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The more you see something, the more you like it

The Exposure Effect tells us that people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they’re familiar with them.

The exposure effect has been demonstrated with words, paintings, faces, shapes and sounds. Have you ever been introduced to a song and been told it’s a grower? Have you seen how many portraits of Kim Jong-un there are in North Korea?

In studies1 of interpersonal attraction, the more often a person is seen by someone, the more pleasing and likeable that person appears to be. And that’s exactly the same with brands. We’re already biased towards the companies we’ve seen time and time again.

The first time you see a new brand, you’ll make an instant opinion of it, good or bad: “another coffee shop”, “this app looks like all the rest”.

There’s a reason for this. That new coffee shop can transpose your pre-existing feelings on coffee shops onto itself. This way you don’t need to try the coffee and take a seat to know it’s comfortable, relaxing place to be. It may not be unique, but it’s reduced cognitive effort tenfold.

This is something we consider when branding startups: we want the identity to be unique, but customers have to be aware of what kind of product it is. We call it same but different.

Even more of a challange, however, are large rebrands of companies that have already forged emotional bonds. Such as the Instagram2 and Premier League3 rebrands. When Gap branded4, the response was so powerful they went back to their old brand identity.

The exposure effect is a strong argument encompassing branding across multiple customer touch points; from occasional promotional emails, to when the user’s bought the product and is opening it for the first time.

If you’re communicating with customers across multiple devices or media, don’t forget about how that affects the message. Related to the Exposure Effect, there’s a cognitive bias called the propinquity effect5. Simply put:

The propinquity effect is the tendency for people to form friendships or romantic relationships with those whom they encounter often, forming a bond between subject and friend.

A key focus on the propinquity effect is location. People are attracted to those who are closer to them. This is why people are more likely to marry and make friends with colleagues in the work place. This is a key concept to consider for digital brands because they can’t rely on a physical communication to build relationships with their customers. What they can do however, is notify a user wherever they are, at whatever time; from the company being based in San Francisco, to a user working in London.