Tag Archives: Barack Obama presidential campaign 2008

Individual Voters, Individual Customers. A Paradigm Shift for our Industry?

The MIT Technology Review recently published an article by Sasha Issenberg on how the Obama Campaign used big data to profile, target, influence and rally voters in the 2012 campaign.  Titled ‘A More Perfect Union: How President Obama’s campaign used big data to rally individual voters’, I highly recommend it for anyone interested in politics or data analytics.  I love both, but what most interests me here are the potential analogies to the measurement and management of customer experience.

Much of the article focuses on Dan Wagner, the chief analytics officer for Obama 2012 and the work he and his team did to fuel the campaign.  In particular, it notes:

The significance of Wagner’s achievement went far beyond his ability to declare winners months before Election Day. His approach amounted to a decisive break with 20th-century tools for tracking public opinion, which revolved around quarantining small samples that could be treated as representative of the whole. Wagner had emerged from a cadre of analysts who thought of voters as individuals and worked to aggregate projections about their opinions and behavior until they revealed a composite picture of everyone. His techniques marked the fulfillment of a new way of thinking, a decade in the making, in which voters were no longer trapped in old political geographies or tethered to traditional demographic categories, such as age or gender, depending on which attributes pollsters asked about or how consumer marketers classified them for commercial purposes. Instead, the electorate could be seen as a collection of individual citizens who could each be measured and assessed on their own terms. (italics added.)

The article contrasts the Obama approach to Romney campaign’s, which was much more rooted in the ’20th century tools for tracking public opinion’.  How much Wagner’s team contributed to the surprising (to many) margin of victory will undoubtedly be debated for years to come, but I will be very surprised if the ‘collection of individuals’ approach doesn’t quickly become the new standard for any political campaign.

I want to highlight one other quote from the article before turning to our own industry.  In his conclusion, Issenberg writes:

In many respects, analytics had made it possible for the Obama campaign to recapture [the small town] style of politics. ‘ They enabled a presidential candidate to view the electorate the way local candidates do: as a collection of people who make up a more perfect union, each of them approachable on his or her terms’ ‘What that gave us was the ability to run a national presidential campaign the way you’d do a local ward campaign,’ [David Simas, the director of opinion research] says. ‘You know the people on your block. People have relationships with one another, and you leverage them so you know the way they talk about issues, what they’re discussing at the coffee shop.’

As I write this, I am reminded of a 1990 United Airlines Commercial where a boss addresses his staff after getting fired by a long time account and tells them they are going to have a ‘face-to-face chat with every customer we have.’  They’d lost touch with the individual and replaced personal relationships with a dependency on modern technology ‘ faxes in this era.  This boss was going to use the airline to get back to his customers.

Technology, the very thing that got this fictitious company out of touch with its customers, is what the Obama campaign used to get in touch with 65 million of its ‘customers’.
Customer experience research came of age in the 1990′s and is very much rooted in the social science thinking of the time.  We survey individual customers in order to learn about the group, not about that individual.  The ‘group’ could be the business unit (usually a branch or a region) or the brand itself, but that is the focus rather than the customer.  Yes, most programs incorporate hot alerts and other customer recovery tools into the process and we rarely ignore a customer in need, but our methods and processes are all based on understanding the group, not the individual.  Advocates of the Net Promoter approach will say the 2-question survey is more customer friendly, but it is still a methodology designed to understand the group.  And, while some technology-based companies or even industries claim to be doing things differently, the reality is that they have all adopted the prevailing mindset and are just as dependent upon 20th century social science thinking as the market research industry.  Whether you call it market research or Enterprise Feedback Management, any program that treats all customers as essentially the same and has a one-size-fits-all approach to survey construction and administration is still based on the old social science model.  Anytime the feedback process has been designed for the user of the information rather than the provider of that information, the customer, the program is based on the old social science paradigm.  If there are truly individualized programs out there, I would love to see them.
Note that advocating for an individual approach is not abandoning the need to understand the branch or the brand.  After all, brands and branches are built one customer at a time; they are collections of individuals.  But systemic progress is very difficult when all you have are the individual responses.  Even when you design a program from the customer back, you still need to be able to analyze the aggregated data and use that understanding to improve the overall functioning of the unit.  The MIT article makes it very clear that the Obama campaign relied on the combination of individual voter information and data from traditional research.  And, while I do think moving to an individually-based approach will create measurement challenges, it is worth noting that according to the MIT article, the Obama team was able to predict individual elections outcomes with ‘improbable accuracy’; not with polls, but by counting votes ‘one by one.’
Regardless of what you think about President Obama, the reality is that his 2012 campaign has changed politics.  The use of modern data analytics to understand the electorate through a focus on the individual voter will be with us for the foreseeable future.  The question is: when will these same techniques drive the next generation of customer experience measurement?
* Republished with permission from the original at Maritz Research’s Blog: Sound Check
After a 35+ year career in marketing research, I have developed some definite ideas about this industry of ours. In particular, I am passionate about customer experience research and how this is, or at least should be, different from other forms of marketing research. My blogs will generally focus on these issues, although I reserve the right to play ‘Grumpy Old Researcher’ from time to time and comment on other aspects of our industry.
The above-mentioned 35 years includes 27 years with Maritz, 2 years with Chilton Research, 3 years doing mental health research for the NJ Department of Human Services and various other academic and non-academic positions. I started my career as an analyst and along the way have held various positions at Maritz, including leading what was then our largest business unit, setting up what is now Maritz Research Europe, and heading up our new product development. Today, as EVP Innovation and Marketing Science, I still have a connection into the analytic side of our business, along with being what I call our company’s ‘Chief Tea Leaf Reader’: watching industry and societal trends and designing strategies to ensure we are properly anticipating and preparing for our clients’ needs. In this capacity, I’ve been our internal champion for leading edge developments like data integration and text analysis and had overall responsibility for leading the effort that led to the development of CE3D, our Customer Experience Evolution Framework and for the acquisition of evolve24, our social media aggregation and intelligence business.
When I am not in the office or with one of our clients, you can usually find me on the golf course, driving my 1966 Sunbeam Alpine (which I have owned since it was just a used car), or in the garage up to my elbows in Alpine grease.

Examples of online communities in the not-for-profit sector

A busy week at FreshNetworks has meant that we’re a little later than expected bringing you the third in our series of Online Community Examples. After looking at examples in the retail and automotive industries, this week we are looking at examples from the not-for-profit sector.

Online communities in the not-for-profit sector

There are many great example of not-for-profits using social media and it is sometimes the case that this sector can be more innovative than the private sector. There are many reasons for this: the financial pressures are different, there is a real need to engage people in an issue, topic or theme rather than enter into a transactional relationship with them, and this is a sector where innovation has always been important. (A great resource for information on not-for-profits and social media is Steve Bridger‘s nfp 2.0 blog) We’re written before about some great examples in this space, from the well-documented role of online communities in the Obama campaign, to Oxfam’s use of social media in the UK. Here we look at three examples that from across the not-for-profit space, from government departments to charities and association.

The US Navy’s Navy For Moms

Navy For Moms is an online community for mothers whose children have joined or are thinking of joining the US Navy. Launched in 2008, the site has over 13,000 members – moms (and some dads) who are sharing their hopes and fears, supporting each other and getting advice from others in the same situation as them. They can share photos and videos, join discussions and regional (or State-wide) groups and learn and gain support from people who have been there before. The community is, as you might expect, very vibrant and is clearly managed both by the official community manager, but also by obvious community leaders across the site. This site is a classic case of an online community – the members share a common experience and are connected not because they know each other but because of this common bond. This makes it very easy for the community to grow – people can join even if they don’t know others because the community is built around ideas and experience not previous connections. It is also easy for each new member to add value to the others – everybody brings their own experiences and can advise and support others. One sign of a well-managed community is that people are quickly assimilated and feel comfortable talking about their thoughts, ideas and experiences. They share their hopes and fears and ask for and trust the expertise they are getting from others. This is all very evident in the forums and discussions where people are sharing advice on topics from the emotional process of deployment to the roles in the Navy for those who are colour-blind, as well as sharing personal stories about their children. This is a great example of where online communities can offer a real resource and a real support to people even if they don’t know each other and are not close geographically. Online communities offering a real resource and service that would not have been possible in the same way offline.

American Association of Retired Persons’ Online Community

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of people over 50 in America. They are strong supporters of collaboration and helping their members to support each other, and the AARP online community is a clear manifestation of this. Within the AARP community, over 10,000 members connect to share information, provide and accept support and advice, discuss organisational goals and generally enjoy themselves. In this way, the online community spreads the AARP message and support through word-of-mouth. Reaching more people and growing the community and the support the members support each other. But the primary role of this online community is to allow the over 50s to meet and support each other, to find people with similar interests and discuss and share these interests with them The site performs a clear social function with a group that can find themselves sometimes isolated from friends and family. There is a clear and valuable role online communities can play here, supporting people but also allowing them to share their passions and hobbies with others. For the AARP, this kind of community has a very clear benefit. By providing a service, they are offering a real and immediate benefit to their members. And satisfied and united members mean an effective and engaged support base for your cause.

UK Fundraising’s Forums

Sometimes, simple can be best. It can be tempting to build a complicated online community with lots of social media tools when this doesn’t meet the needs of the organisation or of the members of this community. UK Fundraising is an example of site that is very successful, supporting those who work in the charitable sector with advice on fundraising – from best practice to legal advice and support on a regional level. For this kind of sharing expertise and discussing issues, a forum can be the best solution and this is what UK Fundraising does so well. They have a very vibrant and active forum as part of their broader community site – mixing the forum discussions with events, experts, training and news. The site combines the member discussions with these other services to create a portal that really adds value to those in charities and those tasked with fundraising. This site works well by providing a real service to its users. It is the place to go to for news and events, information on training as well as discussions and advice from others in a similar situation. It is often the case that users of your online community will not mind where the information comes from, they just want reliable and useful answers to their questions. This may be from other members, experts or editorial. It is the information that’s important and presenting everything in one space makes it easy for members to get access to this, wherever it comes from.From the FreshNetworks Blog See all our Online Community Examples Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog