Made you look; this featured article photo is not what you typically expect on a corporate marketing blog and that’s exactly why Habituation Theory is important.
How humans learn to focus their attention is fascinating, and as a marketer this subject deserves some serious thought if our brands are to cut through the “noise” and share our message.
What is Habituation Theory?
Habituation is “a decrease in response to a stimulus after repeated presentations,” according to Very Well’s Psychology site.
If you’ve ever changed your alarm clock ringtone, why did you do it?
Most people say to wake them up because their current one isn’t doing the job anymore. We become accustomed to sounds we hear often, and then we easily ignore them (hence, the sleeping past your wake time and needing a new ringtone to set.)
Habituation theory allows a person to tune out an external stimuli so they can focus on other things demanding their attention.
How Habituation Theory works
Habituation manifests itself in various ways. I’ll share a personal example that recently set some personal social media records and demonstrates habituation.
Typically, I post professional, political, and very occasionally personal photos (which are sometimes food, yeah I’m one of those, or of my family/friends). However, this week I shared something completely out of character and different: that we’re parents!
Because it was out of the ordinary, it caught the eyeballs of my friends on social media, and then it gained additional traction as folks started liking and commenting.
A few days later I implemented some of these buzz marketing lessons mentioned in this previous post like #2: alerting my audience before hand. I did this by asking folks to cast their vote for whether Baby Day would be a boy or girl the morning our Gender Reveal Party was happening.
I included my audience in this joyful, once-in-a-lifetime experience! Doing so built anticipation for the results, which I posted later that evening after our guests had left.
Habituation theory explains why these personal posts did well, and it’s because these were a new external stimuli that people were not accustomed to.
Why Habituation Theory matters to marketers
Knowing that people respond to stark changes (like me being pregnant) and alarming noises (like the new alarm clock), we should consider this in how we plan our brand’s marketing communications budgets.
One of my clients decided to cut back on their billboard spend after I presented them with their conversion statistics for this very expensive advertising medium.
Once I came on board, I put in place measurement protocol so we could evaluate what was working and what wasn’t, especially in regards to their billboard. What once was sending them about 6% of their known leads later only drove eight new leads to them in a 6-month window. Having this data made it easy for them to decide to drop the expensive advertising medium and reinvest their funds into other more profitable marketing activities.
This got me thinking. Why might this marketing medium go from being a small portion of their lead pipeline to an almost non-existent source?
Perhaps it was because the same people driving on this particular road where the billboard stood had gotten so accustomed to seeing their message that they had become blind to it. As they would pass by the sign, it would not register with them because it didn’t stick out in their brains, as it once had.
This client’s problem was an issue of habitation theory — drivers overlooking the billboard because of repeated stimulus. What was costing them $25k+ per year (which they had negotiated down from the standard $4500/mo) for this sign can now be reinvested into other more lucrative and fruitful marketing activities.
Applying Habituation Theory
Think about your marketing strategy.
What marketing messages are older and not yielding the same fruit it once did? Might it be because your audience has already received the input and now, no longer sees or hears your message?
If you think this might be the case, you should consider implementing the following:
- Build in a measurement system, if one doesn’t already exist so you can make informed decisions about allocation of resources.
- Keep the location; change the message, but test small, at first. Knock your message off and replace with a newer one to a select sampling of your audience, and be sure to monitor if it receives more engagement and lead responses. If so, then ramp this newer message up into a larger campaign with a bigger audience.
- Keep the message; change platforms or locations. The message may not need to change, but the location. Try moving your sign to another road, your radio commercial to another station, your meme to another social media platform, or your guest column on a particular topic to another news outlet.
With some measurement and strategy, you can continue reaching and growing your audience with effective messaging.
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