Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a few people ask me why my blog is called Dark Matter Matters, and since I haven’t told that story in a while, I thought I’d share an excerpt from The Ad-Free Brand explaining it (and appending some more recent information). Here goes:
In late 2008, I was struggling mightily with the question of how you measure and quantify the value of brand-related activities. As someone whose father is an amateur astronomer, I’d long been intrigued by the concept of dark matter in the universe. If dark matter is new to you, Wikipedia describes it as “matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy.”
In other words, it is matter out there in the universe that is incredibly difficult to see, basically invisible, but that has a large gravitational effect. What’s particularly interesting about dark matter is that, apparently, there is a lot of it. Again according to Wikipedia:
“Dark matter accounts for 23% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe. In comparison, ordinary matter accounts for only 4.6% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe, with the remainder being attributable to dark energy. From these figures, dark matter constitutes 83% of the matter in the universe, whereas ordinary matter makes up only 17%.”
I find this fascinating.
And dark matter is still a theoretical concept. Again from the Wikipedia entry: “As important as dark matter is believed to be in the cosmos, direct evidence of its existence and a concrete understanding of its nature have remained elusive.”
But it was actually reading about all the problems with the Large Hadron Collider in 2008 (at the very same time I was having my own problems figuring out how to measure the value of brand-related work) that helped me make the connection between what I do for a living and this concept of dark matter.
The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest particle accelerator. It was built on the border of France and Switzerland and is about 17 miles wide. One of the things that particle physicists hope to prove with this enormous project is the existence of dark matter.
I’m no physicist, but as I understand it, the accelerator shoots protons at super-high speeds around the collider, and, if these scientists are lucky, the collisions eventually might produce a few particles that will exist for only a few milliseconds and then disappear again. And these particles might prove that dark matter isn’t just a theory.
Might being the key word. In fact, noted physicist Stephen Hawking bet $100 that they won’t find anything (a bet which he may soon win). The cost of building a collider to maybe prove the existence of dark matter? About $9 billion dollars. (And as of this post, written in September 2011, three years since its was first fired up, we are still looking for evidence.)
Another attempt to prove the existence of dark matter used the Hubble Space Telescope. This image below (which I also used for the header of the blog) was taken by Hubble and first shown by NASA in May, 2007.
In this picture, you are looking at many galaxies a really, really long way away. But you can also see fuzzy gray areas all over that look like clouds. When the astronomers first looked at this photo, they thought the fuzzy areas were a problem with the image. But after analyzing it for over a year, they realized that the fuzziness might actually be evidence of dark matter.
Their reasoning? The fuzziness is actually a gravitational distortion of the light rays from distant galaxies that are being bent by dark matter on their way to Earth. The effect you see is kind of like looking at the bottom of a pond that is being distorted by ripples on the surface.
So finally, scientists had discovered some real visual evidence of dark matter.
I believe the type of activities I talk about in the book and on this blog—those related to building brand, culture, and community—are the dark matter within organizations. Often brand, culture, and community are extremely difficult to measure well, and sometimes accurate measurement is simply impossible.
That’s not to say we don’t try anyway. I’ve seen and even tried many formulas, processes, and products that attempt to measure the value of brand, community, and culture-related efforts. Some of them can provide valuable information.
Others, not so much.
Yet here’s the kicker: brand, community, and culture are having a huge impact on your organization, whether you can effectively and cost-effectively measure that impact or not.
Just as dark matter is a strong gravitational force within the universe even though it is notoriously hard to see and measure, so are many of the things that will lead to the long-term success of ad-free brands.
So that’s how the blog got the name.
One last thing: I’ve been toying with the idea of changing the name at some point down the road, perhaps re-naming it The Ad-Free Brand and simplifying things. If you have any thoughts on that, or if you like the dark matter analogy and think I should keep it, I’d love your opinion. Feel free to comment below or send me an email at chris(at)newkind.com.
While we here at Dark Matter Matters continue to investigate the dark matter of corporations (brand, community, and culture), the physicists at CERN are making great progress in their search for dark matter as well.
Earlier this week, the Large Hadron Collider, a $10 billion underground supercollider under the Swiss-French border, set energy and speed records while colliding two proton beams to create 3x more energy than scientists have every seen before (7 trillion electron volts). The search for dark matter is one of the key drivers of the the Large Hadron Collider experiment.
As I’ve mentioned before, the LHC has had all sorts of problems over the last few years, so it is great to see it is finally working correctly. Better stay on your toes, dark matter!
In other related news, the Hubble Space Telescope, which was responsible for creating the image that appears in the header of this blog, has also been hot on the trail of dark matter and dark energy.
According to an article posted earlier this week on the Popular Science website, Hubble tracked 446,000 galaxies in one part of the galaxy, taking 575 images over the span of 1,000 hours. Astronomers then used the data from these images to pull together the composite image you see here, which uses gravitational lensing to identify places where there may be high concentrations of dark energy in the universe. It also makes for a pretty picture.
That’s the big news for now. We’ll continue to report from time to time on the search for dark matter and dark energy, so stay tuned.
As people who’ve been reading this blog for a while know, it’s called Dark Matter Matters because I see some similarities between the struggle that physicists and astrophysicists are going through attempting to find and measure dark matter and dark energy in the universe and the struggle among marketing and communications professionals trying to quantify and measure the value of their investments in brand, culture, and community. Read more in my intro article here.
From time to time I like to keep all the marketing folks up to date on how their colleagues in physics are doing on the whole dark matter thing, and there’s been some interesting news over the past week.
First, there was an article in the New York Times on Saturday saying that scientists have discovered a mysterious haze of high-energy particles at the center of the Milky Way. Some think these particles may be the decayed remains of dark matter. From the article:
At issue is the origin of a haze of gamma rays surrounding the center of our galaxy, which does not appear connected to any normal astrophysical cause but matches up with a puzzling cloud of radio waves, a “microwave haze,” discovered previously by NASA’s WMAP satellite around the center. Both the gamma rays and the microwaves, Dr. Dobler and his colleagues argue, could be caused by the same thing: a cloud of energetic electrons.
The electrons could, in turn, be the result of decaying dark matter, but that, they said, is an argument they will make in a future paper.
Clearly the authors of the research are still hedging their bets, and other scientists apparently believe the findings are inconclusive. There will need to be still more research before anything gets proven for sure.
Meanwhile, our good friends in charge of the Large Hadron Collider, which has been out of commission for the last year, are about ready to roll again after the massive failure last September that caused catastrophic damage. The Large Hadron Collider is an enormous, multi-billion dollar supercollider built underground beneath France and Switzerland by physicists trying to prove, among other things, the existence of dark matter (funny side note, read this article about how the collider might be being sabotaged from The Future). Good article in The Guardian yesterday here on the current status. From the article:
Cern scientists have begun firing protons round one small section of the collider as they prepare for its re-opening. Over the next few weeks, more and more bunches of protons will be put into the machine until, by Christmas, beams will be in full flight and can be collided.
The LHC will then start producing results – 13 years after work on its construction began.
So stay tuned. The physicists are getting closer– if only we marketing folks were doing as well!
Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know it is based on the simple premise that there are some things out there in the world that are pretty difficult to see or measure, yet these same things can often be the stuff with the biggest impact. The intro to the blog tells the full story.
In the world of astronomy, two of these things are dark matter and dark energy. Both hard to see and measure.
In the world of business, three of these things are brand, culture, and community. Also tough to see and measure their impact in the business world.
So while we constantly explore ways to better understand the impact of brand, culture, and community here at Dark Matter Matters, the world of astronomy is trying to better understand exactly what the heck dark matter and dark energy are.
Thought it might be worth taking a short break from our regularly scheduled program to give an update on how the astronomers are doing.