The Science of Familiarity

At Stride, we are passionate about brand consistency. We work to ensure that elements of our clients’ brands — such as logo, color, fonts, layout structure, and writing style — do not vary widely across their marketing campaigns. We preach consistency, brand recognition, repetition, and simplicity. But… why? Wouldn’t frequent, new creativity really be the way to get attention?

The answer, surprisingly, is no. For the vast majority of brands, frequent change is the way to lose attention and drive customers away. And the reason is rooted in psychology.

Familiarity is Powerful
For decades, research has revealed that familiarity is a strong motivator of human behavior. In the 1960’s, the psychologist Robert Zajonc found that the more people are exposed to certain stimuli, the more they demonstrate a positive preference for those stimuli and take them as truth — a phenomenon known as the Mere Exposure Effect. In other words, we tend to gravitate toward (and trust) things we are familiar with.

In marketing, familiarity translates into the importance of brand consistency and ad repetition. The more people see a brand and hear its marketing message, the more they tune in to it, trust it, and become willing to act on it. A familiar brand is a trusted brand.

Cognitive Fluency
We can also draw upon research on cognitive fluency, which is the feeling of mental effort needed to complete a task. Fluency is the term for the subtle way our brains create efficiency in our thinking, making certain things feel effortless. As we make decisions about which tasks we’ll do throughout the day, those decisions are subconsciously guided by how easy or difficult we think those tasks will be. We tend to choose easy tasks and avoid difficult ones. When we encounter familiar brands, they require less mental work, so they feel easy to us — and we tend to gravitate toward them.

Beyond brand consistency, general design and writing decisions can influence cognitive fluency as well. The easier we make our marketing to digest, the more our audience will tune into it and the more positively it will be judged. How do you know if your marketing is easy? For starters, it should incorporate clean design, conversational copywriting that’s free of jargon, super-legible fonts, and a website layout that’s a snap to navigate.

What it all means for you
Next time you’re feeling bored with your branding, or wondering if there should be more variation and complexity in your designs and messaging, remember — the goal is to create ease and familiarity. The point of marketing is to be effective, not prove one’s ability to produce new creative on a regular basis, so feel confident in repetition and simplicity. It’s what helps build your brand and ultimately deliver a positive return on your investment.

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