We’re all familiar with those catchy songs, you know, the songs you hear one to many times. The “ear worms” which tend to stick in your head and you can’t seem to escape their lyrical lasso no matter what store you enter or what elevator you ride. We also tend to recognize those brands who have subtly placed their logo or brand-mark within the purview our daily lives. Some of these brands we begin to associate with familiarity and appreciation. What an interesting dichotomy arises here. On one hand we have repetition leading to annoyance, and on the other we have a sense of comfort and happiness. What leads us to appreciate one and despise another?

Art or Science

This question and others like it are the constant subject of marketers everywhere. This study and understanding of these seeming “quirks” in human nature tend to make us believe there is more art than science in this pursuit. But this art is one which can be mastered. Just as the painters of each generation created masterpieces worthy of our contemplation and the subject of careful study by others, so too marketers today can become master artisans of their craft creating works of art which others can appreciate.

This art of marketing, however, is deeply founded in an understanding of human behavior and psychology and a better recognition of the reasoning behind¬†why humans do the things they do. As a supporting case, let’s explore in greater detail the question posed in the opening paragraph. Why does repetition cause desire or disgust with seemingly undefinable contradictory results?¬†Let’s start by understanding what forms this repetition can take.

Focused and Unfocused Repetition

Upon closer observation we can legitimately segment this repetition into two distinct categories: focused and unfocused. That might sound confusing at first pass so here’s a brief explanation. A focused repetition is one where the repetition is the object of the consumer’s attention. They are focused specifically on the thing being repeated and their attention is drawn to the subject, and perhaps even to the fact of its repetition. In this case the consumer is acutely aware they have seen or heard something one time, two times, etc…

The second type or repetition we’ll call unfocused. This is those items which are repeated in the background. The consumer is relatively unaware of the repetition as their focus is on something else. Maybe the song plays in the background of the Uber, or maybe the advertisement shows up in the television above the bar during happy hour. Regardless of the how or where, the unique quality of this manner of repetition is the lack of direct attention and focus given the item by the consumer.

New vs Old

Now with that understanding it’s important for us to consider how repetition works in the human brain. By nature humans are fearful of the new and the different. A natural sense of self-preservation keeps us from appreciating or drawing close to something unfamiliar. We are wary of potential danger. By this same token we feel comfort with those things we know and we find an equal and opposite sense of “safety” with those things we know. This brings us to our first challenge as marketers. We must find a way to make the unfamiliar familiar. We must make our “new and exciting” product something “old and familiar” at the same time. But this is harder than simply making new things seem old. This is hard because of the “dopamine effect,” a concept which by now many are quite familiar with.

The dopamine effect is the sense of euphoria which arises when a person discovers something new and exciting…in a positive way. The result is a sense of accomplishment and a sense of pride. A joy which is not too dissimilar from a high one might get from a drug (hence the symbolistic reference to a ‘dopamine hit’).

Are you starting to understand the difficulty present? A marketer must understand these competing forces exhibited by a positive “high” emerging from something new and the familiar comfort wrapped up in something old. How does a marketer manage this intricate balance? The difficulty of this problem is often what causes many to believe the art of marketing is more black magic than a direct science. But there is great news for aspiring marketers. The truth is found more in science than art and better understanding of these principles means marketers can learn the skills to make their marketing more effective.

The Art of Marketing: An Applied Science

We should return now to the idea of repetition. We spoke previously about the focused and unfocused nature of repetition. When we now consider the question regarding new versus old and human behavior in the light of focused and unfocused repetition we can start to see how the science of marketing can be applied to the situation and make our marketing more effective. Let me explain what I mean.

If we understand that repetition when presented in an unfocused and indirect manner can become familiar without being obnoxious or intrusive we can begin to understand how we might be able present a new idea in a familiar way. Rather than a focused repetition of a marketed brand message thrown in someone’s face which can be disarming or off-putting because it’s new and different there’s a more subtle means of sharing a brand message slowly and thoughtfully which can lead to a familiar and positive feeling by the consumer. But this is only the beginning into this study of the art of marketing. It’s a fascinating subject and one I think worthy of further discussion.

I trust you’ve found this post interesting and relevant and hopefully shed some light on the truth of the science behind the marketing. I know I’ve only begun to touch on this fascinating topic and I plan to share more thoughts and insights in future posts. I know I’m certainly learning as we go and I believe we’re all in this together!