Monday, July 11

Communicating Too Much: Brand Fatigue

Andrea GodfreyAsk most marketers how to measure the effectiveness of a campaign and, inevitably, most will say reach and frequency. Reach is the total number of people the campaign message reaches. Frequency is the number of times people see the message.

They are not alone. Anywhere else, it's much the same. Many public relations firms measure the number of stories that run and potential readership or viewership of the communication. Social media is keen on the number of followers (and number of followers those follower have) and the frequency of shares and retweets. Entire "influence" scoring systems revolve around that number.

But is there a point when too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing?

Andrea Godfrey, assistant professor of marketing in the School of Business Administration at the University of California, Riverside, thinks so. She co-authored “Enough is Enough! The Fine Line in Executing Multichannel Relational Communication.” The study included almost 1,200 people over the course of three years, with most participants being exposed to communication over a three-month period.

What Godfrey and fellow researchers (Kathleen Seiders, an associate professor of marketing at Boston College, and Glenn B. Voss, an associate professor of marketing at Southern Methodist University) found was that multi-channel communication does not always yield the results marketers might anticipate. In fact, over communication can quickly lead to brand fatigue.

Specifically, the researchers used more intrusive methods of marketing — phone calls, emails and mailings — from an auto dealership to determine optimal effects of multi-channel communication. What they found was that people could only tolerate three phone calls, four emails, and ten mailings before suffering from brand fatigue and reacting toward the brand with a negative response.

Interestingly enough, when the researchers increased frequency in one channel, tolerance for more communication dropped among all channels. For example, when the number of phone calls is increased, the tolerance for email decreases. They also found when there is one mail contact, the ideal number of email contacts is approximately five, but the ideal number of email contacts drops to one when the number of the mail contacts is five.

“We probably need to rethink the idea that to have a strong relationship with customers we need to be communicating with them all the time,” said Godfrey.

The researchers attribute the increased tolerance toward direct mail as "junk mail" numbness as well as the general perception that junk mail is less intrusive than more interruptive communication channels. That probably isn't all there is to it. Direct mail generally is better crafted than phone calls and emails.

The quality of the message, suitability of the message, and sustainability of a message all play a role in the effectiveness of communication. Phone calls are generally the most interruptive and least well crafted. Email is somewhere in between.

SpamAlthough phone calls, emails, and direct mail were the cornerstone of the research, marketers might want to consider the potential impact of other multi-channel communication, especially online. While brands — including individuals who have become quasi-brands in and of themselves — can benefit from having an online presence, too much communication from a single source can backfire.

With the addition of Google+ for example, I noted that more than one person has sworn off adding Chris Brogan, Robert Scoble, and few other active but less prominent voices on other social networks (I'm not one of them, yet). Collectively, you might call it A List fatigue, but there are plenty of louder B-list communicators that are being ignored too.

To help put it all in perspective, remember to take a break and see things from the consumer's point of view. As consumers, we quickly grow tired of television commercials that air with too much frequency during a single program (especially if they accidentally air back to back). We all grow weary of seeing the same automated messages spilling across every network, doubly so if it is shared by multiple people with different headlines (save hefty shares for substance). And, with more direct messaging, you can offer a "sale" only so many times in a week or ask people to "read" a post so many times in a day.
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