FREQUENCY! YOUR BIGGEST DIGITAL MARKETING MISTAKE!


IT'S SCIENCE! Selecting the right audience and the advertising tactic is only part of the answer for any advertiser or marketer.


I frequently interact with a number of professional or small businesses who tell me: "I tried to run ads on Facebook, but it just didn't work."


My first question is:

"What was your goal?"

My second question is just as important - but is attemtping to uncover a common malady related to a very common misunderstanding on how advertising actually works (and is seeking to understand more than you may think):

"How much did you spend?"

I actually am not that interested in the dollar amount you spent, but I'm attempting to cross tabulate the size of your target audience (let's call that 'reach") relative to how much you spent; which generates a rough idea of what your frequency was.


Reach and frequency are the currencies of media planning. Reach tells you how many people were exposed to your message. Frequency tells you how many times - on average - they saw your message.


A dirty secret of the media planning profession is that nothing else matters as much as frequency (in most cases- as with anything, there are exceptions).


Even if your message is clever, clear, relevant and well executed, without frequency, people won't even be aware that they saw it. On the other hand, a confusing, poorly executed ad that a persons is exposed to multiple times will almost always have amazing retention or recall (for better or worse!).


The human mind easily forgets information if not exposed to the same message multiple times. Repeated exposures of a message are critical to achieve effectiveness. This is the most important part of the education for any media planner since time immemorial.


The below image graphically illustrates the relationship between "reach" (on the vertical axis) and "frequency" (on the horizontal axis).


The amount of money that is available to promote a message can be diverted to either reach (more people seeing the ad - but fewer times) or towards frequency (fewer total people seeing the ad, but those people see the ad - on average - multiple times).

Given that nearly every advertising campaign has a budget limit, the media planner needs to determine the appropriate trade off. Generally, most marketers familiar with this concepts acknowledge that achieving a frequency of level of 3 or more is essential.


This rule is based on decades of research on the human mind, and how human beings identify and process information. It may be possible for you to evaluate this phenomenon for yourself: The next time you consciously read or view an ad - ask yourself: "Is this the FIRST time I've ever seen this ad? Or have you seen it before BUT never really paid it full attention?"


You may be surprised at what you discover. Unless you are some super-human anomaly that retains every bit of information as soon as you see it the first time. But then, that's not normal. And for marketers, we need to prioritize the norm, not the exception.


There are some scenarios where the marketing requirement of "3 or more exposures" may not apply, or at least, are not as significant:


"Event Messages": Okay, let's call it by its trademarked name: Superbowl ads. The reason a Superbowl ad doesn't necessarily require multiple exposures for it to be effective is because the viewers level of engagement is turned up to 11: They are actively engaged in and carefully monitoring every word, visual and element that is being shown (on the flip side, the advertisers knows this and will be creating an ad unique fo this experience to maximize the impact of this particular message). This is a far cry from the typical ad, which is ignored during commercial breaks, or swiped past on digital media.


What does a Superbowl ad have in common with PPC ads? The users level of engagement. While the two formats could not be more dissimilar from one another, in terms of the users 'attention' or engagement levels with the messages, they are alike.


Instead of seeking a peak 'entertainment' experience (Superbowl ads), the user is searching for a relevant solution or answer in response to their search query. Potentially, skippable pre-roll ads may generate levels of interest that may not require as much frequency, but in most cases, it is likely that a decision to not skip the ad was preceeded by previous views of the video that were skipped as soon as it was allowed.


Those are obvious examples that are logical exceptions to the frequency requirement mandate. For the vast majority of advertising, TV, radio, print, banner ads, social, digital video, etc... carefully evaluate your ad budget and the size of your target audience. Even though you may believe that a $25 ad spend on Facebook is 'good enough' to reach a target audience of 150,000. people, you are probably throwing that money away.


Don't do it. Narrow your target audience and give your ad a chance to succeed.