reach and frequency are marketing metrics

Reach and Frequency Are Fundamental Marketing Metrics

Reach and frequency are marketing metrics for planning and evaluating promotional activities. Is your message reaching who you want to reach, as often as you want to reach them?  Here are ways to plan for and increase reach and frequency.

When I ran a newspaper, our sales team educated local businesses on advertising reach and frequency. We provided metrics on the newspaper’s audience demographics (reach) and circulation (frequency). In those numbers, we tried to show prospective advertisers that our audience matched the people they wanted to reach through advertising.

Since leaving the world of newspapers for marketing, I’ve been surprised at the number of marketing directors and VPs who are unfamiliar with the concepts of reach and frequency.

As a public and social sector marketer, you need to optimize the reach and frequency of your messages. You’re like a buyer of newspaper ads. You’re looking for ways to affordably and frequently reach your target audience and motivate them to take action: use your services, attend your event, read your report, or change their behavior.


Reach is critical in promotion. If you’re not reaching the people you want, you’re wasting time and money.

What audience are you trying to reach?  This should be based first on your mission statement. If your mission statement doesn’t give you clear guidance on whom you’re trying to reach, you need a new mission. Next, you can rely on your market research and who you were designing your product with (remember, we design with people, not for them). Also, as a public and social sector marketer you likely have multiple audiences: prospective clients, current clients, funders, volunteers, elected officials.

How will you reach your audience? You have many options: email, direct mail, online advertising, newsletters, print or broadcast advertising, events, outdoor advertising. The key here is going where your target audience goes–when they are looking for the type of information that you are offering.

For example, odds are high that your target audience watches TV. They might even favor a particular channel or show. So, you could put your promotional message on TV. But, your audience may not be in the mood or mindset to receive your message while they are watching their favorite channel or show. They may be more receptive while working online. In that case, digital ads may have more impact.

Are you actually reaching your target audience, as in influencing them, with the message you are sending? Here’s where surveying your target audience comes in, preferably before and after running a test of your promotion.

Each one of your audiences has different characteristics and media consuming habits. Make sure you’re reaching the right audience through the right channel with the right message.


Frequency is another name for repeating your message to an audience. Repetition is good. People don’t respond, or even necessarily notice, the first time they are exposed to information or an offer.

How frequent is enough? This Wikipedia article gives a rough answer: three to 20 times. In the article, Krugman says that people have only three reactions to an advertisement or promotional message. First comes curiosity: “What Is It?” Next comes investigation: “What Of It?” Finally comes a decision whether they accept the message or not. That decision may come on the third exposure to the message, or the fiftieth. On the other hand, Thomas Smith in 1885 wrote 20 different reactions an audience has before finally acting on an advertisement.

Neither of these are highly scientific approaches to frequency, but they do argue effectively for repeating your message.

There are different ways of achieving frequency. One is repeating the same message or offer in the same place, such as running the same ad on the same website for several weeks in a row. Another is placing your message or offer in multiple outlets where your target audience will see it. For example, you can run essentially the same ad on a website, in a newsletter, and in social media.

Frequency can be expensive, in several ways. Creating and formatting promotional content for multiple channels and platforms costs staff time plus possibly purchasing images (although you can often find free photos). Planning and executing the distribution of all that content also costs staff time. In addition, the channels through which your distributing your content may have associated costs.

Finding ways to reuse existing content, automate content distribution, and access free channels (such as social media) all help to reduce the costs of frequency.

Optimize Reach and Frequency

Ideally, you will optimize your promotional campaigns for both reach and frequency. Keep in mind that you need to be effective in reach before you scale through frequency. There’s no pointing in scaling a message that isn’t reaching and influence your intended audience. That’s why it’s good to test your messages and how you distribute them.

Reach and frequency are marketing metrics you need to care about. Many other metrics exist that can help you optimize your work. But if you’re not reaching your audience frequently enough to influence them, those other metrics don’t matter.

Think about a recent campaign that didn’t perform as well as you projected. Was the problem with reach, frequency, or both? How do you know?

(Image courtesy of Flickr)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top