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.