thoughts, theories, observations & informationSubscribe Now

The Physics of Marketing – Snell’s Law

Willebrord Snellius saw the light.  Well actually he saw the light do funny things, and then went on to describe why it was so.  The output was Snell’s Law, which describes how light travels at different speeds through different substances.  Ever wonder why that drinking straw looks different in the glass of water than it does above the glass –   Snell’s Law.  How about why on hot summer day there appear to be puddles of water on the road off in the distance, yet when you get to where they seemingly were you find nothing but blazing hot asphalt – again Snell.  It is all about refraction, or how light bends.

Different materials have different refractive indices, meaning that light travels at different speeds through everything.  A high refractive index indicates that light bends a lot as it passes through.  Conversely a low index means that light moves more quickly.

So how does this idea apply to Marketing?  Well there are about 50 ways to go with this one.  I am choosing to go with the following, but encourage you to choose one of the others and leave a comment.  So here goes my take.

In marketing, there is often the concept of the great idea.  You know what I mean… “How about we try __”  or “What if we make ____”  Internally a few people discuss the idea, and quickly it turns into a product.  Note that for this example we are going to assume that this idea makes its way through the process of becoming an actual product or service – most never get that far.

Okay, so the idea hits the market in the form of a product and it is a huge disaster.  What happened?  We thought it would be great.  It did everything we wanted.  Everyone will love it.  We knew it would work. One problem.  The consumer, or at least the one’s whom you approached, did not want it.  Things are received differently by different people just as light moves differently through different substances.  So making the right thing for the right people matters.

Successful marketers realize this principal and attempt to use this to their advantage.  For a product to become successful, marketers must find the innovators and early adopters for their idea.  Target them.  Talk to them.  Find out if they are influential with others.  Satisfy their needs.  Dazzle them.

Again, these ideas spread at different speeds.  Successfully getting through the innovators and early adopters moves you into the early majority of people.  This group is slower to respond, but just might come around with some coaxing from the other two groups.  This process might then continue onward through the late majority of buyers and into the laggards before your idea is replaced by another.  As the pool of people spreads, your idea becomes more commonplace, and the impression it makes distorts from the original image.

Again, the key is to realize who you are trying to target, how their response may be different from others in the market, and what the implications of those differences might be.  Making something for everyone from the start is a surefire way to fail.  Making something remarkable for a few people, who might decide to share their passion for your idea with the world is a much better choice.

How would you use Snell’s Law in the context of Marketing?  There is certainly something out there along the “Things are not always what they seem / All Marketers Are Liars” angle.  (Seth Godin, if you read this, please share a thought with us.)  There could be something along the lines of the Pete Blackshaw “An Angry Customer Tells 3,000 People” angle of what happens when you buy that water puddle and actually get hot air. (Pete, if you read this,  please share a thought with us.)   Or maybe you have a completely fresh take to add.  Give it a shot and leave a comment. (Please share a thought with us.)