Cadence had its heyday in the 1800s according to the fount of all wisdom, the Google machine.  But it’s making a heck of a comeback as it turned the corner from a musical, rhythmic usage to business speak, 101.


What might we have lost in this talk of cadence for our direct marketing and fundraising?   For one, I think we’ve lost nuance.  For example, reach and frequency aren’t the same thing.   Reach is how many different people are exposed to your spend.  Frequency is the number of exposures over Time Period X.

Is your “cadence” of acquisition mail every month expanding reach with that frequency?  No.  And much of that frequency is wasted spend.

Reach always has value but also has massive diminishing returns tied to, yep, frequency when in the same channel with the same thing.  You get huge lift going from a reach of zero (didn’t get your mail ever) to 1 (got one acquisition mailing).   The diminishing returns are massive on the return of that next dollar going to reach the same person a second time, 3+, etc.

There will of course always be overlap in your reach, creating frequency.  But, the aim of our fundraising should be much more heavily weighted to thinking about reach then (just) frequency.

The ‘cadence’ catch all seems to miss this nuance.  And it definitely misses the mark more and more as the thinking gets more refined.

For example, how best to get reach and have your frequency work smarter and harder?

  • Multi-platform campaigns are good until they aren’t.  The 2010 IPA Effectiveness Awards (huge commercial sector advertising award) had an average of 7 media channels per entrant compared to only 3 for entrants in the 90s.  But, academic analysis by Binet and Field (academic heavyweights in marketing world) found campaigns using five channels were less effective than those using 1 with 3 or 4 being optimal.  Everything has diminishing returns. 
  • Mix up timing and context of touchpoints.  Radio and mobile dominate the commute to work, social peaks in afternoon and early evening and users tend to gravitate to the best/biggest screen available (e.g. TV at home at night).  This mixing up of timing and mode creates different context and this can make the brain feel like it’s two separate rather than redundant exposures.
  • Space out your exposures.  This has twofold implication.  The “always on” fill up the calendar with 12 appeals because there are 12 months and 24 emails (2x per month) loses in short and long-term to pulsing or on/off spacing.   We’ve written about this extensively, you can search on Agitator archives but the gist is simple – always on creates lots of cannibalization (i.e. robbing future dollars vs. creating new ones) and irritation leading to attrition.  But, the other ‘spacing’ consideration is during that on-period.  For those folks who are going to see more than one message from you across channels, don’t cram them all into one week of your “on month”. Spread 4 touches across four channels across four weeks.
  • Content is king.  I know this post is about reach and frequency and media mix but don’t forget, content is king and unless your sending different messages to different people to match their motivation and need you are forever in sub-optimum world no matter how much you nail your “cadence”.