The Biggest Survey On The Planet

In a topical Thursday Night Insight blog post, Caroline Harrison reflects on why this week’s American elections have resonance for marketers and market researchers everywhere.

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that the U.S. presidential elections took place earlier this week.  Throughout Tuesday evening and into the early hours of Wednesday morning, the results from all 50 states, from the east coast of America to the west, trickled in to news networks and media broadcasting stations across the U.S.A.  As I watched the drama unfold live on TV, it got me thinking.

The election in the United States is arguably one of the biggest, most important, and eagerly anticipated ‘surveys’ on the planet.  Yet there are certainly some parallels to be drawn between this kind of poll and the surveys we carry out for our clients.

The first thing that struck me was the amount of detailed statistics available for analysis.  Just a quick look at the exit polls conducted by CNN for New York state show the predicted voting behavior of so many different segments of society: you can study the trends by sex, race, age, income, education, political persuasion, or indeed any combination of these factors.  Of course, similar statistics – and more besides – can be analyzed for every American state.

Obviously it’s no secret that businesses – whatever their size and whatever their industry – are continually looking to understand buyer behavior; that is to say, what motivates consumers in their choices and their actions.  Most organizations aim to segment the whole potential market into groups of like-minded individuals, one or more of which will form their core customer base.  Only by doing this can they develop a clear strategy to meet the needs of the target market(s) they decide to serve. 

In much the same way, politicians know that they will never be able to appeal to all the different sections of society, many of which will have diverging or even conflicting values and opinions.  Yet political parties recognize that they must try to understand how these groups differ, and assess the value they place on different aspects of a politician’s ‘offering’.  Like companies, they can then try to satisfy needs and/or improve their current offering.    

With this in mind, a phenomenal amount of time, effort and money has been spent by the candidates over recent months and years to find out what their ‘customers’ want.  Even more time, effort and money has then been spent in communicating and promoting how they will be able to provide better solutions than their competitors.

Yet the same rules apply to politicians as corporations.  By all means find out what people want so you can serve them better.  Just beware of making promises you can’t keep.

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