Make Targeting Great Again

josephlavanAdExchanger Politics” is a weekly column tracking developments in the 2016 political campaign cycle.

Today’s column is written by Joseph Lavan, vice president of data and insights at Netmining.

Perhaps you have heard the news – there is an election this year.

Whether it’s from your Facebook feed being flooded with the hottest of hot takes from your old high school classmates, your favorite online news portal being overrun by coverage or just your uncle warning you of your impending doom, it is safe to say the coverage has been inescapable.

Chances are, no matter which side of the fence you support, you’re not thrilled with where we are as a country. According to the March 28 Rasmussen report, 66% of those surveyed felt the country is moving in the wrong direction.

However, just because the political landscape is seemingly bleak does not mean it is a bad time to collect political data, or data in general. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Positive or negative, when human beings feel passionate about an issue – especially if it relates to their security, freedom, identity or worth – they are more than willing to share their opinion. This eagerness to voice opinions is somewhat rare, so it’s important for any business that depends on data – especially advertising – to collect all of the consumers’ insights they can.

A consumer’s actual voting choice in this election doesn’t matter much, as that data is only useful for the next few months. However, marketers should care a great deal about why consumers are voting. Just as political campaigns can infer a great deal about voters from their brand affinities, asking questions and getting answers around hot-button campaign issues can tell advertisers a lot about consumers as people and go a long way toward predicting online behaviors in the future.

If environmental protection is the most important factor in deciding a vote in November, for example, then it probably makes sense to target that consumer with energy-conscious products both leading up to and after the election. If the deciding factor is protecting Second Amendment rights, marrying that affinity to outdoor products makes sense. The fact that this self-declared data is collected anonymously really allows for the proverbial truth serum to flow, and therefore provides an extremely rich snapshot into a user’s true feelings.

As rich as this data set is, there are definitely reasons to be wary. I’m sure you’ve been to a restaurant with a less-than-flattering Yelp review, but the meal was excellent in the end. You probably left there thinking, “How the hell did that bad review happen?” The same can be said for movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and even company reviews on Glassdoor. Roy Baumeister’s article “Bad Is Stronger Than Good” [PDF] theorizes that the average human remembers negative events more than positive ones. It’s imperative that this principle is applied for political data collection.

Even today, just think of the ratio of how many times you have you heard someone say, “If politician X gets elected, or law Y gets passed, I’m moving out of the country,” compared to the number of people who have actually followed through with it. That information is a good signal of the consumer’s political beliefs, but it doesn’t make sense for Canadian real estate companies to start targeting them based on intent to move. Anger can cloud some of the data signals, so it’s important to use common sense when building targeting strategies around this information.

At this moment, consumers across the Internet are essentially taking a seat on the therapist’s couch and marketers need to pay attention, regardless of whether they work in political, travel, retail or CPG. People share insights during election season that they don’t often voice during the rest of the year. Not every take is a hot one that will lead to improved targeting, but it’s on the data experts to properly evaluate the influx of data we’re seeing, sift through the noise and make data targeting great again.

Follow Netmining (@Netmining) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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