Reach or Frequency – What’s your poison?

Reach or Frequency – What’s your poison?


You’ve probably heard of the terms ‘reach’ and ‘frequency’ before. Both are at the core of what marketing has been in the past and what marketing is in today’s digital world. But depending on who you ask, you’ll get very different answers when it comes to which of these two metrics is more important, and which of these metrics should be the focus of your next campaign.

In the last few decades, marketers didn’t really have any reason to deliberate over reach or frequency. Mass marketing was the only grand strategy available, with TV, radio and newspapers being the primary sources of marketing. There was no way to easily measure reach and frequency accurately without spending an exorbitant amount of money.

Today however, it’s a different story.

Marketers don’t have any excuses NOT to be giving thought to the desired reach and frequency for their campaigns. Social media and the wider digital landscape has brought with it sweeping changes to the way in which marketers can target and segment audiences – on Facebook, it’spossible to target people who live in your neighbourhood, enjoy red wine and have bought something online in the past week.

The implications of this is that business owners and marketers now have the power in their hands to pick and choose who to advertise to.

And so, it’s not long before the question arises – is it better to show an ad many times to a small group of people who align with the business? Or is it better to cast a wider net, giving more people a reminder to buy from the company even if it means they will be shown fewer ads?

We’ll cover all this below, but first a little bit of marketing 101 is required.


What are reach and frequency?

Reach is one of the key metrics in any marketing campaign and is often one of the first stats rattled off by marketers when summarising the success of a project.

Reach is the number of people that saw your ad at least once in any given period.


Frequency is often the next figure presented by marketers to their clients, and it is an important metric to follow – regardless of whether it’s the focus of your campaign.

Frequency is the average number of times a consumer saw your ad.


It is important to note that both reach and frequency differ to their cousin metric ‘impressions’, which identifies the amount of times your ad was seen. In some respects, impressions is the combination of reach and frequency.

What are the leading theories?


Focus on Frequency

The traditional view of marketing is that brands need to foster a relationship with buyers before they’ll even be considered as a purchase option. Consumers aren’t going to buy a brand they’ve never heard of before – they’ll stick to the products that are most familiar to them. Therefore, frequency and repetition on a targeted group of buyers is the most effective way to do marketing as it builds this trust and familiarity within consumers.

By consistently being seen and heard by a more targeted segment of the market, businesses give themselves a better chance of being top-of-mind for consumers – that is, the first brand thought of when a buyer thinks of the brand’s category.



Focus on reach

The flipside of focusing on frequency is to focus on reach, where a brand strives to have their ads seen by as many people in the market as possible within any given period. Reach and mass marketing used to be the name of the game in the 50s and 60s, but as the analytical power of marketing has increased there’s been a subtle yet steady shift towards frequency and targeting.

The first and most obvious argument for a campaign focusing on reach is that it enables your brand to be in front of a greater number of people than a campaign focusing on frequency. Depending on the size of the category that a brand is operating in, it can be more effective to simply remind as many people as possible to buy the brand. This argument holds up well for brands whose buyers include pretty much everyone, such as Coca Cola and Apple.

Another argument put forward by those in favour of reach is that people get sick of ads very quickly. We’re all familiar with the distaste we feel when the same car ad appears during the commercial break of your Sunday night movie for the umpteenth time. This distaste with the ad can lead to distaste with the brand – which means that in the end businesses are paying for consumers to dislike them!



So what’s the verdict?


It’s clear that in an ideal world, brands would have maximum reach while enjoying a healthy amount of frequency in their advertising. But marketing budgets are not limitless, and thus a compromise must be made.

In reality, a hybrid of the two metrics is perhaps the best tactic to employ.

Reach should be a major focus for all businesses – without it your brand is living in the dark. However, it would not be wise to forget about frequency altogether.

While no one wants to see the same ad five times in one day, people are not going to remember the ad they only saw once, five months ago.

A healthy balance needs to be maintained, and because of this the recommended strategy is to consistently reach as many category buyers as possible within the given budget. By reaching these people every few weeks on a consistent basis, businesses give themselves a good chance at being easily thought of by buyers without becoming an annoyance.

A business with a small budget should still try to reach as many category shoppers as possible within its limits and should plan for continued advertising to those people every few weeks. Advertising is a long-term game, and over time these infrequent impressions will build into a strong link in consumer minds, which will eventually translate into sales.

The policy for big business is largely the same, where advertising should try to hit all buyers of the category on a routine basis. Companies like McDonald’s and Nike are examples of how this focus on consistent reach can lead to top-of-mind status – just think of how ingrained each of those brands’ slogans are in our heads!


What are your thoughts? Is reach the way to go, or frequency? Did we hit the nail on the head with a hybrid approach, or do you think there’s another method entirely?



Patrick Black is a marketer with a passion for learning how businesses can improve their advertising through science-backed principles. He enjoys writing about marketing much more than he likes to write about himself.