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As marketers we often struggle with getting customers to pay attention to our marketing messages, much less remember them. A specialized learning technique–the "spacing effect"–is helping people all across the world assimilate more languages, facts, and retain gobs of information. Is this learning technique applicable to improving the efficacy of our marketing campaigns?

As much as we try, we humans forget much of what we learn.
Really, it's not our fault–there's a mass of daily communications, information and activities that our brains must process.

Sometimes we try hard–really hard–to memorize and retain key pieces of information. However, despite our efforts–over time–we "forget exponentially". In fact, there's a forgetting curve that is unique to each individual.

Assuming however, there are key facts that one wants to memorize and retain–is there an ideal method to permanently lock this information in our memories?

Scientists have discovered that information can be more readily retained when "spaced" over time through practice sessions. A recent Wired Magazine article titled, "Want to Remember Everything You've Learned?", describes this "spacing effect" and one entrepreneur's effort to build a software application to help people memorize more information.

SuperMemo is the brainchild of Piotr Wozniak. He's designed a program that allows a user of his application to discover his or her "forgetting curve", and program key facts into the application. Then, on a scheduled interval, the program will remind you to "re-learn" these facts.

Wozniak claims, with support from key scientists, that by using the application (which takes advantage of the spacing effect theory) people can memorize and retain more information than learning through traditional methods.
Now you're probably wondering–what–if anything does this have to do with marketing?

I'm convinced that if marketers would take the learnings captured by scientists from the "spacing effect" and then utilize these techniques in our marketing campaigns, that overall we'd be much more effective in our communications.

As marketers we spend a lot of time crafting the perfect and dare I say most memorable marketing messages. We labor over key messages, value propositions and sometimes a single word in a marketing communication.

And maybe our communication is well crafted. It's relevant. It has impact and is of interest to our prospects. But what often happens? We hit the send button, drop the marketing piece in the mail, and wait for the results.

Invariably, however, we're disappointed with our efforts. And that's because one-off communications are never going to be as effective as a programmatic approach.

A programmatic approach to marketing means creating marketing "programs" that have objectives, an overarching theme, key messages, strategies and tactics. The goal is to engage customers in a dialog–over time.

Often referred to as "rolling-thunder", this programmatic approach architects a marketing campaign that runs over a specified timeline with multiple interactions. It flows and builds towards a specified outcome.

It's not one or even two communications. A programmatic approach is a deliberate and conscientious attempt to communicate relevant, need-based offers at the right time to customers.

Taking advantage of the "spacing effect", a marketer using a rolling thunder campaign realizes that every customer is unique--with different wants, needs, and buying cycles. The trick then, is understanding customers well enough to get them the right marketing message at the right time, and being patient and disciplined enough to keep dialoging–even when they don't initially show interest.

I believe, proper utilization of the spacing effect in marketing means:
* Marketers must stay "on message" and re-engage the same customers multiple times to keep our products/services top-of-mind
* Marketers must attempt to determine the appropriate timing and sequencing of their campaigns (spacing marketing messages over time, instead of cramming interactions)
* Messages must well crafted and relevant
* Software (i.e. campaign management) can help automate follow-up interactions
* Multi-channel campaigns should also be considered to deliver the same message via preferred channels

If the "spacing effect" holds true, then one-off marketing efforts are probably not going to produce the highest return possible. Or as any student knows, cramming usually produces shoddy results.

I will confess, however, that I don't have this concept of the "spacing effect" and its relation to marketing completely thought out. I need your help.

* Is learning research on the "spacing effect" applicable to marketing management?
* Is it possible to program marketing messages–along a customer's forgetting curve? Or near impossible because every customer is different?
* Should marketers be taking a more programmatic approach to marketing efforts?
* How do YOU keep your key messages "top of mind" with your customers?
* Special thanks to friend and fellow marketer, Claire Ratushny, for initially helping me flesh out these ideas.

Continue reading "Can the 'Spacing Effect' Improve Marketing ROI?" ... Read the full article

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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.