MicroscopeRecently, Dan Cobley, an executive at Google delivered an enlightening TED Talk entitled, “What Physics Taught Me about Marketing.” At first, his subjects—physics and marketing—seemed dissimilar, but Cobley successfully proved their relationship as he uncovered powerful principles of marketing with the pure logic of physics.

I learned that marketing, like any other discipline, is subject to the laws of physics. The marketer discovers that the inherent principles of physics provide a guide to predict the probable effects of an action—i.e. if my brand does “X,” then it should expect “Y” in return. This is Strategic Planning at a fundamental level.

If branding is important to you, and if you tend to approach things scientifically, then you must listen to Dan’s eight-minute talk. His presentation is not overly detailed, yet it instills a logical mode of thinking and will likely cause you to reevaluate how you approach your work as you dive into daily projects .


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Perhaps my favorite concept was Cobley’s analysis of consumer behavior, as seen through Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist, concluded that scientific observations, in and of themselves, actually have an impact on the subjects being observed and, therefore, affect outcomes. According to Cobley, even the momentum from photons of light, which have no mass or electrical charge, can still move or stir a particle under a surveillance light and thus interfere with an observation (or the result or lesson, you might say).

So what does this have to do with marketers and business folks? Well, Cobley’s parallel pertains to the accuracy of intel we collect from consumers in terms of their stated preferences (or experiences with a given product or service) versus what is actually observed when studying their behavior. Let’s say a group of parents were asked what section of a grocery store the majority of items in their carts typically comes from. They might say—for appearances sake—the Produce section, as such an answer could give the impression of their living a healthier lifestyle. However, sales history might in fact indicate frozen dinners occupied the marketshare of the grocery cart. So the act of asking might actually affect the response. Everyone knows what people say they would do versus what they really do doesn’t always line up.

Throughout history, we’ve heard of events gone awry by virtue of misinformation. Perhaps some stories of military mishaps or big-time business busts come to mind, but the point is, people and businesses act according to what is known, or at least, thought to be known. Unfortunately, this gap leaves quite a large margin for error, as I imagine we all know far too well.

Have you noticed how certain businesses look upon review platforms like Yelp or Trip Advisor as if they were oxygen tanks in deep water? As if they were trains bringing in the supplies? Or, as if they were parents giving consent for children to board a bus headed to the science museum?

Am I making sense? If not, then consider the emphasis restaurant owners now place on Yelp reviews. These days, and in certain settings, Yelp seems to have the power to make-or-break a shop. Well, you might say, the nature of the reviews (e.g. good, bad, awesome, etc.) collectively deputize Yelp with the people’s power. Think about the damage that ensues after someone writes about bedbugs following a recent hotel stay on Trip Advisor.

Keeping up the hype and maintaining public approval are both new roles of business owners and marketers. In spite of the added pressure, I believe these review platforms promote better business health and superior customer experiences. Having said that, trying to address the complaints of each disgruntled review might make you lose focus in the grand scheme of things. It might feel somewhat like living from paycheck-to-paycheck, always a step behind and never really getting ahead.

So what is the purpose of reviewing a business online anyway? One of the most important purposes might be to praise the business for a job well-done and make a recommendation. Another might be to blast them for poor performance and advise future customers to steer clear. There could, of course, be any number of valid purposes for their existence.

Here’s the uncertainty factor: Does asking for or allowing customer reviews disrupt what gets shared? At least a little bit? For instance, the fact that Yelp reviews are public might boost one reviewer’s confidence to really dig in and “let ‘em have it,” while another might decide to hold back. Sending out an anonymous survey might bring the recipient to wonder if she’s the only one receiving the survey and question just how anonymous it really is.

Really though, who cares? Does this represent enough uncertainty to actually do something about it? Well, I suppose that depends on the nature of your customers’ experiences. I do believe most people (as well as businesses) have difficulty hearing bad reports, and our impulse is to call for all hands on deck to smother whatever issue a report may have revealed. When looking at this kind of response, nothing is done incorrectly per se. In fact, this kind of reaction might well be warranted, or it could be a huge distraction and a major waste of time, attention and resources. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not recommending any customer’s review—whether it was a good or bad report—be ignored. What I am recommending is that these matters be taken in stride in terms of overall goals. Here are some thoughts to take with you:

  1. Listen to the Entire Crowd: Don’t fixate on a heckler’s comment. Furthermore, try not to be consumed by the “honest” remarks of any one person’s observation, unless what was said strikes a nerve at the center of what you do or care about. Bottom line, before turning your business upside down to right a wrong, try to determine if the remarks were accurate or consistent with other customer experiences.
  2. Implement an Emergency Room Triage Program: In the ER, medical professionals assign a degree of urgency and/or severity to a patient’s condition to help prioritize which patients to treat first, second and so forth. If one of my real estate clients was unhappy with a particular aspect of my business—for instance, my local knowledge—which is be a highly regarded component of my business, then it gets elevated. I’m not saying I’d ignore a customer’s complaint if it weren’t in the upper echelon of what I most value, but that I would be objective about addressing issues as seen through the priorities of my business’s focus.
  3. Introduce a Scientific Control, Whenever Possible: When a scientist conducts an experiment, such as the effectiveness of a new plant fertilizer, she may use the fertilizer on only half of the plants in order to minimize (or see and adjust for) the effects of outside variables other than the one being observed, which in this case, is the productiveness of the fertilizer.So, let’s pretend my real estate business received a fair number of reviews on Zillow. I know Zillow asks each reviewer to rate me on a several performance aspects, such as negotiation skills, responsiveness or local market knowledge. I then decide I’d like to know how I truly rank on each question free from any outside variables that could have influenced the review—things such as Zillow being an online, public platform. In that case, I might also conduct a comparable survey asking the same questions as Zillow with the intent of identifying and adjusting for any outside variables. Clearly, there could be any number of interferences, but if I suspected the online aspect was playing a role, then this could be a viable approach.
  4. Don’t Eat Fish From a Closed Pond: Closed bodies of water don’t receive the same natural filtration as open systems where rivers, streams and lakes connect to move clean water in and dirty water out. Likewise, exclusively relying on a single platform to gauge customer experiences can be hazardous—much like eating fish from a closed pond. I advise you to engage and learn about past customer experiences from numerous different vantage points such as from surveys, review platforms or even your own performance metrics. And speaking of performance metrics, I think it’s fair—no, it’s essential—to look at revenue as an indicator of your business’s condition. Revenue, essentially, is proof that you’re satisfying the needs of a market.
  5. Ignore the Subtext: This one is pretty straightforward: try not to read between the lines of someone’s comments. I might argue that if you find yourself inferring what was meant by a customer’s commentary, then chances are, it’s not worth digging into.

Again, I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with customer reviews or surveys and I’m certainly not saying they should be ignored—that’d be ridiculous. In fact, I’m a big supporter of the crowdsourced intel these survey and review platforms help facilitate as well as the lessons marketers, proprietors or managers can garner. What I am suggesting—given the qualitative nature of most reviews and surveys—is that our observations be made with a grain of salt and in full context. 

If you caught Cobley’s TED Talk, “What Physics Taught Me about Marketing,” he concluded his segment concerning Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle by urging us to focus on measuring what consumers actually do versus what they say they’ll do (or perhaps already did). People claim they don’t search the web for indecent content, yet Google’s reported data suggests otherwise. People say they were dissatisfied with the car salesman, when in truth, they were merely upset the leather interior they’d been anticipating wasn’t available on the lot that day and misdirected their frustration.

In service-based transactions, like real estate sales, measuring consumer behavior isn’t as linear as say tracking sales volume in the record industry. It’s not a pass or fail, yes or no kind of deal. It’s a much larger, more qualitative customer experience with multiple points in which observations could (and should) be made.

So, my advice is roughly the same as Cobley’s: Start looking for ways to gauge what your customers are actually doing (or feeling) rather than what they say they’ll do or how they describe what they already did. Start taking measurements and make observations throughout the entire customer relationship, not just post-factum. Become proactive to learn about each customer’s experiences (intended plurality on experiences) and don’t solely rely on a customer’s review to accurately capture such a large, multi-faceted experience in three to five sentences or with the casual click of a 3-star rating.

It is time to evaluate the customer experiences we give our real estate clients with an evenly matched intensity of the size and scope of buying or selling property. After all, real estate is a big deal.

(Primary photo by gonzales2010 via Compfight)

Jason Pantana, Realtor, Speaker, NashvilleJason guides real estate professionals through current and emerging trends in consumer behavior, sales and marketing, and entrepreneurship. To invite Jason to speak or to schedule a consultation, visit: www.JasonPantana.com/Contact