It’s not been an easy week or so for many of us in the US. Why did the election results surprise so many? How could we not have known how divided a country we were?
And what happened to a belief in the principles of fairness, respect, and equality for all, which formed the foundation of our democracy — despite an election’s outcome? One explanation is that many relied on predictions, polls, and data and misjudged the impact of voters’ emotions and sentiment on the race . . . and badly so.
Four years ago, just after I joined Forrester, one of the first blog posts I wrote was about how the smart use of data helped elect Obama as our 44th president. In that post, I talked about how Obama and his team employed data science from the start to understand the electorate and target their engagement and messaging effectively to inspire voters to action.
In fact, to quote that blog post:
“What I found the most fascinating is how the use of data, the right data, served as the foundation for Obama’s successful reelection. Starting on election night, the analysts on the best-known news shows were already talking about how calm and confident the Obama team members were. And why were they confident? According to Obama’s team, it had the data to back up its march to a second term. The team members believed that data and how they used it was one of the biggest advantages they had over the Romney campaign. Think about that for a minute. Obama, traditionally seen as the image and message guy, ran his reelection campaign based on using the right data effectively. And it worked.
As a matter of fact, one of the most interesting comments on this came from Chuck Todd of NBC news on the ‘Today’ show the day after the election. Chuck told the NBC news audience that 12 months ago, the Obama campaign had shared with him its strategy of what states it could win, how it could win them, and where it needed to focus to succeed. It shared these insights with him based on the data it had put together. And in reflection, almost every prediction the team made came true. Collecting and then understanding the right data in depth provided the road map for the Obama campaign to develop its reelection strategy.”
But four years later? Boy . . . how things have changed. Just about every poll, forecaster, and political junkie were wrong. And they all claimed to have based their decisions on access to the same type of data that powered Obama to a second term.
So what went wrong? How did Trump seize on emotion that no one else even recognized was there? How did Clinton’s team misjudge the market conditions and voters’ sentiment?
And what can this teach CMOs about how to get it right?
I’ve shared some of my observations below:
- Getting segmentation right from the start matters. Hillary’s team believed that experience, expertise, and belief in the power of inclusion mattered most to all Americans. Hillary was also clearly the candidate with the most-qualified political background to fill the role of president. But Hillary and her team missed a key insight in the data at their fingertips. That is, among the largest segment of the voting population, experience did get trumped. Anger and feelings of being left behind and ignored mattered more. The candidate who best put forth an argument to this segment that made them feel that they would share in prosperity going forward would win their hearts and minds — and ultimately, the election. So Trump did exactly that. As a CMO, getting your segmentation right matters as well. You must understand the unique requirements of each of your segments and adjust your strategy, messaging, and go-to-market plans to address those requirements. It seems obvious in the post-digital world in which we live. But time and time again, we find marketers who don’t truly understand their customers. And now is the time to jump in with both feet.
- Trump seized on and fed an unfulfilled emotional need. In 2012, the Obama team integrated data from a wide variety of sources to use as the foundation of its strategy from day one. The Trump team now claims to have used data to help win the electiontoo. But Trump’s team solely used the data to understand voters’ early sentiment and emotion and then zero in on how best to respond to that emotion. The Trump campaign fine-tuned its approach to digital ad messaging, campaign messaging, and even plans for rallies. And it worked. Our research at Forrester is finding that emotion is playing an increasingly important role in customers’ decision-making. And as a CMO, you have to understand that and then factor the sentiment of your customers into your brand-building and go-to-market plans. Build a brand experience that forms an emotional attachment and a relationship with your customer. Trump used this to his advantage successfully throughout the 2016 campaign.
- Good data modeling and analysis must be a living and breathing process. One of the most puzzling aspects of the 2016 campaign is how the very experienced pollsters, predictors, and pundits missed that the foundation of their data modeling tools had gaps from the start. Many of those models looked at and surveyed only people whom they deemed would be likely voters because they had voted in previous elections. And many of those surveys and polls occurred over the phone. This approach probably biased the sample in Hillary’s favor from the get-go. It underestimated and excluded previously nonvoting citizens who would vote for Trump because of their anger and desire to be heard. As a CMO, you can learn from this mistake by constantly checking and adjusting the assumptions that underlie your data models. Ask questions, test answers, and be sure that you don’t bias your sample to get the answers that you want.
As a woman in the work force for 30 years and the proud mother of a 26-year-old woman whose calling in life is to work with marginalized societies and repressed people around the globe to bring them better opportunities, I am concerned about what the future holds for the rights of women and minorities, among others. I also feel that it would be a shame to undo all of the progress that we’ve made over the past 25 years.
We all hope that the strength of our country and our democracy lies in doing our best to integrate diversity and improve the lives of all Americans. Wave after wave of immigrants have proven this to be true in the past.
However, Trump clearly stoked a fire of dividedness and misogyny during the election process. But, regardless of our personal feelings, we owe Trump the opportunity to lead.
Now, as the new president of our great country, we can only hope that he will turn away from campaign rhetoric and heed the courageous words of Angela Merkel of Germany by governing with a “respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political views.”
So my take is “NO”: Trump’s victory does not signal the end of data-driven decision-making as we know it.
But it is a wake-up call to CMOs — and everyone else who uses data as the bases of their strategic decision-making — to get it right from the start. Balancing the science of data with the art of understanding sentiment and emotion is what will help CMOs win the race to best win, serve, and retain their customers.