By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist and Jake McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer

Marketers face many tough decisions when they’re tasked with setting up a marketing campaign for their brand. One of the biggest decisions of all, of course, is who to go after and target? Should you go after your most loyal customers to get them to purchase more of your product or service or should you go after anyone who’s purchased from your product or service before, even if they’ve only bought from your competitors?

The answer to this question is pretty straightforward if you’re looking for business growth, and let’s face it, the majority of businesses focus on growth because it guards against our loss aversion to its opposite (i.e. shrinking). Fortunately, there’s plenty of research out there that shows how to achieve growth through your marketing goals and targeting. Les Binet and Peter Field have published many studies, including their IPA research on “Marketing in the Digital Age.” Their study shows that advertising campaigns that aim to reach everyone in their market drive three times the business effects as campaigns that are targeted toward loyal followers. 

Importantly, this finding has been demonstrated by many other studies from the group, including their articles titled “Effectiveness and context” and “Marketing in the era of accountability.” They consistently show that campaigns that focus on penetration show stronger growth than campaigns that focus on loyalty as a marketing goal. But surprisingly, their research also shows that many marketers still set loyalty as their marketing goal despite the evidence that it’s not effective for growth. Why haven’t marketers caught on? 

The reason why relates to the psychological principle called the Familiarity Principle. Basically, the familiarity principle says that what’s in front of us is most important. For marketers, this means that our existing customers are often more present and salient because they are in fact our existing customers–they are a tangible group that marketers have interacted with, and marketers can often put a face and a name to people in this group. As a result, marketers have a bias of overly focusing on this audience at the expense of creating a broader definition of their audience which includes anyone who could potentially buy their service or product. 

How can marketers overcome the familiarity principle in their marketing efforts? For one, it means being customer-centric toward customer groups that you might not fully understand. This requires getting out there and understanding this audience through research and surveys and ethnography. Essentially, it means crafting your marketing message around the audience that you aspire to have, not the audience that you currently have. If you keep talking only to existing customers then you’re going to keep getting a similar customer segment, but if you talk to everyone in your market then you have the opportunity to be the market leader. That’s the kind of growth that we like to see. 

At Intermark Group, we leverage psychology and neuroscience insights to help make sure that advertisements have the most impact. We work with you at all levels of the campaign, from strategy, creative, production, and media, and more. Feel free to give us a call at 833-578-1314 or email us at to discuss how we can help with your marketing challenges. In addition, sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch with the latest insights in marketing psychology.

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