The Familiarity Principle

By Daniel A, published on

Retargeting – focusing ads on people who’ve previously engaged with them – is a no-brainer if you’re looking to generate traffic or sell some products.

At the other end of the equation, return traffic indicates that people are coming back to your website because something about your product, service, or content resonates with them.

These descriptions are perfectly accurate. But they don’t capture the whole story.

In this article, we take a deep dive into a fundamental principle of successful marketing, which might cast a new light on the importance of our aforementioned retargeting and return traffic by examining the common denominator between them: repeated exposure to your brand and business.

The More We Get Together

Also known as the Mere Exposure Effect, the Familiarity Principle is a human tendency for preferences to grow in response to repeated exposure to a stimulus. In plain English, we tend to view things more favourably when they’re familiar.

Examples of this are everywhere. It’s why you’ll only really start to appreciate the intricacies of your favorite song after your third, eighth, or fifteenth listen, and why you’ll generally follow the same route every day on your way to work in the morning. It’s why businesses will allocate 5-10% of revenue towards marketing efforts to get their brand out there, and politicians put up billboards before an election to make sure people know their names and what they look like.

It’s why we tend to gravitate towards what we know and recognize when we find ourselves in an unfamiliar setting.

The takeaway? It pays to be known and recognized.

Where Does it Come From?

The familiarity principle is a useful heuristic for reducing risk and managing uncertainty. Frequent exposure to something without suffering any negative consequences tells our brains that it’s a safer bet than venturing off into the complete unknown. This produces a natural bias in favour of the object of our attention, and which applies just as much to the well-traveled path through the dark forest as it does to the plump fruit that we’ve eaten several times before without suffering any ill effects.

Sticking with the familiar also frees up cognitive capacity and allows us to make assessments and decisions more quickly. Because we already have mental models for the people, places and objects that are familiar to us we’re able to direct more attention toward the things that are unfamiliar, toward environmental factors that we can’t control and more likely to pose a threat.

In short, a preference for familiarity helps us navigate a complex and often dangerous world by drawing us to favour things we’ve interacted with safely in the past, and letting us make decisions more quickly by relying on previous experience as a guide.

In the Marketing Context

As you can imagine, effectively leveraging the familiarity principle can dramatically increase the impact and success of your marketing efforts. Cohesive messaging that reflects your value proposition, consistently repeated across your different marketing channels will give you much better results than a shifting brand identity and message, because these don’t give your audience time to grow familiar with who you are as a business.

To be clear, we’re not advocating for inflexibility. The point is simply that clear and consistent messaging is a simple, powerful and often underestimated tool. With repeated exposure, your audience has time to grow familiar with who you are as a business, and inclines them to be more interest in what you have to offer.

This is why retargeting is such an effective technique in digital marketing, and goes far beyond increasing the chance of a conversion. By repeatedly creating touchpoints between your brand and your target market, you build a positive association in your audience’s mind, generating beneficial feelings of recognition and trust.

When the time comes for them to finally pull the trigger and make that purchase, they’re already predisposed to favour you. After all, you’re no longer an unknown entity – you’ve become familiar.

Similarly, return traffic metrics go beyond indicating that you have a good website or product. They’re a way of quantifying the effect of the familiarity principle, and serve as an indicator that your brand is moving in the right direction. Return traffic signifies that you’re building a loyal and dedicated base of customers who aren’t just visiting because they want to buy a product, but shop on your website because they appreciate and want to support who you are as a business.

The Takeaway

At it’s core, the key message of the familiarity principle is a simple one: people gravitate towards the familiar, and so it pays to be familiar.

Through consistent messaging, a solid grasp of your audience and steady exposure to your target market, you can create a sense of recognition and trust that puts you top of mind when the time comes to make a purchase.

Strategic ad retargeting and a focus on return traffic metrics let you leverage the familiarity principle to take your business from obscure brand to household name, and make the most of all the benefits this implies.

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