Consumer Data, Marketing, and the Presidency

Whether you are for President Bush, Senator Kerry, or a third-party candidate, you can learn from the presidential candidates’ campaigns. They’re good examples of customer-focused marketing initiatives that use customer data to guide and drive them. The candidates’ teams are working fiercely, as if their futures depend on the results — because they do.

Are you working in the same manner?

You have many things in common with the candidates’ marketing departments. Like you, they conduct surveys (polls) to determine which product and service features (issues) are most important to consumers (voters). Like you, they develop branding messages to help consumers (voters) remember their products (candidates) and help them feel good about buying their products (voting for their candidates). Like you, they develop campaign strategies and employ fairly efficient target marketing methods.


Instead of using surveys to determine why consumers quit using their products or what aspects of their services need improvement, political campaigns try to determine what the most important issues are.

For example, the Kerry campaign used this type of data to make a major change. After the campaign tried to gain support with messages about the poor economy, polls showed U.S. security was the number one issue. So at the Democratic National Convention, Kerry’s central theme was his ability to lead the military. “Reporting for Duty” was the tag line.

Target Marketing

The candidates also use data to drive resource allocation. Just as you should direct your marketing dollars to where they’ll do the most good, the candidates spend their money where they hope it will have the most effect.

In the State of New York the TV airwaves are devoid of presidential campaign commercials. Polling data shows Senator Kerry will win New York, so there’s no reason to spend on New York media buys.

In Florida, however, where Bush won in 2000 by a very narrow margin, spots from both candidates are nightly television fare. The campaigns know Florida is an “undecided” state and are using their marketing dollars to influence the voters’ decisions.

Internet Marketing

Although none of the candidates is getting the press coverage Howard Dean was for using the Internet as a campaign tool, both Bush and Kerry have used the Web to collect data on their prospective customers. Both candidates have collected consumer data in the form of email lists.

The Kerry campaign pulled off a brilliant publicity stunt when it announced Kerry’s choice for a running mate would be revealed first via email to those who opted in to Kerry’s list via his Web site. This gave voters a reason to hand over their email addresses to the Kerry campaign. The campaign garnered positive publicity from the move and collected a great number of opt-ins.

In the Bush camp, campaign operatives recently sent a video featuring the “Flipper” theme song via email to over 5 million people (a play on allegations that Kerry flip-flops). Obviously, the GOP also did a good job collecting data in the form of email addresses.

Statistical Precision

Another area marketers can learn about from watching the presidential campaign is required sample size.

When conducting polls, both campaigns use statistical calculations to help determine what the sample size should be to get valid results and what the margin of error is when they’ve completed the poll.

I like to use polling/campaign examples to show marketers why they need sample sizes in the thousands (often, tens of thousands) to get a good read on whatever it is they’re trying to measure. The polls usually comprise a sample of around 1,000 people, which, as news reporters will often tell you, results in a margin of error of plus or minus four (or two or three) percentage points. This means they expect the actual final result to be within four percentage points of the percentage calculated from the sample.

This is similar to a direct marketer trying to figure out what the response rate will be for his next big mailing. If a test mailing of 1,000 pieces had a response rate of 10 percent, then based on a margin of error of four percentage points, a mailing of 1 million pieces should have a response rate between 6 and 14 percent.

The Home Stretch

Since their futures depend on winning the election this November, the presidential campaigns are doing everything they can to effectively use data to their advantage. Are you doing the same?

Do you use data to drive messaging? Do you know what your customers want? Are you doing everything you can to prevent customers from “voting” for the competition? Are you targeting all 50 states? Or do you optimize to get your message just into those areas where it will have the most effect and where you’ll receive a better response for your money?

Are you working as if your future depended on it?

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