4 Marketing lessons from Physics

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Since the birth of modern marketing, most people have always regarded concepts or ideas that revolve around it as fantastic. It has always been treated as if it was a domain of the mystic arts or alchemy even. Marketing was viewed as an esoteric field that bore no real relevance to the lives of ordinary people. And you really can’t blame them for thinking that way because “ancient marketing”, much like alchemy, spoke about the promise of “fool’s gold” more than anything else. All throughout the early years, we never had precise analytical and measuring tools and processes at our disposal. Until recently, marketing decisions in fact were mainly based on guess-work that straddled the grey area between actual statistics, voodoo and the jackpot machine kind of luck. It was like living in a dungeon where the logical light of science dare not intrude.

Well, things have at least changed and mostly for the better. Just like how modern science has displaced magic and alchemy, we are now taking baby steps in introducing scientific processes to marketing and at least we are starting to treat it as an amalgamation between art and science. That’s the reason why I was really excited to see the TED Global talk by Dan Cobley, marketing director of Google, on the topic – “What physics taught me about marketing“. Inspired by Dan’s wonderful attempt at fusing marketing and physics, I just couldn’t resist having a go at it. Check out the video below and a snapshot of the presentation.

Newton’s 2nd Law: “The force equals mass times acceleration.”

The Second Law states that “a body of mass (m) subject to a force (F) undergoes an acceleration (a) that has the same direction as the force and a magnitude that is directly proportional to the force and inversely proportional to the mass, i.e., F = ma.” In terms of physics, this law implies that the bigger the mass of an object, the more force is subsequently needed to change its direction. If we apply this to marketing … we could then say that the bigger a brand, the more difficult it is to reposition it. So it is important that we consider having a portfolio of brands or even new and compartmentalised brands for new ventures.

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle

Shifting to quantum mechanics, the classic Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that you can never accurately measure the position and momentum of a particle because the act of observing and measuring it changes it. When applied to marketing, this can pertain to the concept that marketers must try to measure what consumers actually do and actively figure out their behaviour from that instead of concentrating on what they are saying because what they are saying is not entirely accurate in the first place. This is very important because in marketing, the act of observation changes the behaviour of the one being observed.

You cannot prove a hypothesis through observation. You can only disprove it.

It is a well known fact in physics (and in science as a whole) that you cannot prove a hypothesis through observation but it’s easy to disprove it. This is a very integral aspect of the scientific method. What this implies is that no matter how many supporting facts you have around your hypothesis, they just only serve to strengthen it but not necessarily prove it conclusively. Also, it will only take a single contrasting data to blow your hypothesis out of the lofty sky. In marketing, years (or even decades) worth of brand building is not the be-all and end-all since one bad week can undermine everything that you have built and invested on. The take-away here is to really be careful in everything and to try and anticipate (if you can’t avoid them entirely) the screw-ups that can undermine your brand.

The second law of thermodynamics

This states that entropy, which is a measure of the disorder of a system, will always increase. This is a fundamental knowledge in physics. So if we appropriate this to marketing, we can arrive at the realisation that dispersing your brand energy gets you closer to your audience. In the old days, it was not strange to see that a single umbrella message very much defined the entire brand. Nowadays that is no longer the case. With the advent of 360 degree engagement, the more brands get into the mix the more they lose control of things. This may be scary for marketers but this is also a good thing. You can’t fight evolution, so why not embrace it and find a way to work with it. Although your brand gets dispersed because user-generated content is proliferating, in the end it actually brings the brand and the consumer closer together. On the other hand though … even if it is a fact in physics that the entropy of an isolated system can never decrease, we all know that no brand in today’s world can stay fully isolated if it wants to remain relevant and alive.

“What comes up must come down.”

To sum it up, marketers can learn a lot from physics. What I’ve tackled above are just a few examples of many ideas that we can appropriate. In true physics fashion, it all boils down to “energy conversion”. And probably the most important “conversion” that I can suggest is that we must always take into account the wonderful fact that “what comes up must come down”. Imagine your brand as a fantastic fairground ride. Centrifugal forces are doing what they do best as they throw us wider and wider as your brand gets bigger and bigger. At first you are afraid but you calm down and realise that it’s all right. The machine at the center (which is your brand) is going to bring us back down to earth. Now imagine the machine breaking. For a while it’s even more incredible because you are now experiencing the feeling of unhindered flight. But then you realise that you are falling and you start to wish that you had more respect for the machine. Because in the end, nobody beats gravity, well at least not on earth.


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