What does the study of science, in particular physics, have to do with marketing research? By akim2407

Plenty  I would discover, from the ‘obvious’, to the ‘obscure’ connection, in relation to physics.

The basis for marketing research is to replace ( or supplement ? depending on the ego personality type you are facing ) the ‘gut feel’ and ‘instinct’ of  marketing thinking with  ‘facts’ and ‘insights’.

No surprise I suppose, that marketing research has drawn on scientific methods, such as:

  • the initiation of the ‘research problem’ has similarities to  Root Cause Analysis – developed by NASA  in their space program to help break down complex space launch problems
  •  big data analysis where predictive software algorithms like SPSS has foundations relating to linear regression  and correlations
  • sample sizes, the use of confidence intervals and significance testing comes  from statistical analysis

But physics  and marketing research – surely this is a far fetched connection, if any ?

1. Heisenberg’s the Uncertainty Principle – measuring what people ‘say’ vs what the ‘actually do’ is complicated.

Heisenberg was a physicist and he concluded that the more precise the location of the quantum particle being measured, then the less precise the momentum of the particle  being measured can be understood ; and vice versa.

Heisenberg uncertainy principle

For market research, the Heisenberg principle means that one can easily measure what consumers ‘say they will do’ and one can easily measure ‘what consumers actually do’ – but there is not always a clear and easy way to measure both, simultaneously.

Meritt cites the example of the gym membership scenario. This is an example that  many of us can relate to. If asked, we will state our intention to be healthy and joining a gym is a way of achieving it. However how many of us actually ‘attend’ the gym after signing up ? As many as 2 out 3 of us who sign up ,don’t !


2. Quantum Physics – Observer effect : Effect of being observed means we will alter our response.

The observer effect states that the act of observing something, alters the behaviour of something that is being observed. The Weizmann Institute study showed how a beam of electrons under a controlled experiment was affected, merely by it being observed.

Boykin draws parallels of the ‘observer impact’ and focus groups , that in focus groups there is a tendency for biasness , eg  because it is in our human nature to ‘please’, participants are willing to tell the researcher what they want to hear. The act of being observed has altered their response.

From the  2 examples above from physics, I draw similarities to the ‘buy Australia Made’ case below- are there elements of the principles at play?

1.Whilst  8 out of 10  of respondents in a 2013 ‘Australia Made research ‘ signalled an intent to prefer ‘Made in Australia’ vs imported goods-australianMadeLogo

2. how then, can we explain the long term decline in manufacturing in Australia below ?



Have we really been truthful in our preferences to buy Australia made ? If yes, then why is Australian manufacturing in decline year over year.Are we saying one thing on a survey (what we would like to believe in and what is politically acceptable) and voting differently with our wallets ?

 Conclusion: what does physics teach us about market research ?

Dan Gobley explains below at  2.24minutes  the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the observer effect. If you watch the whole video, Dan explains other laws of physics at play in marketing.

In summary:

If physics has taught us something, it is that marketing research should only be a means to an end, ie the start of understanding a problem.Since it has inherent complexities in it -marketing research should not  be ‘the ends’ itself in understanding the marketing problem.

This is because in marketing research the ‘Uncertainty Principle’ and ‘Observer Effect’ means the results are not as predictive or objective as the researcher intends.

A well structured market research program takes all of the above into consideration – so to the marketing executive who simplifies it by saying  “we’ll go get some market research and VOILA here’s our answer” –  it is NOT as simple as that !




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