I should first start off with a general disclaimer. We’re a neutral market research firm with no affiliation with any political party. Oh, and another disclaimer, we do market research for a living, so we are biased in that respect. With all that out of the way…
I read an article today on Obama’s Super Marketing Machine. We’ve been hearing for a while about his excellent grassroots efforts and his fund raising successes, but this is one of the first articles on the underlying efforts that make it all possible. In short, he’s taking advantage of mining and segmenting databases; conducting surveys of attitudes and behaviors; and building profiles of supporters, contributors, neighborhoods, and likely voters to help with everything from fund raising to get out the vote efforts (for a more satirical look at the issue, see the Onion’s recent article on market research which requires the NSFW warning typical to most Onion articles: it has rampant foul language).
I’ll let you read the article for yourself, but some of the most interesting insights to us are in the comments, as many readers conveyed their “big brother” privacy fears. The research techniques of the Obama campaign are nothing new (many readers said as much), as these tools have been used in private industry for years. What’s new is bringing this level of research sophistication to a Democrat’s political campaign (these techniques aren’t new to Republicans – the 2000 and 2004 Bush wins are generally attributed to Karl Rove’s use of similar methods, see this book for example).
But rather than focus on politics or the dangers of rampant data collection (which are potentially many and should not be minimized) I’d like to look at how such data mining is actually a good thing – and not just for the companies.
Earlier I went on Amazon to look for a book, and the home page was covered with product deals directly related to my hobbies (photography and climbing). Not only were the suggested products in the same category, the camera accessories were the right ones to fit my camera, the guide books were of areas that I was interested in. The other day at the grocery store when I checked out I received coupons for products that I actually buy.
Maybe this is creepy to some people, but why wouldn’t you want to receive relevant advertising messages instead of random, irrelevant messages? If I received a coupon for adult diapers at the grocery store I would be quite disturbed. If I’m in the market for a new TV, and someone wants to tell me that they have a sale, great! Saves me time.
On a bigger scale, how much more efficient does this make the economy? Companies can spend fewer dollars to reach more people who actually may buy their product (in this case, a President).
I’ll stop there, but you get my point – data mining and geodemographic segmentation isn’t all bad. Yes, there should be restraints, effective oversight, and the information should be used ethically, but overall it can actually help improve your life.