Let Me Repeat: Repetition is a Good Thing

It’s hard to predict what topics I write about for my column at Today @ Target Marketing will generate the most comments.

This week’s hit a hot button that I hadn’t anticipated. And from some well-known and respected copywriters who know a thing or two about success.

The topic: repetition in copy

Here’s the story:

Recently, I had a conversation with a client and an agency about sales copy. In this case, for a video script. It was the agency staff’s contention there was too much repetition. I disagreed. 

Before diving in further an important clarification: When I refer to repetition, I don’t mean repeating a sentence word-for-word, but rather, rephrasing or reframing an idea in another way.

A strong idea or point deserves repeating. Why? People scan. Attention spans are short. And it’s repetition of an idea or unique selling proposition that reduces the chance that the casual reader will miss what’s most important. Skillful repetition of your idea builds long-term memory.

So why do some marketers think repetition is bad?

I think it’s because, all too often, marketers and their creative teams start to believe they are their own prospective customer and, thus, evaluate everything they read through that lens. 

And too many of them, as the seasoned direct response professionals who commented on my column say: They’re young and inexperienced. 

Another consideration: the marketer or copywriter has read the message multiple times, so it’s familiar—too familiar—to them. It’s not being read with a fresh set of eyes. So when they see an idea repeated, even when craftily reworded, it’s perceived as repetitious, and therefore it’s deemed bad, weakening the sales message.

In the not-so-long-ago days of the most successful of direct mail packages, where I had a hand in their creation, a strong idea would be:

  1. Teased on an outer envelope.
  2. Brought to life in a letter’s headline and lead (and probably repeated elsewhere, especially in a long-form letter).
  3. Stated in a brochure, lift note, or other enclosure.
  4. And it sure as heck had better have been repeated on the order device…
  5. … and perhaps even snuck, yet again, into the guarantee.

Repetition starts the path to short-term memory which, as a minimum, is needed to clinch the sale. But well-crafted repetition, or reinforcement of an idea, positioning, or unique selling proposition leads to forming coveted long-term memory. Long-term memory can succeed in converting a prospect into a paying customer. Better yet, with long-term memory of your idea or USP firmly in place, you increase the likelihood for repeat purchases in the future.

My advice: don’t be afraid to repeat, or rephrase, a thought. 

  • When using email, link thoughts from the subject line to the email copy, once opened.
  • For landing pages, use sidebars or other call-outs. 
  • Video content can pass quickly—all the more reason to emphasize important points with repetition (and videos on landing pages should emphasize what the page says).

People scan. Their eyes dart around on a webpage or printed piece. Attention spans are short. 

Don’t assume that one passing mention of an important selling message or concept is going to be quickly absorbed by the casual reader. It won’t. Repetition may feel too strong to the marketing team, but chances are your prospective customer is going to remember your message.

Finally, here are some highlights of the comments on my blog:

From A-List Copywriter Bob Bly: I could not agree more. Virtually all top copywriters know and practice repetition. Young marketers think we are being redundant because they have not tested it.

From Tony The Pitiful Copywriter (I don’t know his real name): Yes! Repetition is very, very important. How many of your favorite songs have repetition in the lyrics or the music? And repetition has done wonders for some politicians, even ones I don't care for. All I would add is to make sure that you're repeating the USP of your offer! (I like to do that in the letter's PS as well).

From Douglas Kelly: I found repetition meant everything to direct response TV and radio, and direct mail. Clients ask me the same questions your novices are apparently asking. Why so much repetition? My short answer was that I'd rather reach 20,000 people five times, than to reach 100,000 one time. 

There you have it. If you’d like to add your voice, comment on my Today @ Target Marketing blog titled How Much Repetition is Too Much or in the comments section below.


Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.