The Pollsters Got it Wrong—What Marketers Can Learn from Their Mistake

We live secure in the knowledge that big data will tell us where our customers are and what they want. Those insights may even tell us how to craft precise messages that resonate with people. Once we use all that big data, our closers can go in and seal the deal. For over a decade, big data’s deafening roar drove marketing strategies.

Winning prescribers is a lot like winning voters. Big data and “get out the vote” machines were vaunted parts of presidential wins for Democrats in 2008 and 2012.

So, what went wrong this year? We’re not talking about your political affiliation. Personalities aside, trends, spendings, analytics, and ground game favored the incumbent party. Despite all that, we saw a stunning upset.

America is morphing into America, Inc. Where does this leave us? Trump won by broadcasting a big message to big audiences. The pollsters couldn’t find the rationale. The pundits couldn’t measure “sales.” They were wrong. He was right. There was an audience out there and he reached them.

Ah, reach. A pillar of marketing since the early days. Precision targeting is huge. Broad reach is even bigger. Broad reach doesn’t lose people in the eddies of polling undercurrents. The message finds them.

The same strategic issues play out in boardrooms, too.

TV is a great example. It’s big, old, and fails to conform to today’s need for individual measurement.

For a long time, Gap, the fashion retailer, made iconic holiday TV ads. Then, they were phased out. Those TV ads supported a brand identity and drove traffic to stores. But TV is hard to measure.

Like so many others, they shifted TV spending to precision media.

They used targeted campaigns to chase individual customers. That move cost them brand identity. More than that, they lost traffic to their stories. Lots of traffic. Sales slumped—badly.

To be sure, Gap’s problems go beyond marketing. Retail, fashion, and their segment were falling. This misstep exacerbated the fall.

Owning a mistake is step one. Doing something about it is step two. This summer, Gap announced plans to “significantly” scale up TV advertising. Step three is doing something smart. In August, Gap created personal documentaries. Essentially, it’s a little from column A and a little from column B. Ad Week awarded this new message Ad of the Day.

As we embrace all things modern, we need to remember a big thing in marketing—A BIG THING. Repeating a big message, ad infinitum on a big stage, reaches people.

Make sure the message breaks down into a few very simple parts. Then tell ‘em what you’re going to say, say it, and tell ‘em what you said. Then go to the next place and repeat.

As people who preside over a Brand, Inc., we have the message. We put in simple parts. We have big moments. Tell your story. The votes, like the scripts, will come. The volume may surprise you, too.

  • Sean Mott

    Sean Mott is a Nova Scotia native who was raised on fiddles, movies, and seafood. He studied journalism at University of King’s College with a focus on filmmaking and online reporting. He joined watzan in May 2016 as the Communications Specialist.

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