Episode #9: Political Marketing: Why US Election Polls Keep Getting it Wrong

As the US election inches toward resolution, we take a look at political marketing, polling, focus groups, and why your B2B marketing absolutely must focus on value.

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All right, welcome to a special edition of the CXM Experience. In today’s election edition is going to talk about the marketing behind US politics. And I just wanted to start with a note that I’ve always felt that US politics are the best theatre in the world. Number one, it’s free. Number two, it’s dramatic. And number three, always interesting. And I’ve been following us politics for many, many years, even when I lived in Canada, and I never get enough of it.

So political advertising was actually invented by Albert Lasker in the 1920s. So thank you, Albert. And it has gone on to become a big part of our lives in the US. You know, this campaign for me was a really interesting one. I’d say there were two things that really stand out. Number one, the fact that the offline media, the so called fourth estate, really miss a lot of what’s going on under the covers. They don’t see the action happening across social platforms, they don’t see what’s happening in robocalls, they  miss the secondary media (in their words), where a lot of decisions and changes are happening.

And I think it’s becoming a bit dangerous, because while it looks like Joe Biden is going to pull out a win, it’s razor thin. And razor thin to an extent where there will be challenges and issues and, you know, hurt feelings for a long time. They were looking at a blowout. You know, all their polls, were telling them double digit wins. And it’s nowhere close to that.

So what’s going on? You know, how do they keep missing this in polls. And the one polling team that seems to get closer to right most often is the Trafalgar group. And what they’ve done is they’ve made their polling more anonymous. And in that anonymity, they create more security and safety for people to tell the truth. So one, there’s clearly some social issue, and negative social currency about saying you support Donald Trump. So people will say they don’t. But when they go to the polls, they do. Even the popular vote is very close. But in some of these individual state runs, we’re talking about 10- 20,000 votes out of millions, separating the two candidates. That’s an incredibly close margin, and not what people had predicted.

So you know, why is that? So if you ever have been in marketing, or if you’ve been in marketing for any length of time, you’ve probably been in a focus group. I like to say that focus groups are places where you pay people to lie to you. And focus groups for me are just like, unbelievably ridiculous. Because people are so deeply influenced by the opinions of others, that they rarely will say something that makes them look bad in light of other people’s opinion.

I do remember one moment. This is many years ago, when I was at Procter and Gamble, one moment of deep honesty and a focus group. And it landed with such a thud, that I never saw it again. But there was a group of people talking about laundry woes, and things that bother them about laundry. And they were going around the table and saying, Oh, this and sorting, and sometimes they put the whites with some colors, and there’s some bleed over, or it doesn’t get clean. The kind of usual, fairly mundane stuff. And they came to the end of the table. And there was a relatively young woman, kind of had a bit of a slightly frazzled kind of new mom sort of look to her. Just looked like she’s working hard. She’d come up to this focus group for the 20 bucks. And she goes, you know, don’t you hate it when you like leave your clothes in the washing machine. And you forget about them for a couple of days. And then you like go back and open the washing machine. There’s like mold growing over all your clothes.

Oh my God. The looks of horror on the faces of her fellow focus group participants. It was like it was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like such a priceless moment. And she’s just being super honest. Like, this is something that bothers her. And she looked at everyone looking at her and she’s like, nevermind. And she didn’t say another word for the rest of the focus group.

But, you know, to me, we’ve continued to use focus groups as a way of understanding what people think and they’re terrible. People will consistently say what they want others to believe. I’ve launched products based on fabulous, fabulous focus group feedback that failed miserably in market because people didn’t think that the thing that they said publicly would be the thing that they would want to spend more money on.

At the end of the day, what I’ve learned is that most people are concerned about their pocketbook. And most people are concerned about their well being. And I think that in this election, it really was a contest between who do I think is going to make me most well. And I think what made this election very interesting and very complicated, was Coronavirus. So the concept of “well” was more complicated. But clearly, this election was way closer than anyone thought it would be. Way closer. In fact, dangerously close.

It would have been far more compelling to have a clear mandate. And I think that at the end of the day, people vote based on value. And people buy product based on value. People are like I am, you know, people will say all they want about social justice, and right and wrong and all that kind of stuff. But at the end of the day, people will vote for what things they think will make them the most successful, the wealthiest, the safest.

And so I think people are under estimating the appeal of the Trump message. And I think that the negativity of the Biden campaign, focusing on Trump, which is exactly the same mistake that Hillary made was a real mistake. And what they needed to focus on was how they could create more value for people. And you know, they may still win, but not by the margin that they wanted to win by.

So, you know, I have been saying for a while, that I believed that Trump’s message was appealing to people’s inherent need for value more strongly. And although I’m wrong on predicting, I think I’m wrong, on predicting that he would win. I am right, I’m predicting that a lot more people support Trump than people thought. And that’s an important message.

I do think that when you think about your own products, think less about saying something negative about your competitor. And think more about how does your product help someone’s life be better? How does your product help someone’s career be better if you’re selling in b2b? The beautiful thing about b2b is that you’re really just selling career success. People are buying your product with the thought of, hey, will this thing get me promoted? Well, this show me to be the innovative leader that I’ve always wanted to be, and what’s the downside? What are the chances I might get fired buying this product. That’s what people are thinking about. So sell to people’s needs, sell to people’s value. And once you sell it, make sure that people are you able to show value, make sure it’s easy for people to show management, the value they’re generating from the product.

Make it easy for people who purchase your product to understand the value they’re getting from it. What I find amazing, as companies are spending zillions of dollars on marketing automation, and tons of money on getting me to buy the product. And once I buy that, like so long, Charlie, they don’t care about me anymore. Why aren’t they sending me weekly emails? How are you liking the product? Have you noticed this about the product? Have you tried this feature? Look at this value you’re getting from it. You probably saved $100 this week by doing it this way. And you could have saved this and that. Why is nobody continuing to sell after the sale?

In a SAS world, the sale really starts after the sell. You have to continuously provide value reinforcement to people because there are only three ways that you sell more product. So if you’re at Procter and Gamble, I learned this day two at P&G. There, there’s what they call trial. Yeah, new users. Continuity, current users continuing to buy. And stocking, current users buying more. And typically when they buy more they’ll tend to use more. Frank Slootman uses the same three things. And he calls it new logos, retention, and upsell. That’s more of a b2b context. And underlying that is this idea of value expansion.

But, you know, people been talking about these three motions for a very, very long time. And if you’re going to look at those three motions, particularly retention, and upsell, why is the majority of your marketing dollars not focused on current customers? Why do we focus the majority of our marketing dollars on new customers?

Fun story, my fiancé was signing up for a service, they were giving her an offer to continue as a customer. And she correctly said, Why am I paying more than a new customer? Why as a loyal customer, am I paying more than a new customer. And to their credit, they gave her the offer of the new customer. So people are smartening up on this which is good, but make sure that you think about your marketing plan from the standpoint of how do I spend against the people who’ve already shown their loyalty to me and want to buy more. For the CXM Experience. This is Grad Conn. Have a great day.