You've got a great product or service, but finding the right customers and closing the sale can be a challenge. You need to make sure that your product doesn't get lost in the crowd, and the serial position effect can help.
What is the serial position effect?
The serial position effect is the psychological tendency that affects how we remember information in a sequence. People tend to recall the first and last items in a series better than the middle items.
It was first identified by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885 and has been studied through what's known as "free recall" tests, in which someone is shown a list of items and then asked to recall them in any order. The first and last items in the list are always the most memorable, while the items in the middle are the most easily forgotten. The effect has two main components—the primacy effect and the recency effect.
The primacy effect is the tendency to remember the first few items better because they are more likely to be remembered, repeated mentally, and transferred to long-term memory. The more information you encounter after the first items, the less brain power you have left to devote to each subsequent one.
For example, you are more likely to remember an ad's brand name and slogan than the details or features of the offer. And when you are shopping online, you're more likely to remember the first few items or options that you see than the ones further down the page that require scrolling to see.
The recency effect is the tendency to remember the last few items better because they are still fresh in short-term memory or working memory. Customers are better at remembering the call to action or the offer that is at the end of a sales message or a podcast sponsor that is mentioned at the end of the content.
The serial position effect and the 7 P's of marketing
The 7 P's of marketing is a set of principles that professionals use to attract and engage customers, motivate customer sales, and increase revenue. This concept—sometimes known as the marketing mix—started with 4 P's—product, price, promotion, and place—as the essential elements of a marketing campaign. It later expanded to include 3 new elements—people, packaging, and process.
This group of principles can help you refine your marketing aims, organizational objectives, and customer relationship building. Read on to see how you can make use of the serial position effect in each marketing area.
- Product: Your product should fulfill a need or create a novel customer experience. Consider collecting information through market research to develop new products or refine the ones you already offer. Because any questions at the beginning or end of your surveys are the ones most likely to get customer focus, put your most important info there.
- Price: Consumers are increasingly savvy about finding the best products and services for the best price. Consider placing your most expensive or profitable product at the beginning or end of a list, where it is more likely to be noticed and remembered.
- Promotion: This is the element at the heart of your marketing plan. Using the primacy and recency effects when your company promotes its products will help boost your sales numbers. You want your ad, or the most important information, to be the first or last thing customers see.
- Place: Where will you sell your company's product? Think about where your potential customers are likely to look first. If your target audience is internet savvy, prioritize your internet sales to make sure your product appears at the top of the results on search engines. If retail sales are your most profitable distribution channels, your products should be near the entrance to the store or the point of sale.
- People: You always want to recruit and hire the best employees. Pay special attention to those members of your team who are the first or last point of contact for consumers. Customers are most likely to remember the first salesperson they talk to or the most recent IT support staff member who helps them with a problem.
- Packaging: Make your packaging stand out. In a sea of similar items, you want your product to be the first a potential customer sees. In addition, think about the information your packaging provides. You may want to highlight a recent product improvement or leave consumers with a memorable tagline.
- Process: Your customers aren't the only ones with important information to remember. When you train marketing, customer service, and fulfillment staff, use the primacy and recency effects to emphasize the most important points to improve processes across your company.
The serial position effect across different media platforms
Your business likely uses many different channels to deliver your marketing message and sales promotions. Apply the serial position effect to any type of media for the best results.
Place your ads on the front page or the back cover of a newspaper or magazine, where they are more likely to catch the eye of readers. Alternatively, you can place ads on the first or last page of a specific section, such as sports or entertainment.
Traditional media marketing
According to research by the Winterberry Group, in 2021 digital marketing made up 55% of all marketing, leaving a large percentage of advertisements still in traditional media. Don't neglect these media, including radio and television. Place your ads at the beginning or end of a radio program or segment, where they are more likely to be heard by the listeners. You can also use catchy jingles or slogans to make ads more memorable.
Similarly, TV ads can be placed at the beginning or end of a show or commercial break, where they are more likely to be seen by the viewers. You can also use visual effects or celebrities to make ads more memorable.
Digital marketing has become one of the most important content marketing strategies. It lets your company reach and engage with your target audience anywhere they are and it's a great way for small businesses to compete with bigger brands.
Your products and services won't get lost in the crowd if you implement strategies to take advantage of the primacy and recency effects in your internet marketing.
Everyone has had the experience of using a search engine and ending up with an overwhelming number of results. The further down the list your target audience has to scroll to find you, the less likely they'll make it to your digital marketing message.
To make sure your business ranks as high as possible, plan your search engine marketing strategy carefully and take advantage of search engine optimization best practices.
- Use a catchy and informative title that makes sense for your product. Attracting a lot of potential customers is good, but making sure your title reflects your product so you attract the right customers is even better.
- Use relevant and descriptive keywords in the product descriptions on your site and in your site's metadata. You want the consumers who are searching for the type of thing you offer to find you easily.
- Use rich snippets—elements like images, ratings, reviews, or prices—that can appear on a search engine results page, enhancing the appearance and attractiveness of your site and giving users more information.
There are many different types of online advertisements that can help you reach potential buyers, including banner ads, popup ads, and native advertising. While the options can feel overwhelming, focus on the placement and format that will allow your company's ad to be the first thing site visitors see.
Rather than creating marketing campaigns that send your message out to prospective customers, inbound marketing refers to strategies that let customers find you. For example, consumers who need to find a local auto mechanic may ask a search engine for a list of businesses in their area.
If you offer the product they need, you want your search results to appear near the top so they're more likely to notice you and click through to your site. Inbound marketing is particularly effective for building brand loyalty and ongoing relationships, as it brings users to you who already have an interest in the product you sell.
According to marketing research firm Statista, in 2022 people spent an average of 147 minutes a day on social media. While Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and other platforms can be a great way for marketers to catch the attention of consumers, these channels have so much information that it's easy for your message to disappear as other businesses' products move to the top of people's feeds.
One way to make sure your message stays at the top of social media feeds is to encourage viral marketing, which uses social networks to promote a product or service as people share it with friends, family, and others in their network. Every repost helps keep your product front and center.
Podcast ads can be either host-read or prerecorded and can appear at different positions within a podcast episode. The serial position effect suggests that listeners are more likely to remember advertisements that are placed at the beginning or end of an episode.
Traditional and digital media aren't the only place to reach potential customers. Don't neglect in-person and community events.
You've probably heard that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, and location. The same thing applies to your company's participation in events like trade shows. Your booth or display should be one of the first that attendees see when they arrive or the last they see on their way out.
Sponsoring events and nonprofit organizations is a good way to build brand awareness, generate positive public relations, and develop relationships with other sponsoring companies. When you're considering a sponsorship opportunity, use the serial position effect to make the most of your support.
- Community organizations: Focus your sponsorship efforts in one or two places rather than spreading them out. That will allow you to give more to individual groups and have more prominent placement. For example, being the main sponsor for a little league team or donating funds to build (and name) a new school theater can be a good public relations investment.
- Charitable fundraisers: Many organizations have regular events to help raise money and awareness for their cause. Whether they're offering sponsors a chance to be listed in the program or to donate a featured item for a silent auction, the more funding you're able to commit, the more prominent your company's name will be.
- Industry events: Business networking events and conventions often have multiple sponsorship opportunities. If you underwrite the cost of a mixer or a lunch speaker, make it the first or last one of the event.
Business leaders are called on to speak at occasions of all kinds, from keynote addresses and political rallies to school award ceremonies and retirement party toasts. Being either the first or last speaker in the lineup means that customers and business contacts will be more likely to remember you and your message.
Real-world examples of marketing campaigns and the serial position effect
Many brands have used the serial position effect successfully to grow their business. Read on for some examples.
Apple is one company that gains a competitive advantage by applying this effect to its product design, website design, and advertising campaigns. Apple uses a minimalist and intuitive website design that highlights the most important features and benefits of its products at the top and bottom of the page.
The company's stores are similarly minimalist in design and often feature a prominent image of the most recent product in the store window—making sure it's the first thing people see when walking past or into the store.
The stores also use what's known as a "hero" display strategy for their flagship products, such as the latest iPhone or MacBook models. These products are placed at eye level on the front tables near the entrance of the store, making them visible and accessible to customers as soon as they walk in.
You almost certainly know Nike's slogan, "Just Do It." It's a memorable and effective tagline. Nike uses it consistently at the end of their advertisements to leave customers with an action-focused and high-energy image of their business.
When you're deciding what to watch on Netflix, the number of options can seem overwhelming. Netflix knows this and wants to make it easy for you to find the content that will keep your eyes glued to the screen.
Netflix places its logo and menu options at the top left corner of its homepage, making them the first thing users see when they sign on, then organizes its list presentation to spark customer interest. Netflix organizes its content into horizontal rows of thumbnails that users can scroll through and places the most popular or relevant content at the beginning or end of each row, making it more likely to be noticed and clicked by users. The "continue watching" row lets users jump back into the most recent thing they watched—taking advantage of the recency effect to offer users content that's likely to be the most memorable to them.
Make the serial position effect work for you
There are various methods you can use to take advantage of the serial position effect to boost your marketing campaigns.
Start with a strong opening
As the first thing customers see, the opening segment is where you have an opportunity to emphasize the most important part of your message.
Make a good first impression
People will remember the first thing they see on your website, ad campaign, or sales promotion. Consider the primacy effect when deciding how to design your marketing campaigns or creating eye-catching materials. To make your site as user friendly as possible, place the most common or useful options at the top of your menu.
Put your star product at the top
Place your most profitable product, or the one you want customers to focus on, at the top of your site or marketing materials.
Put your most attractive features first
If you want to persuade your visitors to buy a certain product or service, you should highlight its benefits or features at the start of your description.
Make the most of the middle
Because people remember middle items least, you can use that space for the information you want to de-emphasize. You can also use the middle of a marketing message to place products that are nearing the end of their product life cycle or that have a steady demand that doesn't require emphasis in advertising.
Experiment with your digital marketing strategy
Digital marketing materials are easy to change and update, giving you the chance to try different formats, methods, and content until you find the one that works best for you.
Try A/B testing
If you're not sure which product to feature at the top of your website or don't know the strongest way to end your sales pitch, A/B testing can help you collect information to inform your decisions. A/B testing is a way to compare multiple versions of a single variable, for example by creating two different versions of the same ad and changing only one item like the featured product. This allows you to determine which of the variants is more effective. Here are some more ideas:
- Change the first listed item on your homepage to see whether it affects the number of overall sales.
- Improve email marketing performance by testing different subject lines or calls to action.
- Change the order of images in a social media marketing campaign to see which one generates the most click-throughs.
Track and analyze different metrics
You can use market research to help you ensure your marketing message is distributing consistent content and valuable information in the most effective way. Metrics like impressions, reach, engagement, and customer surveys can help you determine which products or information are your most appealing and should be featured in the most prominent locations.
Tailor your message for different audiences
Not all buyers are the same. Once your marketing department has enough data about your business's customers and their buying habits, it's easy to tailor your marketing strategy for different groups.
For example, if your software program is used in both businesses and classrooms, you may design a marketing campaign that puts the product's powerful capabilities at the top of the list when targeting corporate clients, but its affordable cost and responsive tech support would take that spot when selling to schools.
Use visual cues
When you're putting together your marketing materials, think beyond the list. Modern media—especially digital media—is visual. Use well-designed materials to direct customers' attention to the information you want them to see first.
Close with a bang
End strong, using the recency effect to help customers remember your most important selling point, featured product, or memorable tagline.
End on a high note
Make sure to leave customers with a positive impression of your brand as the last thing they see. Even if they don't make a purchase today, using an impactful and memorable message will help them remember your company and have a positive impact on your long-term marketing efforts.
If you do close the sale, make the process efficient and easy, leaving your consumers with positive feelings about their experience. This can also be helpful with relationship marketing, a marketing strategy that works to build long-term relationships with customers to increase overall satisfaction and brand loyalty.
Even after a user leaves your website or store, you can send reminders of your products or services and offer incentives, discounts, or positive reviews from other consumers to bring them back.
For customers who have already made a purchase, you can follow up to offer discounts on future purchases or encourage them to write online reviews or share their experience on social media, further enhancing your digital marketing efforts.
Whether your current marketing is focused on search engines and search engine optimization techniques, event marketing, digital content, or making the most of traditional media, making simple changes to the order of your products or where your ad appears on a site can make a big difference to sales and customer retention.