a little Goodreads ad going. I think of it as moving the book to a table in front of the store as opposed to having it stuffed somewhere on a shelf in the back of the store.

  2. Great post, Lynne. Even if the formula is not exact, I think it’s fairly accurate in the way things penetrate our consciousness (even when we don’t want it to). There’s no denying that the dumbest fashion statement becomes, at some point, acceptable and even attractive if we’ve been force-fed the durn thing long enough. There’s no denying that name recognition is huge. Thanks for posting; good food for thought.

    1. You’re welcome, Melissa. It stinks to see cash going out the window without selling a commensurate number of books, but that’s how it works. Marketing is all about top-of-mind awareness.

  3. Great bit of info Lynne. I understand indie authors need exposure. I didn’t realise it was exposure, exposure, exposure. Or exposure to the 3rd power.

    1. Right, Elisabeth. And I have a bad feeling that if you quit making noise for a while, the crowd will move on past you. Which means I probably need to step things up again for my own books. Sigh…

  4. Thanks so much for this post, Lynne! I had this vague memory of seeing something along these lines ages ago, but it only stuck in my head because I thought the number was 6, as in Six Degrees of Separation. Naturally, when I went looking for it again, I kept getting hits for the wrong concept.

    Bookmarked with thanks. 🙂

  5. Thank you Lynne — good to know. Seems like one has to strike the right balance between not pushing your work on people and aggressive marketing — a theoretical impossibility for someone like me — who is impatient and ignorant in many cyber-ways, to say the least. I’ll think of this as using what the Buddhists call “skillful means”…sigh….I have so much to learn.

  6. I must confess that the Rule of Seven does work. In my days as a marketing consultant, I taught that you have to make a meaningful contact with a prospect, on average, seven times before they’ll trust you with their money. (Sometimes, it might take 20 contacts.) The sheer repetition of agreeable contact builds trust. It’s the same when selling books or, indeed, anything on-line. I run an on-line fiction writing program and, on average, people need to read seven emails from me before they’ll join my group. Repetition plus integrity is the answer. And avoiding spam!

  7. I just had a “doh” moment. I’ve known this for years and yet it was so easy to let it slip on by when it was my own ads I was buying. Thanks for the refresher.

  8. Great post, Lynne. I was in advertising once upon a time. It’s a common belief in marketing that repetition builds confidence in a product. Why do you reach for one product more than another when you’re shopping? Coca Cola was first advertised in 1887. Coca Cola marketing continues. I firmly believe the squeaky wheel gets the most oil, and yes there’s a risk that the squeaking can be an annoyance, but I’m in agreement with Thomas Smith. Evidence of what he says being correct is all those books on my Kindle. They’re the ones I saw over and over and over and over again.

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