I recently ran across this interesting TED talk by Dan Cobley, director of marketing at Google. He draws some great parallels between physics and the world of marketing. For all you marketers out there, physics can teach us a few things about how we can better manage our brands. Here are some of the insights that Cobley shares.
Newton’s Second Law
Newton’s second law of motion states that Force = Mass x Acceleration (F = ma). Based on this law, the larger a particle is, the more force is required to change its direction. How does this relate to marketing? The bigger a brand is, the more force is needed to change its positioning and reputation in the marketplace. Cobley offers the examples of Arthur Anderson choosing to launch Accenture instead of trying to convince people that Anderson could stand for anything other than accounting, and also Hoover having a hard time convincing consumers that it stood for something other than vacuum cleaners. This is one of the reasons companies like P&G and Unilever keep their brands separate instead of having one big parent brand.
The Scientific Method
You can’t prove a hypothesis through observation but you can disprove it. You can collect data to support your hypothesis and it will strengthen it, but you’ll never be able to conclusively prove it. However, one solid, contrary data point can easily disprove your theory. This can easily be applied to the marketing discipline. A brand can spend decades building a stellar reputation with consumers, but one company misstep can easily destroy all those years of perceived integrity. A couple recent examples are BP and Tiger Woods. BP spent years marketing itself as a pro-environment company only to have that reputation shattered by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. And before all of his dirty laundry was aired to the world in 2009, Tiger Woods was seen for many years as the quintessential brand ambassador and one of the most admired professional athletes in the world. After having a reputable image for years, both BP and Tiger Woods have been permanently damaged by their scandals.
Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
This theory asserts that you cannot measure the exact state, position, or momentum of a particle since the act of measuring it by definition changes it. In marketing research, it is a challenge to get completely accurate information from consumers. With the act of observing consumers, it changes the behavior of consumers. Cobley offers the example of a group of mothers who would never admit in a focus group to feeding their kids junk food although it’s well known that McDonald’s sells millions and millions of Happy Meals every year. He also mentions that when people are asked if they view porn online, very few people admit to it, although it’s the most common search on Google. The marketing lesson here is that you should try to measure what people actually do rather than what they say they do, and fortunately this is becoming easier to do.
I’d recommend watching the full video if you can. If you’re not familiar with the excellent TED talks, I’d also suggest checking out a few of them. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to “ideas worth spreading” in the areas of design, entertainment, business, science, and global events.
Tags: science, physics, marketing, TED
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