When I became a mom for the first time, I thought I’d developed superpowers. It didn’t matter how loud of an environment I was in, how sound asleep I was, or how many competing voices or cries there were. When my child cried, I could hear it from a mile away. Little did I know that I had these superpowers all along in the form of my reticular activating system…. and don’t worry… you do, too… all humans do.
In short, your reticular activating system (RAS) is a bundle of nerves at the base of your brainstem that acts as a gatekeeper filtering out unnecessary information, while letting the important stuff through.
Many regular readers of this blog likely know that tools like algorithms, location tracking, IP addresses, and more are expert at feeding consumers more of what they specifically want to see on their personal devices. What you may not have known, however, is that you already have a similar system inside your brain. Has technology made you easier to target? Yes. But would you have a bias anyway, even if you didn’t have access to so much technology? Also yes.
In the 1930s (that’s ninety years ago) it was the film industry who developed the famous “rule of seven.” At the time, research had shown that by the time a consumer hears about or sees a brand seven times, they will likely convert… (or in other words, their reticular activating system will have let enough of those messages through to get the consumer to a point of trust/conversion).
This was a relevant theory in the 1930s and some decades to follow, but many marketers (mistakenly) subscribe to this theory today. What they aren’t considering, however, is that our reticular activating system is a lot busier these days.
A recent study at the University of San Diego revealed that when we take into account all of the things going on around us (TVs, smartphones, radio, video games, signs, newspapers, computers, etc.), we humans are deluged with 105,000 words, or 23 words per second, in a 12-hour timeframe. This amount of information, they say, translates into 34 Gigabytes of information each day on average… enough to overload the laptop on which I am typing within a week.
What does this mean to you as a marketer?
In my view, counting touches is simply not how marketing works anymore. Researchers have tried to study and estimate how many touches it takes in our modern era to convert a potential customer, and results have been all over the map… from 13, to dozens, to even hundreds. What is consistent about the results, however, is that we need to be completely saturated by a brand before we convert. Have you ever discovered a new trend and suddenly see it everywhere? When that happens, it’s not that the trend has just started, it’s that your reticular activating system put it on your radar… (I admit, I wore flared jeans long after I should have switched over to skinny ones…)
So how do you get into the hearts, minds, and reticular activating systems of consumers these days when they are so distracted? Repetition.
I know this seems simple, but it’s actually really easy to fumble because our own reticular activating system is already saturated with the brand we are trying to market, which puts us in a risky situation. For example, you might repeat a message three times to potential customers, think you are “bugging” them, and relent, yet those potential customers still have no idea who you are.
To avoid falling in that trap, here are three tips to follow to make sure you’re being repetitive enough to make it through consumers’ very busy reticular activating system:
- Present information in experiences and stories. As humans, this is how we think and remember. It’s not about the specs of the new car, it’s about the experiences you are going to have in that car (more on this next week).
- Make yourself wildly uncomfortable. As I mentioned above, you are too saturated with your own brand to have any idea when enough is enough. Rather than follow your own gut instincts, follow the data. Don’t stop telling us about your brand until your conversions increase significantly and stop worrying about oversaturating us… that’s the goal.
- Do more of what you are doing. Try increasing the frequency of everything you are currently doing in your marketing. If you are sending an email newsletter once a month, send it once a week instead (all of my regular readers should be doing this by now). If you are posting on social media once or twice a week, try for four to five times a week. Afraid of running out of ideas? You should have redundancy in your messaging anyway!
Next week I will be back to expand on how to use experiences and stories to secure your place in people’s hearts, minds, and reticular activating systems. In the meantime, make it your goal this week to become wildly uncomfortable by doing more of what you’re doing.