Is “marketing” a crass, commercial word that shouldn’t be associated with compliance programs?
About ten years ago I started proselytizing in earnest about the lessons that compliance professionals needed to be taking from advertisers and marketers. My slides used to say something like:
- The second time consumers see an advertisement, the familiarity and believability of its claims increases by more than 30% from the first time they see the ad.
- The third time they see the ad, its familiarity and believability increases by over 100% from the first time they saw it.
- It takes between nine and 21 impressions before a consumer is ready to buy a product.
The point I was making was that if this is what it takes for advertisers to get the attention of consumers, why would we think it would be any different for compliance professionals trying to get the attention of employees? “It should take between nine and 21 impressions,” I would say, “before your employees will be bought into your compliance message.”
In those days, I was often met with skepticism – born, I think, of the concern about whether “marketing”– that crass, commercial word associated with manipulating people into buying a lot of junk they don’t need – really had any place in the “pure” world of compliance (whatever that means). Today, I think there is a lot less concern about this, and the best programs are taking just such an approach to compliance communications. But I still hear this reservation about marketing and advertising from time to time.
The thing is, these are not statistics about advertising, per se. These are statistics that give us insight into what it takes before an individual stops filtering out information as irrelevant noise and starts incorporating that information into his or her worldview.
Here’s another way to put it: we are incredibly proficient at ignoring information. We have millions of years of practice at this. Although our senses are absolutely flooded with information at every moment of our lives, we are – at an unconscious level – constantly filtering out almost every bit of that information as irrelevant to us. The evolutionary mechanism, of course, is designed to help us filter out data that is not necessary for our survival (the breeze against our skin, the sound of the water trickling across the rocks), so we can focus on that handful of inputs that are (the snap of a twig just beyond that bush…).
It is reasonable to assume – and there’s lots of evidence to support this – that the first time an employee encounters a compliance message, he or she will unconsciously ignore it. That’s what we do with almost all of the information we receive – unless, of course, we deem it to be critical to us. This means that if a staff member has seen one memo about a compliance policy, or had one-time training, or heard about it at a single town-hall meeting, the odds are good that that message is not going to stick.
For this reason, we must put our compliance messages in front of employees as often as we can. And because long training programs create both training fatigue and tend to be one-time events, such messages must be non-intrusive, low-bandwidth messages. And because people in our companies are tapped into different communications channels and because there is variety in the learning styles among our employees, those communications must come in multiple modes and through multiple channels. Which starts to make our compliance communications look alarmingly like “marketing.”