Marketing Takeaway: ‘Trexit,’ Data Truths and Our Quickening Loss of Empathy

The Economist probably wrote the best post-mortem on the U.S. Election of Donald J. Trump – and published it one week in advance of what actually happened. But why the surprise? Turning inward, how could all that polling and data analysis not see this “Trexit” outcome, particularly after Brexit – which should have acted as a data barometer warning of electorate measurement? I see at least three reasons, all of which have ramifications for marketing.

american flag donald trumpThe Economist probably wrote the best post-mortem on the U.S. Election of Donald J. Trump – and published it one week in advance of what actually happened.

National and foreign media outlets are dazed, but I’m not alone in seeing this outcome as a true reflection of what’s going on in the world, not just in the United States. We are not immune to fear of rapid change from the rise of globalization, digitalization, urbanism, multi-culturalism and “white (male) privilege” being left behind. No matter which flawed candidate you may have voted for, perhaps we have been played by a piper.

But why the surprise? Turning inward, how could all that polling and data analysis not see this “Trexit” outcome, particularly after Brexit – which should have acted as a data barometer warning of electorate measurement? I see at least three reasons, all of which have ramifications for marketing.

First, because swathes of individuals who voted for our President-elect may largely be unseen and unaccounted for in polling, may steer clear of social media and certainly fail to be reflected in the echo chambers that are Washington, New York and Los Angeles. They barely leave digital crumbs — and they are the ones who shop offline, don’t answer marketing surveys and let the answering machine pick up the call. One of the most favorable polls for Clinton — that of Huffington Post — excluded polling of landline-only households, for example. Helloo! Artificial intelligence can only process what is fed into the data funnel. But missing data doesn’t explain all the inaccuracy.

Second, those of us who have had to deal with self-reported data know one inconvenient truth: such data, at least in the marketing world, is sometimes inaccurate, predictably so. In politics, this can be true, too. People may not admit publicly who they support. (There are lots of quiet people in the office, even as others around them banter loudly about politics.) People are very capable of saying what they think makes them look a certain way, rather than behave differently, and that’s why observable consumer behavior is valued in the marketing data marketplace at a premium.

Third, in doing a consulting assignment for a new client (Stirista) and I came across a recent blog post on its site that I truly found insightful, no matter who we are, what we believe and where we live. We are losing empathy: We are losing the ability to walk in another man or woman’s shoes — whether he or she is across town, across state lines, across the country or around the world. We are insulated from each other, often wantonly. In the ad business, this is dangerous. In society, it’s destructive. If we can’t reach out and listen to a fellow citizen, without judgment, and participate in a healthful exchange of ideas, how can we construct a democracy that functions? In marketing, we need to explore all the personas that motivate, not just those that we might expect, even if they may at first seem counterintuitive.

Take one more page from The Economist:

“Mr Trump was the nominee of a party which, after losing the presidential election of 2012, commissioned a post-mortem that concluded that until Republicans built a new coalition, including many more non-whites and other fast-growing demographic blocs, it would struggle to win national office again. Mr Trump’s gamble was to take an exactly opposite approach. He bet everything on a strategy of nostalgic nationalism, summed up in the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’, precisely because his hunch was that the country is home to an underestimated mass of voters who do not want to be part of any rainbow coalition, thank you—and certainly not if the price is granting amnesty to immigrants in the country without the right papers, or embracing gay marriage.”

We have liberal media. We have conservative media. And we have lots of data segmentation separating the two. How about something different: Can we have middle media? Can we have “data bridges” — finding commonalities in data sets to unite, rather than unique values to separate? The Plural Generation is upon us. Whoever is in the White House, no one can tell us to stop building those bridges, to stop exchanging ideas, to stop sharing our hopes and fears. We need all the ad community to do the same.

Brexit Backlash and 7 Ways Bold Decisions Fail

The United Kingdom made a bold decision to leave the European Union on Thursday, the so-called “Brexit” vote. By Tuesday, news stories were already piling up that … maybe it wouldn’t? How many times have you seen that in a business?

The United Kingdom made a bold decision to leave the European Union on Thursday, the so-called “Brexit” vote. By Tuesday, news stories were already piling up that … maybe it wouldn’t?

Was John Oliver trying to describe Brexit ... whatever Brexit turns out to be?
Was John Oliver trying to describe Brexit … whatever Brexit turns out to be?

Now there’s talk of a petition to hold a second Brexit vote since the results were so close.* Beyond that, Prime Minister David Cameron is resigning without initiating the exit from the E.U., and it’s possible his successor won’t either. In fact, there are many ways that Brexit, despite success as non-binding referendum, might not happen at all.

How many times have you seen that in a business? There are conversations, meetings, you think a decision has been made! … only to find out no one’s following through on it and the “decision” wasn’t worth the breath behind its words?

We glorify bold business decisions, but it’s easier to get behind them than follow through on them. There are many forces that work against a bold decision, and in the Brexit backlash we can see some of them in stark relief.

Here are seven things you must do to support a bold decision, that the U.K has not done thus far in Brexit.

1. Get Broad Support — Brexit Did Not

Perhaps the biggest weakness of the Leave faction in the British referendum was its narrow margin of victory: Less than 4 percent. With over 33 million voters, the margin was less than 1.5 million. That’s not so close as to be illegitimate or demand a recount, but it’s not enough to support continued difficult action.

All bold decisions come with a price, and that price will chip way at support; 51 percent for becomes 51 percent against very quickly.

2. Manage Expectations

I’m not going to belabor this one, since it’s going to be one of the first takeaways on any list about sales or management. But I also don’t want to naively breeze over the natural tension here: You build support for a bold decision by talking up the benefits and minimizing the costs and other downsides. Many votes are swayed by the emotion behind your argument and your attitude, and not the simple pros and cons. That’s just the way people are, and just the way politics and business are done.

But there are limits to how far you can push that sunshine before it comes back to burn you. If you say “The money’s going here,” when in fact it’s going there, people who notice that will be upset.

This happened in the Brexit campaigning. An important campaign point for leaving the E.U. was that a £350 million payment the U.K. makes to the E.U. could be put to the National Health Service instead. Hours after the election, Leave leader Nigel Farage backtracked on it.

That’s exactly how 51 percent in favor turns into 51 percent in opposition.

3. Decisions Must Be Binding

This is another obvious one, but again, it’s an issue that’s epidemic in business. The Brexit referendum was non-binding, which opens the door to leadership simply ignoring it.

Now, theoretically that leadership would be voted out in the next election, assuming Brexit remains a determining issues for voters. But that’s a big assumption, especially when the majority is thin. Add some pain from the bold decision — people start to think about how following that decisions means losing revenue from another area, or workforce may be reallocated in ways that are unfavorable to them, or your political leader may immediately say you were stupid for believing his campaign promise — and non-bound supporters start wriggling out of the work it takes to enact the decision.

4. Be Moving Before the Hammer Falls

All births are painful, and your bold decisions are no different. The hammer is coming down, and if you haven’t taken action on the decision by the time it hits, then that pain is all your decision will be known for.

The day after the Brexit vote, markets crashed and the world economy lost $3 trillion over the weekend, with the U.K itself taking the hardest hits. There is speculation the British economy may slip into a recession from just this one vote. It’s being called “The Brexit Crash.”