What brands can learn from Obama’s data-based win

WHAT can the corporate world learn from Obama’s victory? I see two big lessons: first is the data-driven campaign that Obama ran, which can be replicated by brand owners. The second is that attitudes and behaviours are much more important than demographics when targeting potential voters/consumers.

These two lessons are intertwined. It is the use of the increasing amounts of data available, not least from online panel research that allows us to understand how and when voters change their opinion, that allows the sort of micro-targeting the Obama campaign used. It also demonstrates how we can move beyond the broad brush demographic profiling of the past to accurate attitudinal targeting.

The Obama campaign employed mathematical PhDs to analyse masses of database and polling data, testing assumptions and making detailed campaign plans based on what they learned. The campaign’s fundraising hit $1bn, turnout models meant Obama’s team understood how to get out the vote, and their ad buying was targeted and precise – all due to data. Yes, the election was relatively close, but that is actually the point; for political campaigners and brand managers the return on investment from using data to increase your market share by three per cent is huge.

Looking at the chart, attitudes are better determinants than the demographics. Take a white male over 65 who believes in a bigger role for government; in predicting likely vote the one attitude trumps the three demographics. Similarly when brands target consumers it is not the fact that they are 18-30 that matters most, it is that they hold the attitudes and behaviours that the brand associates with 18-30yr olds. In the past the demographic approach worked because with the limited data available it is the best proxy for attitudes. Now we have access to greater and more networked data we can be more precise with our understanding and targeting. It is the brands that grasp that who will be the big winners of the future. Stephan Shakespeare is the chief executive of Yougov

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