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« If you could change your life | Main | The seed, the pit and the cherry »

Gravity is just a theory

Are you marketing gravity or evolution?

Newton gets all kinds of credit. They call it the Law of Gravity. They put his picture on pages that profile geniuses. They say he discovered gravity. Nonsense. He just named it.

Everyone 'believes' in gravity. And yet, we know virtually nothing about it. We don't know how gravity waves (if there are any) are transmitted. We can't block them (anti gravity boots!) and we can't amplify them and we have no idea how fast they travel. There are very few people doing serious gravity research and development, either. But it's apparently a law.

Evolution (and one's confidence or lack of belief thereof), on the other hand, is enough to sway a school board election or get you nominated for federal office. I've never met an informed person who doubted the general facts about evolution unless they had an alternative view of the origin of species that they felt emotionally connected to. There are evolution skeptics who would prefer a different story, but no gravity skeptics, even though there's a lot less science there.

What's up with that?

There are two reasons that gravity has had so much better marketing than evolution, and both may impact the way you market your product or service as well.

1. If the story of your marketing requires the prospect to abandon a previously believed story, you have a lot of work to do.

Nobody had a seriously described theory of gravity before Newton named it. No one walks around saying that they have a story about why we stick to the earth better than the gravity story. As a result, there was no existing story or worldview to overthrow. Naming something that people already believe in is very smart marketing.

2. If the timeframe of the message of your marketing is longer than the attention span (or lifetime) of the person you are marketing to, you have your work cut out for you as well.

Evolution is really slow. Hard to demonstrate it in real time during a school board meeting. Gravity is instantaneous. Baseball players use it every day.

Five years ago, if you wanted to persuade people to buy real estate as an investment it was pretty easy.

1. The existing worldview was that real estate was a pretty good investment.
2. You could see, in the course of weeks or months, the price of homes going up.

Magic. Who's in? Bid, bid, bid.

In 2002, persuading a newspaper to go all in and invest big in online media was a problem.

1. The existing worldview disagreed with this. The web could support a paper, but not replace it. "Didn't you see what happened during the bubble?"
2. Not only couldn't you watch the web replace existing media in real time, but it was actually retreating (according to Wall Street.)

Tough story, bad timing.

The iPhone is gravity marketing. New name and brand for something so many people had already decided they wanted. And you could see it work from across the room, you didn't have to wait months for the joy to happen.

Persuading someone to start a blog is evolution marketing. Lots of people have been brainwashed that they have nothing to say, or can't say it, or aren't allowed to say it. And you rarely see someone become an overnight blogging success.

Real estate, of course, has a long row to hoe now. While there may be a long-term story to sell, it's in conflict to a painfully learned new worldview, and it's happening slowly. Perhaps there's a better story to tell.

The Atkins Diet countered the prevailing story (it said that steak and butter were good diet choices) but it burned off weight so quickly the diet was able to overcome the resistance that was due to inertia. Getting people to quit smoking, on the other hand, is a multi-generational problem because the story (spread by ads and movies) is really powerful and the results of quitting take decades to measure.

Acupuncture is an interesting case. It's possible to market acupuncture as, "Western medicine is wrong, this works." The problem, of course, is that any time you market a product with, "You were wrong," you have a lot of work to do. It can also be marketed as "This is a great way to supplement your ordinary medical treatments."

Tactic 1: Try to tell a story that complements an existing story rather than calling it out as false.

Tactic 2: Try to make the 'proof' as vivid and immediate as possible. Like an apple falling on your head.

Big ideas often demand a marketing strategy that is a lot more difficult than marketing gravity. Sometimes results do take a long time. Sometimes the consumer has been wrong all along. Sometimes you do need to replace an existing story. I hope you will. But this takes time and patience and resources.

When in doubt, market gravity.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Gravity is just a theory:

» Marketing evolution from Pharyngula
Seth Godin is a marketing guy, and he recently turned his eye to the evolution-creation wars and offered a marketing perspective. That's useful, but I don't think he looked deeply enough, and his suggestions don't really help much. In particular,... [Read More]

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