• How many times to you need to send a message before it’s really heard?
  • Have you ever sent an invitation to your network for an event and wondered why you only got 20% response?
  • Have you ever rolled out a new internal process for your organization and wondered why people act as if they’ve never heard of it one week, or even one month later?
  • Heck, have you ever had to follow up on the RSVPs for a party or wedding reception and wondered why people couldn’t just respond the 1st time?
  • How many times do you have to tell your 2-year old not to stick their finger in the electrical socket because they might get hurt?

The Message

What does this have to do with leaders marketing their message, you ask? It’s all related to something called effective frequency. In marketing they have sometimes called it the rule of 7, where customers need to be exposed to a product or service at least 7 times before they buy it. I have even seen it suggested that the number is closer to 15 due to all of the noise we see and hear within our environment, global reach and internet interactions.

Surprisingly, I found a reference from 1885, which suggested that the number is 20.

Successful Advertising by Thomas Smith:

“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.”

If we were to take this 1885 knowledge and apply it to today’s leadership communications, it may read a little different.

Today’s Message

  • The first time people hear or read it, they may not think it pertains to them.
  • 2nd, they still don’t notice it as anything critical to them.
  • 3rd, they are aware there is a change of some sort.
  • 4th, they recognize that they’ve heard it somewhere before.
  • 5th, they look for the highlights or ‘cliff notes’.
  • 6th, they say, “Not now, I don’t have time”.
  • 7th, they are now irritated with it.
  • 8th, they say “here it is again…..”.
  • 9th, they start to wonder if they need to know something.
  • 10th, they ask their colleagues and the office staff about it.
  • 11th, they wonder what these changes will cost them.
  • 12th, they start to wonder if it is an improvement.
  • 13th, they start to think that the communication is worth some attention.
  • 14th, they remember wanting something exactly like this for a long time.
  • 15th, they yearn for it because they haven’t been able to initiate something themselves.
  • 16th, they accept the fact that they will buy into it sometime in the future.
  • 17th, they make a note to spend time to study it.
  • 18th, they curse their lack of time for not allowing them to understand it earlier.
  • 19th, they decide to block off time to actually study it.
  • 20th, they buy into it and establish ways to implement in their work.

Do you agree? Where are you in the process?

Broken Record

How can we use this wisdom from the 19th century to enhance our leadership communications? It’s what I call the ‘Broken Record’ approach. You must repeat your message over and over again, in many different venues and in multiple ways (i.e. touch points) so that your team eventually embraces it. This is true whether you are leading your family, your Project Team or your entire organization. Due to our own self-inflicted ADD, we need to hear or see a message over and over again before it becomes the new status quo.

So do yourself a favor, and when you have a change to communicate, put together a communication plan that allows for 12-15 touch points. Some won’t need that many, but others will, and the extra touch points will just further reinforce the message.