Repeat after me

Most of us have heard of the phrase “repetition is the mother of all learning”.

I was thinking about this phrase recently in the context of strategy, positioning, communication, change and reputation management.

My interest was sparked by a recent speech given by David Thodey, the Chief Executive Officer at Telstra, to business leaders.

He was championing the idea that Australia should become a hot bed of technology and innovation. He insisted that Telstra is on the road to becoming a technology company rather than a large incumbent telco. I've heard the outline of this strategy several times now. Regardless of my view of the strategy, I am now aware of it. And more than aware, I am beginning to understand it. Next step, belief. Maybe.

Of course it is not enough just to repeat the story and hope people believe it. Actions must match words. Continuous repetition of the right behaviours, service and attitudes is essential.

Repetition of these and of your story are the key ingredients if you want to engage, explain, inspire, inform and lead.

It is a lesson good marketers know well. Repetition, frequency and patience are essential to build brand awareness. And continual repetition can create word of mouth and help generate a tipping point. It’s a lesson corporate communicators should learn well.

In fact, the lesson is repeated (yes I am aware of the irony) across a range of theories. Here are just a few:

  • Jim Collins’ fly wheel and its relationship to change
  • Nagging - to all the parents, need I say more?
  • The reinforcing feedback loop in systems theory
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers which posits that 10,000 hours of practice makes an expert
  • Neuroplasticity has demonstrated that the brain can change. We strengthen neural connections through repetition.

So what does all this mean for communicators? Here are my views:

  1. You can never tell your story enough times. You may be bored of it but many are not even aware of it
  2. As the song goes, the journey is long (and the road is winding). Or put another way it may take quite a few repetitions until you get it into people's mind
  3. Told many times, the story becomes self-reinforcing, a positive feedback loop
  4. Repetition leads to learning. After all, stories are the art of passing things on from generation to generation
  5. Actions must match your story.