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The Physics of Marketing – The Doppler Effect

Have you ever wondered why music blaring out of an approaching car changes in pitch as it passes by you and then moves further away from you.   This phenomenon can be described by the Doppler Effect, named for Austrian physicist Christian Doppler.   Who knew Doppler was more than just the ridiculous brand name of the radar used by your local weather forecaster?  (Doppler 2x, Viper Doppler, Ultra Doppler, Doppler 7, Doppler Extreme, and so on.)

Doppler proposed that you could measure distance and direction based on changes in wavelengths.  So as the car stereo gets closer, the sound waves are hitting you more quickly, and as the car moves further away there is greater distance between you and them.  Using Doppler’s work you could determine if the car was approaching you or not, and at what rate this was occurring.  Another good explanation that I continue to see for this theory is to imagine you are on a platform and someone on a moving train is throwing a ball to you every 3 seconds.  The closer that they get to you, the more quickly the ball will arrive, even though they are still throwing it every 3 seconds.  As they pull away, it will take longer for the ball to arrive.  Doppler used this idea to determine that based on the color of light from very distant stars, the universe was in fact expanding.   The police can use it to write you a speeding ticket.  But how can marketers use it?

I see the doppler effect as very useful as a principle in the world of marketing.  I don’t know if one could apply it as an equation, but at the very least the principles could be useful for setting up a beneficial mindset and accompanying actions.

I see it like this.  Customer, prospects, and citizens are all around you and your business.  They are constantly sending out signals.  You should be listening to the signals they are sending.  Someone who is moving in the direction of your business,  it’s products, or it’s services will be sending out increasingly clear signals that they are interested in what you do.  Perhaps they ask a question to friends online.  Maybe they visit your showroom, your website, or call you to ask a question.  Perhaps they are asking questions on Facebook or Twitter, or blogging about a problem they have.  They might be asking a friend for a recommendation of you.  All signals.  Depending on what they say, you may be able to gauge how rapidly they are approaching, at which point you can know how to respond.

Similarly, an angry customer sends out signals as well.  This might be through reduced purchases, bad reviews, or complete silence – all of which would mark a change in the signal you were previously receiving.  If you detect this, you can then determine how quickly are they moving away, where are they going, and maybe even why.  If you know this information, you may be able to take actions to get them to change direction and come back toward you.  Most of your customers are not going to take the time to tell you they are leaving you for something new.  Applying the teachings of Doppler may just give you the knowledge you need to determine this before it is too late to do something about it.

Finally, is the idea the your business is moving is important too.  As you introduce new pricing, new products and services, new channels of distribution or new means of promotion, how are people responding to your actions.  Is the direction you are taking your business the right one?  Is the spend you are making on marketing a good one?  Are your R&D efforts paying off?  Monitoring the signals that come back from these changes can tell you a great deal about the wisdom of your decisions, and perhaps enable you to correct your course more quickly and effectively – helping your business to succeed.

How would you apply Doppler to Marketing or Business?