The New Rule of 29

By Josh Jones-Dilworth

The New Rule of 29 — A provocation by Josh Jones-Dilworth

This article is about one of the dead-simplest New Year’s resolutions you can make.

Even if you don’t formally know about the Rule of Seven or about the concept of “effective frequency,” you’ve likely crossed paths with some version of it in the form of: “the average customer needs to see or hear something at least 7 times before they remember or take action.”

Does that ring a bell?

Effective frequency is something those of us building and leading cultures would do well to heed. Most often cited in marketing circles, the same utility cross-applies to HR, culture, and leadership.

Many studies have been done over the years to understand how effective frequency has evolved. The last three studies have put the new number not in single digits instead in the high twenties. Because: the phone, and the internet!

Continuous partial attention is real and getting worse. We’re more thick-headed than ever. The “New Rule of 29,” as I have been calling it, acknowledges the importance of repetition today more than ever.

Here’s a stark example: what enduring phrases or sound bites do you remember from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign?

In more than a few rooms full of 500 or more people, I’ve been met with utter silence. Crickets. Nothing. Even from folks who did everything they could to get Hillary elected.

Everyone once in a while someone correctly shouts out: “I’m With Her!”

Hillary’s visual identity was a chameleon too. You may remember the “H” with an arrow coming out of it, kind of like the Fedex logo. It went rainbow on pride day and spooky on Halloween.

Nearly every time she gave a stump speech, in fact, Hillary’s team tailored the message uniquely to her audience. She was the ultimate segmentation and personalization candidate. It is never surprising to me that even her most ardent supporters struggled to remember her most central messages.

What about enduring phrases or sound bites from Donald Trump in 2016? The answers come quick and easy, don’t they? Crooked Hillary!! Lock her up! Make America great again!

I always think of that undulating sea of red baseball caps. Repetition can be visual, too.

Whether he’s a genius marketer by accident or on purpose, it makes perfect sense that the TV President used repetition to his great advantage.

  1. Drain the swamp
  2. Drain the swamp
  3. Drain the swamp
  4. Drain the swamp
  5. Drain the swamp
  6. Drain the swamp
  7. Drain the swamp

Now do that 4 more times.

I also frequently notice CEOs reinventing their speaking points on the fly, in large part because they’re tired of their own script and smart enough to improvise. I get that.

But like Hillary maybe we’re just too clever or sophisticated for our own good sometimes. In many circles repeating oneself is seen as brutish-or unintelligent. I get that too.

We don’t repeat ourselves nearly enough in culture.

Whether it’s an all-hands speech or recruiting copy, a sales script or an internal memo, repetition is under-appreciated. And trust me, repetition is your number one tool for cutting through the noise.

Repetition is your friend, and refusing to repeat yourself is stupidity, not sophistication. We trust things we hear repeatedly, and we’re more likely to think what’s repeated is true.

Of course, you have to choose the right messages to repeat, and you have to repeat them to the right people at the right time. But the vast majority of people leaders, CHROs, Presidents, and CEOs, don’t even come close.

At a time when everything seems so complicated and nuanced, this one doesn’t have to be. Repeat yourself. It’s healthy, it’s helpful, and it just plain works. The change is easy to make and free to test. And best of all, you can start right now.

Did you expect this writer to advise you to summon your inner Trump? Well, in this case, I most certainly do.



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