The Physics Of Marketing

I've always been fascinated by the principle of inertia. The word sounds passive -- but inertia is actually very elegant.

In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton defined it as "a power of resisting, by which every body endeavors to preserve its present state, whether it be of rest or of moving forward in a straight line."

From Galileo we learned that we really couldn't tell the difference between a body at rest and one in motion without an outside reference to compare it against. Later the definition was simplified to state that a body will stay at rest or in motion unless acted on by a "net external force."

So from several really smart guys we learned that one of the principal laws of the universe is about resisting change to our present state, that we don't always know if that present state has us moving forward or standing still -- but whichever it is, it requires a net external force to change it. Elegant, and a little troubling.

Relating our physicist friends to marketing, I note that the most instinctive marketers have always been direct marketers. Whether students of Newton and Galileo or not, they operate on a cycle of data, information and insight, targeting, value proposition and offering, response, measurement, data capture, more information -- and on it goes.



Key to direct marketing is the offer, to overcome that inertial state of resistance (think 11 for a penny, or FREE). But the real mastery is to continue the physics of marketing by permitting inertia to work for you after the initial resistance has been overcome. This is often done through a technique like negative option, i.e., the current state of motion (subscription, membership) is now the norm unless the customer applies a net external force to change it. Not easy or natural (for the customer) as Sir Isaac originally pointed out.

This concept is relevant today, in so many ways. It's why the marketer instinctively favors opt-out (negative option). It's why organizational designs (and the incentive plans that support them), built for a different era, have not kept pace with the fundamental changes in the MediaTech industry. And it's why we're struggling, despite the recognition of need and the attention to the problem, with new measurement systems to tell us the effect of our total communications effort, vs. its individual elements.

We're living through a period of fundamental change in our industry. One of the key questions we have to ask ourselves is, are we moving forward during this time -- or are we at rest and maybe don't know it?

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