Friday, March 27

Considering Impressions: Do They Count?

Anyone who has read more than a single post on this blog knows I'm outcome measurement oriented. So it was no surprise to come back from a presentation today to see a few inquisitive e-mails regarding my advertising impression post on Wednesday.

"Did you change your mind about measurement?"

No, but I do understand human behavior and human behavior suggests that impressions — frequency — do count across the entire spectrum of communication. They might not be outcomes, but they are an important part of the equation.

Specifically, no single source of communication — advertising, public relations, marketing, social media — exists in a vacuum. It works together. When communication messages across all media are aligned, the outcomes are generally more substantive than singular communication streams because it accounts for sensory capacity and orientation.


Sensory capacity and orientation are two factors that help determine how much influence a "cue" might have to a person. Or, in other words, each person's sensory capacity and orientation determines how the environment looks to that person. And, knowing this, we also know that any cue in that environment does not guarantee that the person will perceive the cues as we do nor does it guarantee the person will react the same way they perceive the cue depending on how they perceive it.

For example, some new parents become concerned when their babies do not react to animal mobiles over their cribs. But what they do not consider is that these babies see a mobile differently than their parents do. Babies see it differently because of their sensory capacity, orientation, and familiarity with the objects. Laying under the mobile, babies with developing eyesight (capacity) only see the bottoms of the animals (orientation), which diminishes their ability to recognize the animal shapes (familiarity).

Thus, babies (and people) are only influenced by a cue when they become sensitive to that cue. And one of the most important determinations of whether someone will be sensitive to a cue is dependent on past experience and familiarity. And now that this is understood, let's consider advertising and communication again.

Impressions count because they establish familiarity.

A cue, like an onsite product review, only has influence if the prospect has the capacity, orientation, and familiarity with the product to capture their attention. If someone has been exposed to several print advertisements, television advertisements, news stories, blog posts, direct friend referrals, etc., they will automatically gravitate toward reading the review of that product over the review of another product that they are being exposed to for the first time.

When you ask them what they attribute a product purchase to, they will most likely say the review because it was their last impression before the point of purchase. However, it was a collective number of positive impressions across all media and non-media that influenced their purchasing decision because without multiple exposures (capacity) during various activities (orientation) that established familiarity with the product. In some cases, a review might not have any influence at all because by the time a person is looking at a review, they might only be looking for a validation.

We even see this to be true in social media. Very often, it is not a blog alone that drives the traffic to top name social media bloggers. Rather, it's the in-person presentations, workshops, classes, books, articles (and in some cases, even advertisements), that establish enough familiarity from enough vantage points to engage and possibly influence people online.

So, in sum, I never changed my position. At the end of the day, it's all about outcomes. But outcomes cannot be achieved with a singular communication stream. We need advertising, public relations, marketing, and social media to work together, even if their various advocates have different capacities and orientations that cause them to debate the details.


MechApe on 3/28/09, 8:02 AM said...

I liked your post.

"Thus, babies (and people) are only influenced by a cue when they become sensitive to that cue."

There might be some logical fallacy though when you arejumping from babies to adults.
Isn't it that "patronising of adults", treating them like newborns the major sin of advertising ?

Rich on 3/28/09, 9:11 AM said...


Funny. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Babies probably have more clarity of thought because they tend to be influenced by reality more than they are influenced by opinion of others or past experience.


Jay Ehret on 3/28/09, 11:49 AM said...

Thanks for this argument in support of frequency. It's chic in a social media/viral video world to downplay the importance of frequency.

The impact impressions have is in direct proportion to the impact of the message being delivered. Deliver a sorry message in a way people will ignore and impressions count for nothing. Deliver a sticky message in an interesting way and impressions count a lot. Frequency is extremely important to memory. It’s how the brain is wired.

Rich on 3/29/09, 6:49 AM said...


Thanks so much for the excellent additions.

You're absolutely right too. Deliver a sorry message and people will ignore it or, as we saw with Skittles, it could even create negative messages.

Deliver the right message, sticky as you suggest, with enough frequency, and we create Coke, Apple, Porsche, etc. Brands that people know, trust, and even if they do not purchase them, respect.

All my best,


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