I I have three beautiful, talented, game daughters. See? A week ago, I traveled to Grinnell, Iowa, to see one of them in her first college play. Which got me thinking about repetition.
The play was called Constellations, and it’s by Nick Payne, a British playwright. The play is about a couple going through what couples go through — love, death, heartbreak, and so on. The script uses a couple of devices that result in exactly the same lines being repeated several times in a row. The woman in the couple suffers from a brain tumor, which makes her search for words, often repeating them several times, and there’s a sort of nerdy quantum mechanics concept that explores the idea that the same event can have wildly different outcomes in … different, parallel universes.
But the point is that many lines would be repeated several times, and the effect was incredible. I’m not sure why, exactly, but hearing the exact same wrenching lines and words three times in a row has an overpowering impact. Here’s an example from the Broadway production, in which Marianne (the woman) tells Roland (the man) that she is terminally ill, but that running out of time doesn’t really matter:
These are great lines to begin with, but the repetition makes them heartbreaking. Which, of course, got me thinking about marketing.
One of the problems marketers have is that they forget who they’re trying to communicate with. Specifically, they forget that the audience for their marketing is not anywhere near as engaged with the message as they are. They’re not necessarily paying attention to your message, and even if they are, they’re not necessarily going to remember it. Which means it has to be simple. And it has to be repeated. And repeated. And repeated.
This isn’t always easy to do, because as the person responsible for disseminating the message, you get bored saying the same thing over and over, and you begin to tinker with it. Which makes a mess. In a recent New York Times article, John Lilly, a partner of the Greylock Partners venture capital firm, made this point nicely, albeit in the context of communicating with founders:
Early leadership lessons for you?
I didn’t understand the role of simplicity and messaging early on. One of the things that happened at one of my start-ups was that I would get bored saying the same thing every day. So I decided to change it up a little bit. But then everybody had a different idea of what I thought because I was mixing it up.
So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.
The same concept applies in marketing. Figure out what your key points are, stick to them, and repeat them every time. Remember that your audience probably hasn’t heard it anywhere near as many times as you’ve said it, and remember that to most of them, what you’re saying is brand new. So although you may think you sound like Rain Man or an audio loop, the same is probably not true of the people you’re trying to communicate with. So don’t be afraid to repeat.