Humans are extremely susceptible to the power of repetition.
As the infamous saying goes – repeat a lie often enough, and people will believe it.
In the business world, we often think of this as a powerful marketing tool or strategy. This is, after all, why we develop core or key messages. We hope that if we repeat the same, clear, concise messages time and again, our target customers will believe them.
Indeed, politicians put this little cognitive blip to work as often as possible.
However, in recent years the near cult-like adoption of ‘emotional equities’ has led some companies to overlook the ‘functional equities’ of their brand.
They believe their own marketing hype – and this creates a number of risks.
Perhaps no company brings this to mind more tangibly than Apple in the post-Jobs era.
A company once known for producing truly innovative products has, most recently, released a series of phones that are nearly identical to previous models, a screen produced by another company, and a litany of updates and add-ons that – at best – bring Apple products up to par with existing competitor products.
The Apple brand can probably lay claim to having one of, if not the, strongest suit of emotional brand equities out there – but growing dissatisfaction with the actual performance of the products suggests that the power of repetition has limits.
Indeed, psychology has something to say about this, too. A recent Vanderbilt study found that whilst participants were likely to believe inaccurate information, presented repeatedly, over their own preexisting knowledge (for instance, that Oslo is the capital of Finland) the introduction of critical skepticism could weaken the effect.
Where the veracity of the repeated information was brought to question, the truth could win out over the oft repeated, misinformation.
So what does this all mean?
For a start, Apple became known as an innovative brand because its product designers were front-and-center. They were encouraged to dream up, design, and produce innovative and exciting products. Brand and marketing was there to refine, amplify, and repeat that message until it was taken as a global truth.
Today, one could argue that Apple’s design takes a back seat to its sales and marketing – that it has flip-flopped the very process that made it so successful.
Marketing matters, of course. But it is critical that companies take a step back, once in a while, to reflect honestly on the quality of their products and services.
Apple believed its own hype, and it’s paying the price.
Melyn McKay is a socio-cultural anthropologist and a partner at Monticello LLP.