Quantum Markets

A short, exploratory post, prompted by the serendipitous collision in my head this past week of this thread by Jerry Daykin on proven principles for building brands at scale, and this great post by Zoe Scaman on moving from static frameworks to dynamic flywheels.

I’d like to caveat all of the below, too – the day-to-day efforts of building brands in a modern media landscape is not my wheelhouse anymore, so I would be inclined to bow in deference to Zoe & Jerry’s thoughts on this area.

Firstly, I’ve always liked to operate in worlds where many things can be true. The metaphor I employed that Zoe mentioned, ‘if advertising is a firework, social media is a bonfire’, was very much meant to speak about the two things coming together to work.

This of course was back in 2009 or so, when it looked like community building at scale might be possible on the platforms which are now, to the amateur eye, simply ad networks.

Since then, Making Things People Want > Making People Want Things has been purposefully open – it’s not ‘instead of’, there’s room for both. I just believe there is more interesting, powerful work for me to be doing in the former, rather than the latter.

So as a rule of thumb, I’m against holding absolute positions on things. I’ve even left myself enough wriggle room in that last statement should I decide to hold an absolute position on something in the future.

Basically, it all depends. It’s context, isn’t it?

As Faris said at some point this year I think, Context isn’t everything, but it is everything else. He might well have stolen that from somewhere, but I’m definitely stealing it from him.

Anyway, to the point; I think it’s perfect reasonable to assume that both Jerry and Zoe’s positions are true, even though on the surface it might not look like it.

Part of that is the context of what sort of brand you’re working on, and the sector it operates in. This has always been true of course.

However, I wonder if there’s also something deeper going on too, in the way markets and economics works in 2020.

I stumbled into another metaphorical comparison when I was replying to Jerry’s thread, and it seemed worth capturing here, as a way to think about some more if nothing else.

It was about physics, and what happens to the laws that govern how we perceive the universe when you get down to the quantum level.

(I mean, now we’re really straying far from my comfort zone, but let’s persevere…)

The short version; classical physics told us the big rules of how the observable world around us worked. Apples falling from trees, etc. These laws worked for everything it seemed.

Then along comes quantum mechanics, proving how things work down at the atomic and sub-atomic levels. And they don’t work in the same way as the classical laws of physics.

Yet… the world we see as governed by those classical laws is comprised of a miniature world that doesn’t obey them.

Cue much head scratching, books, TV shows, TED talks and Avengers references. Things work differently down at the quantum level.

OK, which means what in terms of the two arguments?

In short, if you’re a big brand (or want to be a big brand) then there are an established, proven set of laws you can rely on. You might as well follow those, or at the very least use them as your theoretical base.

Some will be trying, and just not get there. If they’re leveraged in some way based on that achieving that goal, they’ll disappear when they don’t make it.

Some businesses will never to be big. They might choose not to be, or that choice is thrust upon them. But the won’t necessarily disappear. They will use the tools at their disposal to be the size that works for them, given their beliefs, circumstances and so on.

The technology stack of 2020 provides a perfect democratised toolkit for micro businesses – from accounting services to video production, you carry around an entire business or seven on a mobile phone.

Which means there are thousands of businesses which work differently in making things for their audiences, as Zoe details at length in her post.

They aren’t markets in the classical sense. Perhaps we might think of them as quantum markets?

Tightly interwoven groups and communities where some of the dynamics that don’t scale (to Jerry’s points) when building big brands actually do for smaller businesses.

It sets of a whole series of questions in my head:

– Do the laws that apply to large brands (e.g. concentrate on reach and penetration) still work the same down at that level? If not, why not?

– Conversely, can you actually take the laws which seem to govern at the quantum level, and apply those consistently and well for large businesses?

– How do we define and describe the mechanics that replace them? At that scale, does context (the who, what, when of producer and audience) distort any general lessons you might learn?

– If we start finding out how things work down here, then does it change our thinking of how it really works up there too? Does it change the way we interpret the classical laws?

Perhaps most significantly, I’d like to think more about the market context for existing players.

If you’re a large, established business in a market that is susceptible to the quantum markets phenomenon, and you can’t operate in the same way, what can you do about it?

Rather than the classical economic idea of ‘barriers to entry’, where new entrants into a market have hurdles of resource and regulation to overcome, do established players need to think about ‘barriers to entropy’? What really stops your market breaking apart under your feet into a billion little brands?

Oh, it’s dinner time. I’d better stop there…

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