Marketing's new take on the 'rule of three'

Marketing's new take on the 'rule of three'
By Stacy Kjelland
Stacy Kjelland
Partner, Customer Loyalty
Nov 19, 2018

People enjoy finding patterns. In the old-school ‘Madison Avenue’ days of advertising, forceful repetition of messaging as a tactic was not only in vogue, it was sacrosanct. The ‘marketing rule of three’ was a codified strategy, well-known by all marketers. However, the rule of three, though still renown, is taking a back seat to the strategy and curation required to reach customers in our current day and age.

The rule of three is based on the principle that in speech and text, the reader or audience is more likely to absorb information in groups of threes. Dating back to ancient Greek rhetoric, the rule of three is fully immersed into our current day-to-day lives: “past, present, and future”; “the three stooges”; “stop, drop, and roll”.

Three is the smallest number to create a pattern. The simple formula was used heavily in the past through paid TV spots to hit the largest segment at the same time: serve up your 30-second TV spot three times to your audience and the message will likely stick. 

Now, the product is top of mind for their next visit to the store.

The reason the rule of three works is because it activates our lizard brains and tricks us into thinking that repetition equals importance. While this tactic hasn’t entirely disappeared—just tune into any primetime network television program—it has evolved substantially.

Today’s rule of three is an always-on CRM strategy that harnesses multiple channels to meet your customer where they are—or where they prefer—regardless of how they’re grouped. Here are four ways to do just that:

1. Embrace your inner marketing mixologist.

Marketing isn’t about employing a catch-all tactic, strategy, channel, cadence, or offer anymore because not all customers are the same (even if they are in the same segment—gasp!).

Because there are more detours than ever before on the path to purchase, it’s important to employ a test-and-learn strategy to identify the most impactful approach based on customer preference and behavior.

We worked with a client to supplement their transactional data with lifestyle segmentation and found the majority of their customers over-indexed in direct mail as a preferred channel. They changed their approach, applied a multi-channel strategy by adding direct mail with a mix of social and email communications, and saw a 20 percent lift in incremental sales.

But it doesn’t stop there. Optimization requires revisiting and retesting, from segments and channels to campaigns and customers.

2. Right channel, right time.

We all know that relevancy equals engagement, but relevance can vary from customer to customer, segment to segment, and channel to channel.

Engagement increases when you communicate to customers based on their preferences, but it all starts with asking the question, “Why?”

For instance, mobile is often a preferred channel for delivering urgent, contextual, and useful messages. (Oh, there’s a sale from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today only? Text me!)

Email is a hardworking channel for certain, however, the urgency can get lost. For example, that same message might not be seen until that night’s binge session on Netflix. Opportunity gone. Not to mention that 90 percent of text messages are opened within three minutes of delivery. How’s that for an open rate?

3. Rethink print.

Eye-rolls aside, print is powerful. Things have come full circle, and print, operating quietly under the radar for years, now has a growing opportunity to stand out amongst the digital crowd as its use is increasingly under reconsideration.

Direct mail, in particular, is seeing resurgence in higher customer response.

A recent study by USPS’ International Priority Airmail suggests that 38 percent of people buy or order something after reading their mail, and 87 percent of people keep certain pieces of mail for longer than a month.

Imagine someone going back to the same email every day for a month. Surely, the permanence of print and its static nature lends itself an unmistakable prominence. Is print more authentic, more genuine? Regardless, if done right, it elicits a response.

4. Less is much more.

Let’s face it, aggressive retargeting doesn’t necessarily give customers a reason to brim with excitement from a passing brand, nor does it mean you’re winning at multichannel.

Inundating consumers with unwanted, high-frequency, irrelevant messaging, is most certainly a good reason for them to consider why they came to a particular brand in the first place—and potentially look elsewhere.

In fact, according to Campaign Monitor, nearly 46 percent of customers unsubscribe because a brand emails too often, and nearly 32 percent because of irrelevant content. In other words, customers expect value in exchange for their attention, and just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should.

Successful customer engagement isn’t simply about activating the lizard brain, or churning out a set number of interactions, it’s about connecting with the human desire for pathos, logos, and ethos, all while being able to excel in multiple channels.

Today’s rule of three is an ever-evolving game of testing, trial and error, and creative manipulation to figure out the optimum way to connect with your customers in a way that produces a continuous rate of return.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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  1. Stacy Kjelland, Partner, Customer Loyalty
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