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Repeat after me …

December 16, 2010

As location, location, location is to real estate, repeat, repeat, repeat is to the marketing and communications business. If you want your message heard, if you truly want it understood, you have to repeat it. Over and over and over again.

It’s a simple principle but it’s often violated and I think the reason is marketing and communications professionals become too familiar with their message as they are developing it. This causes them to be over-confident in what it represents, leading to a belief the message will be easily understood by everyone. What they forget is they likely have been exposed to the message dozens, if not hundreds, of times over many weeks and months. By the time they are ready to go live they’ve been so exposed to the message they are already living it, forgetting the audience has never heard, seen or experienced it.

When we’ve been exposed to a message repeatedly we begin to believe everyone understands it the way we do. It causes us to be cavalier with the core principle of repeat, repeat, repeat. We believe once is enough, twice is plenty and three times is too many when twenty times would do. You want a message heard? Say it twenty times over. Repeat it until the recipient indicates it has been understood.

To be clear, I’m not strictly speaking about effective frequency; a marketing theory regarding the number of touches your brand has to have with a consumer before they make a purchase decision. I’m talking about a general communications principle of requiring multiple touches before someone deeply understands the message you are trying to give. This applies to everything you are trying to communicate from what your brand stands for to what you, as an executive leader, stand for. If you have a particular goal you want your team to reach you have to tell them what that goal is, over and over and over. If you have a particular vision for your company you have to communicate that vision, over and over and over. If you have a particular key message you want intermediaries to understand (and repeat to others), you have to train them over and over and over.

If what you have to say is important to say once, then say it twice. And then again. You’ll know the message has become embedded when you hear it being repeated back to you without prompting. For example, one of the goals for my team is for people to be “T-shaped”; it means to be focused on collaboration with others, to work with others in an unified manner and to partner with others to reach a common goal. I put the message in a manifesto, I shared that message in staff meetings, I talked about it in one-on-ones, I included it in emails and I talked about it in the hallways. I know people are getting the message because I have people who physically demonstrate to me they are T-shaped as they hold out their arms to their sides when they see me, they tell me they are T-shaped in emails they send to me and they repeat the words in meetings I am at. Even though this message is getting across I still am talking about being T-shaped and likely always will. Why? Because if it was important enough to say once, it is important enough to say again. And again, and again, and again.

Location, location, location. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Simple rules with lasting and powerful effects.

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