Did you know the Golden Gate Bridge is always being repainted?
Apart from just a few holidays, the painting of this metal giant never stops. So when the painting team reaches one end, it is not “Great! We can take a break for a few years!”
It is “Great! See you back at the beginning tomorrow.”
The reason for continuous painting is corrosion. Time and tide have proven that suspending a large metal object above salty water, amid fog, snow, sea, sunshine, and hail really isn’t good for the joints and joists the paint protects to keep The Golden Gate Bridge aloft.
Constant maintenance, it turns out, is the most prudent and practical way to prevent corrosion and keep the bridge running.
What does this have to do with marketing?
Like bridges, our memories corrode. And when it comes to advertising, corroding memories means lost sales. Put more pithily, the brand that is remembered is the brand that is bought.
Just a few months ago, the Ehrenberg Bass Institute published new research that tracked what happens when people are no longer exposed to advertising for a brand. They found that the drop-off in recall was dramatic, fast, and lasting. When advertisers went dark for a year or more, sales for brands of all sizes – whether small, medium, large – dropped nearly 50%.
While it’s well-known that sales decline when ad-spend stops, we can now show from this research, and our own All Weather Marketing research published with the IPA in 2020 (later shared at Eff Week in 2021, alongside my own research using Google AdWords and Trends data), that the drop appears to take three stages:
1) In the first few months, the drop indicates the loss of momentum from the most recent campaign, as the return on that investment wanes and eventually disappears.
2) In the following months, the preference for the brand in the category drops, with the brand losing top position among those customers that would previously have shortlisted the brand in the category.
3) Finally, the brand loses category association.
This Memory Corrosion is potentially devastating for a brand. While cost-saving may have prompted a pause in long-term ad spending, recovery from this kind of drop in memorability is far more costly. A simple thought experiment helps to illustrate why it’s twice as expensive to regain sales as it is to maintain them:
Constant maintenance looks even more like a winning strategy in this context.
So how can you prevent Memory Corrosion? By optimizing for recency, not frequency.
Consistency maintains momentum. Unfortunately, many marketers interpret this to mean a high-frequency strategy.
Rather than focusing on high-frequency “launch and leave” promotions and burst campaigns that reach great peaks of awareness among smaller audiences during a short time, there is a clear benefit to steadily maintaining brand presence. Not only is it more affordable, but it also ensures that during a long purchase cycle, the recency of your brand keeps you in-mind when, eventually, the need for your product or service finally arises customer by customer.
Frequency fails to account for time. Yet time is the key predictor of when buyers are likely to enter the market for a new B2B service, as well as when memories are likely to corrode.
Recency is a much better way to think about brand maintenance. It is an inherently time-based approach to distribution, and it does not come at the expense of wide reach. While the red dots below represent what is likely to occur in a high-frequency campaign – a burst of impressions over a short period of time – the green dots represent recency: impressions over time. And they demonstrate how these impressions over time can refresh memory structures as they are corroding to achieve brand maintenance – as illustrated by the dips and peaks in the blue line.
Mental presence, built with brand advertising that’s steadily, undauntedly maintained and invested in over the long-term may not sound like the most exciting “contrarian edge” to be gained, or like an exotic new definition of a first mover advantage… but consistency beats the erratic gambles of launch-and-leave and market reactivity. Furthermore, once you’ve started, it is impossible for your competition to catch-up without major investment. Read more about this competitive moat effect in our Earn It or Pay It trend.
Good marketers need to always refresh memories. Maintenance and consistency ensure that great structures continue to stand tall. World-beating brands aren’t just built, but also stay on top long-term, because the best marketers never stop “painting the bridge.”