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What is frequency bias?

Article originally published in June 2023 by Stuart Brameld. Most recent update in April 2024.

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Definition of frequency bias

Frequency bias, also known as the mere exposure effect, is a cognitive bias that occurs when people develop a preference for a product, service, or brand simply because they are exposed to it repeatedly. For marketers, understanding frequency bias is crucial as it highlights the importance of consistent and repeated exposure to a brand’s messaging in order to build familiarity and positive associations among consumers. By leveraging frequency bias, marketers can enhance brand recognition, improve consumer attitudes, and ultimately drive purchase decisions.

An example of frequency bias

Here is an example of how it works:

Growth Method’s marketing team frequently highlights the success stories of a few clients who have experienced rapid growth using their SaaS platform. However, they fail to mention the larger number of clients who have not seen significant growth or have even experienced a decline in their business performance. This creates a frequency bias, as potential customers are more likely to remember and be influenced by the success stories they hear repeatedly, rather than considering the overall effectiveness of the platform for all users.

How does frequency bias work?

Frequency bias works by leveraging the mere exposure effect, a psychological phenomenon where people develop a preference for things they encounter repeatedly. For marketers, this means that the more frequently a consumer is exposed to a brand, product, or message, the more likely they are to develop a positive attitude towards it and ultimately make a purchase. By strategically increasing the frequency of advertisements, promotions, and other marketing efforts, marketers can capitalize on this cognitive bias to enhance brand recognition, familiarity, and preference, ultimately driving consumer behavior and increasing sales.

Expert opinions and perspectives

Here are how some of the world’s best marketing and growth professionals think about frequency bias.

  • “Frequency bias is the secret sauce that makes advertising work. The more often a consumer sees your message, the more likely they are to believe it and act on it.” – Seth Godin
  • “Repetition is the key to successful marketing. Frequency bias ensures that your message becomes familiar, and familiarity breeds trust and credibility.” – Philip Kotler
  • “The power of frequency bias lies in its ability to turn mere exposure into preference. By consistently putting your brand in front of consumers, you’re not only increasing awareness but also building a relationship that leads to loyalty and advocacy.” – David Ogilvy

Questions to ask yourself

As a modern growth marketing or agile marketing professional, ask yourself the following questions with regard to frequency bias:

  1. Am I overestimating the importance of certain marketing channels or tactics due to their frequent exposure in industry discussions or my own experiences?
  2. Are there any less frequently mentioned or less visible marketing strategies that I might be overlooking or undervaluing due to frequency bias?
  3. How can I ensure that I am making data-driven decisions and not relying solely on the frequency of information or experiences to guide my marketing strategy?
  4. Am I giving equal consideration to both positive and negative feedback from customers, or am I more influenced by the frequency of either type of feedback?
  5. How can I actively challenge my own assumptions and biases to ensure that I am not falling victim to frequency bias in my marketing decisions?

Additional reading

Here are some related articles and further reading around frequency bias that you may find helpful.

  1. Frequency illusion
  2. https://cro-tool.com/theories/baader-meinhof-phenomenon
  3. https://www.scribbr.com/research-bias/baader-meinhof-phenomenon

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