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July 11, 2018
Does Frequency Still Drive Conversion?
Tammy Homegardner is after me. In the wake of a very informative webinar I attended on May 24th, she’s emailed me once or twice a day for the last 45 days. Her relentless pursuit raises a number of issues about content and frequency which are still a puzzle for many marketers.
Nobody has definitively studied message frequency and its impact on conversion. James Smith took up the subject as early as 1885 in his essay “A Guide to Successful Advertising.” He enumerated 20 touches and concluded that on the twentieth, prospects buy.
Herbert Krugman took on this topic in December 1972 in The Journal of Advertising Research. From a psychological perspective, he argued, there are three stages of frequency – curiosity, recognition and decision. Though ever since marketers have debated whether he meant three messages were sufficient to sell something, or if three phases of persuasion are driven by an unknown number of touches.
A year ago, in July 2017, Nielsen’s Digital Brand Effect tried to prove the hypothesis that “the number of times consumers are exposed to a campaign will inform the strength of their response to the brand.”  They found that exposure to digital advertising 5-9 times is the optimal range to improve overall brand lift. They also found that after a peak number of exposures, “resonance begins to fall.” So, there’s an optimal number of exposures, meaning messages are presented and opened or acknowledged. And there’s an identifiable point of diminishing returns where extra exposures annoy prospects and become counterproductive. 

Enter Tammy, a social media expert in Sandusky, Ohio, who takes a freemium approach to marketing. She offers a terrific one-hour webinar aimed at helping marketers optimize their job seeking skills using LinkedIn. The content-rich session is supplemented with a downloadable workbook which reinforces and extends her key points. She has a friendly voice and a measured pace. At the end of the session, she makes and repeats an offer to discount her fee by two-thirds if you sign up immediately or within 24 hours. It’s an urgent infomercial-like pitch. Tammy must have been raised on a diet of hardcore RONCO direct marketing spots. 
I didn’t sign up. By not signing up, I triggered a series of messages. They started with emails twice a day. They didn’t stop over the Memorial Day weekend or on July 4th. I still didn’t buy. They have continued with one or two pointed messages each day since.
You have to hand it to Tammy. She clearly anticipated being ignored. And she automated proactive answers to frequent objections. Her cadence and content are impressive. Follow-up email SUBJ lines present benefits (Want Help Getting a Job on LinkedIn?), make challenges (Are You In or out?), offer deals (Claim your 62% discount now) insist on urgency (Only 12 hours left), imply connection (We Missed You), offer help (Are You on the Fence?) and invoke a mom-like mantra (Danny, Danny, Danny).
Some of these SUBJ lines came around again but they were separated by enough time not to be obvious. As a performance marketer, I have to wonder is the barrage of messages the result of extensive testing? Or are they random attempts to recapture my attention? Does any particular timing, sequence or mix of SUBJ lines convert better than others?
So far, I received 75 emails over 45 days. I haven’t converted. I’m past optimal frequency and into the annoying zone. But Tammy raises critical questions for all of us – how much is enough and how much is too much? Frequency clearly impacts brand engagement for better or worse.

Now if only I can find a way to convince Tammy to turn off the robo-emails!  

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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