If you take a stroll down the cereal aisle of your local supermarket, you might notice a strange phenomenon: pretty much every sugar cereal mascot won't meet your eye. Cap'n Crunch, Tony the Tiger, that weird furry guy on the Honeycombs box--they're not looking at you--they're looking down at the floor.

I read that it was a marketing technique, so I turned to marketing expert Kristen Craft of Wistia to explain what's going on. Here's Kristen.

Kristen Craft, Wistia

First of all, the cereal box phenomenon is real. Mascots on kids' cereal boxes stare down at a 9.6 degree angle, whereas mascots for adult cereal look practically straight ahead. The reason? They're trying to make eye contact with an audience that's much closer to the ground--the mascots want to make eye contact with your kids.

And it works. A Cornell study examined two versions of Trix cereal boxes--one where that silly rabbit made eye contact with customers, and one where he didn't. They found that brand trust was 16% higher and the feeling of connection to the brand was 28% higher when the rabbit made eye contact.

This should be no surprise to any sociology student. It all goes back to a sociological phenomenon called the Familiarity Principle, which Robert Zajonc started studying in the 1950's.

The more we're exposed to something--whether it's food, people, or brands--the more we like it. The effect is only compounded when you introduce human elements, like eye contact, hand gestures, or a bit of personality.

Understanding the familiarity principle will make your brand's marketing super effective. At Wistia, I've seen some really creative and clever ways companies have managed to use the familiarity principle in their favor. Here are three things I've learned at Wistia, and how you can use them in your marketing strategy.

1. Why the Geico Gecko is a Hit

The familiarity principle operates under the assumption that being exposed to something--even just a little--will eventually make us like it. But as General Mills intuited so many years ago, those touchpoints are hugely magnified when they resonate with people on an emotional level.

Simply seeing a personal connection with something we're exposed to, through means like eye contact or humor. So for cereal companies, sometimes the best way to get eyes on your product is to literally put eyes on your product. Of course, it's really hard to make a personal connection with customers, especially when everyone is trying to do it.

With the cereal aisles, people experienced significantly more trust when they made eye contact. Just think about the possibilities when you incorporate other aspects of familiarity--like personality. Personality and exposure--that's a dynamite combination.

Take insurance companies, for example. They're selling an intangible product. It's not something you can pull off the shelves and touch, feel, get a real sense of what it's like. How is the company supposed to get you familiar with something that is literally untouchable?

Their solution: make a personal connection. That's why you see so many mascots, like Flo the Progressive Girl, the Geico gecko, and the Aflac duck, or the deep, reassuring voice of the Allstate spokesperson. They're doing the same thing Cap'n Crunch is--using the familiarity principle to make a connection.

2. Familiarity Doesn't Breed Contempt

The real secret sauce of the familiarity principle is incorporating human touches. When Zajonc started studying it so many decades ago, his initial experiments measured how much schoolchildren liked the adults in their classrooms. The ones they saw more--who they made eye contact with, or whose physical presence they became accustomed to--they liked more.

That's because it's the human elements that really engage us. The best marketers take advantage of the familiarity principle not just by bombarding customers with spam, but by crafting content that engages and feels like it's coming from a real person--someone you're familiar with. The email marketing platform Customer.io encourages users to do this with each email they send out. As marketing manager Janet Choi writes,

"Every email is an opportunity to connect with real people, improve their experience and provide value, have a conversation, and make a meaningful difference in how they understand and view your brand. That's much harder to measure, but more vital in the long run."

Janet really hit the nail on the head here. The familiarity principle is about creating a consistent presence throughout your customer touchpoints to develop familiarity. This, above all else, is what makes your brand stand out.

Emails that are chock full of personality, whether it's humor, a mascot, taking a strong stance on a subject, or just providing value to someone who reads it, are more likely to lead to trust, which is really what matters.

Trust can be hard to come by, which means it's even more valuable than ever. It's why some companies, like StatusPage.io go so far as to write handwritten thank-you notes to their customers so that they can scale connection. That's why the familiarity principle teaches us that human elements like eye-contact, hand gestures, and in-person connection are so important.

3. Videos Inject Personality into Your Marketing

Of course, it's really hard to do this at scale. Handwritten thank-you notes are great until your hand starts cramping up.

At this point, it's easy to lose sight of the familiarity principle. A lot of brands sacrifice the human touch for something impersonal but scalable. But that's where video comes in.

Video is an easy way to scale Zajonc's findings about the familiarity principle. They help you get real, human connection with people on a large scale. The physical presence, the eye contact, the emotional connection that students experienced in Zajonc's studies--it all still works through the screen.

In fact, putting video in an introductory marketing email increases the click-through rate by 96%, in part because people feel more connection to video.

It doesn't need to be as big budget a production as something like those insurance commercials. In fact, it doesn't even need to be a commercial. The goal is not to sell your product directly--it's to make a connection with people.

That's why webinars have become such a useful tool. At Wistia, I've seen companies use webinars in really interesting ways, and produce really impressive conversion rates. Readytalk, for example, experimented with offering their webinars as videos that people can consume whenever they wanted, and found it produced 3-5 as many leads.

Webinar videos are easy to consume, and they take advantage of the familiarity principle. They help companies share information that could be given in basically any format--a blog post, an ebook, or even a series of emails. The real difference with webinars is that they allow for all kinds of personal touches. People get to see your expression, your hand gestures, and where you're looking.

And as any marketer knows, it's that little stuff that leads to conversions.