Is the Old Adage Still Relevant to Modern Day Buyers?
The Origin of the “Marketing Rule of 7's”
“A potential customer must see your message 7 times before they’re likely to act upon it”. Have you heard that? Certainly, you have. Business consultants often pass along this wisdom to businesses attempting to enhance their close rates. But from where did this wisdom originate?
To better understand its origins, let’s step into the shoes of a past generation:
We find ourselves in the late 1920s, an age where film and radio are at the epicenter of American culture. Enthralled by the novelty and success of Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer, the first successful feature film with synchronized dialogue, the film industry rushes to convert all films and theaters to sound. In so doing, the film industry assumed over 400 million dollars in debt, but with good reason. In the mid-late 1920s, over 50 million people, half of the US population, attended the movie theater weekly. Think about that, 2 in every 4 people you know would go to the movies every single week. But, as we know all too well today, large Capex investment is not immune to the effects of a national crisis.
A day infamously known as “Black Tuesday” would mark the beginning of the Great Depression in America, and would send shockwaves through all American industries. Those left standing, including the film industry, jumped into react mode and began doing everything in their power to attract the public to their now less-relevant products and services. All of a sudden, marketing materials like film posters shifted from a creative medium to raise awareness into a primary means of convincing prospective moviegoers to attend the theater. It was at this point that the film industry introduced what we today refer to as The Marketing Rule of 7’s.
Where the Rule Goes Wrong
The problem with the film industry’s GTM approach at the time was that their primary means of communication with potential buyers was a physical ad about their product, i.e. the film. This is no knock on film posters. Film posters can be true works of art. I’m sure we can all recall “Jaws”, “The Godfather”, or “Star Wars” film posters from memory. These advertisements can be iconic and can serve as strong awareness-raising tools. But, that’s just it, film posters raise awareness and that’s where the buck stops because what they’re conveying is further information about the product itself.
As any salesperson will know, a buyer’s awareness of a product’s specifications and features will never motivate them to buy. Yes, awareness is a crucial step, but according to scientific research in the field of behavioral change, more awareness does not correlate to more conversions. Accordingly, Dr. James Prochaska, Dr. John Norcross, and Dr. Carlo DiClimente speak about this phenomenon in their book, Changing for Good: “Insight alone does not bring about behavior change” (CFG 59).
So, what gives?
So, why would a Hollywood marketing motto from nearly 100 years ago continue to be shared by industry professionals? Well, one aspect of the rule of 7 that rings true today is that multiple touchpoints are needed to convert prospects from being unaware of your solution to advocating for your solution or brand.
Imagine you’re sitting on your couch, enjoying a Saturday football game, and an advertisement comes on the television for a new electric car. The ad does all the right things, captivating your attention and emotionally drawing you in. You’re even able to recall the 0 to 60 specs after the commercial has ended. You may have even been talking to your spouse a moment ago about how you’re needing a new car and were considering going electric. And yet, when the commercial is over and a new one has begun, are you going to open up your laptop and click “buy now” immediately thereafter? Of course, not. We may, in some instances, inquire for further information. Maybe we want to see how much the vehicle costs, or if there are any reviews online. Perhaps we even search online to see if there is a dealership nearby so that we could see the car in person.
The reason you don’t immediately act after you’ve seen an advertisement is that you’re naturally, sometimes even subconsciously, weighing the opportunity cost of change. This innate reaction is one of the expected buyer behaviors that will always come to play in the customer journey. In their research, Dr. Prochaska, Dr. DiClemente, and Dr. Norcross uncovered a phenomenon they refer to as the Strong Principle of Progress and the Weak Principle of Progress. They uncovered that when a person is truly weighing whether to go forward with a change, they need two times the amount of pros as they do cons to effectively act upon that change.
Where the rule of 7’s goes wrong, though, is that it fails to incorporate that people, although we may be complex, go through the same stages of change whether we’re aspiring to lose X pounds before our 60th birthday or if we’re deciding from whom we’re going to buy products and services. There is no lucky number 7 when it comes to human psychology. We all go through the stages of change, albeit at various rates.
Go back to the electric car advertisement we were watching before. Let’s say later on in the football game, the ad comes on again and subsequently comes on 5 more times. At this point, I’m annoyed from seeing this ad over and over, again. But, in the end, I’m still not ready to buy, even after I’ve seen the ad seven times. If anything, I’m likely desensitized to the information at this point, because I don’t feel understood by the seller at this point - my sleazy salesperson antennae are up.
The Key to Effective Communication
Good communication is not measured by how often you communicate but by how effectively you communicate. In terms of the quantity of communications though, we have to understand that we’re always communicating. Even when we’re not communicating, we’re communicating. People are highly adept at intuiting whether you care about them or not. So, the key to good communication is to convey not what you want to share but to convey what the buyer needs to hear. That being said, The Marketing Rule of 7’s is only as effective as the messages and the interactions that take place between the buyer and the seller.