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Know your customer – in elections and in marketing

Know your customer. This is one of the primary rules of marketing, but audiences and communities are not always easy to know. Maybe it feels like we’re trying to reach every person in America. Maybe we’re only talking to twelve people in the world. Or maybe we’re not quite sure who our audience ought to be. To make it even more complicated, our audience usually shifts over time.

Uncovering audience trends

Statisticians were scrambling to understand Trump’s early supporters, trying to find the common threads binding these Republicans together. They checked trends in education, profession, geography, and whether a person supported authoritarian parenting values. They even theorized about data that showed Trump supporters preferred their meat well-done.

You might think that how people enjoy their steak is rather meaningless, but there’s usually some clever way to use any demographic or behavioral information for marketing. For example, if you wanted to reach a certain audience, it might be valuable to purchase menu advertising at restaurants known for well-done hamburgers.

One example of how seemingly random information helped one of our clients was when we couldn’t find anything to explain a pattern of website visitors. Some days had many visitors, some had none at all. And it had nothing to do with the day of the week, other advertising, or the stock market. Finally, we found the pattern: potential customers only visited that website on sunny days. Taking this information, we checked the weather forecast before sending out press releases or even making calls on behalf of our client, giving everything a several-day window so that we could push their information when potential customers were most open to it. And it worked.

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Audiences change over time

In technology marketing, we are almost always faced with multiple customer groups—the most obvious being early-adopters and later-adopters. The Early Adopters almost don’t have to be convinced—they want the newest, and the shiniest. They might be the gadget-lovers who back Kickstarter projects, or the ones who read Wired. They might be research scientists or doctors.They are your advocates (at least until the next cool gadget comes along), and your easy wins.

Once they have all purchased your product, or subscribed to your newsletter, or donated to your cause, however, you run out of those easy wins. The later-adopters, require a very different set of tactics, and may look very different from the first customers. They need to be convinced.

The most obvious example in our recent political campaigns is Clinton’s changing tactics. She was well aware of how her audience was changing, and you could see her changing tactics almost weekly in order to convince the next set of voters, then the next, then the next.

If you watched the second presidential debate, you probably noticed that Clinton sent viewers to her website several times for live fact-checking. Those who went to the website waded through several layers of donation-begging and email-gathering to reach the fact checking. Those who signed up received at least two emails per day until unsubscribing. The phone calls had no unsubscribe button.

During the third debate, however, Clinton didn’t even mention her website. Maybe it was because it was time for another tactics change, or maybe she read the same article I did that morning.

Although Trump was ridiculed for not changing his tactics throughout the campaign, or follow typical campaign strategies, he did make changes to attract later adopters. In the last 10 days of the campaign, he worked to stay on message and project an image of restraint. The last-minute semblance of stability could have been the final element that brought in the win.