By Bryan Walkey, CEO
With the 2016 U.S. Presidential election now in the history books, one of the more interesting sideshows (of many) was the near-universal miss by the pollsters.
As the evening on election night began, Hillary Clinton and the HRC crowd thought they had won the presidency based on data gathered during exit polls. However, this is where the miss started to rear its head. We’re not talking about a slight-almost-sort-of miss; we are talking Grand-Canyon-not-even-close miss.
The ultimate irony is that pollsters are in the political polling business to showcase their talents to their brand marketing clients and prospects. Usually, this kind of situation gets someone fired.
Direct marketers face this peril almost every day.
Back to the Beginning
Once upon a time, direct response was considered a dark art whose magicians could conjure up a magic formula to incite response leading to direct sales where brand had failed many times before. This phenomenon was to be repeated in the early days of search where one had to trust the magicians to produce results without revealing the almighty Google search algorithm to clients. A strategy also known as trial and error.
Now the world is data-driven and clients, not entirely convinced by pure magic anymore, instead want the numbers to divine the path. Long gone is the magician, replaced by the data scientist (or a team of scientists) working at the client’s behest, birthed in the digital revolution where data is king. Clients want data-driven solutions and any strategy not backed up by hard data, attribution and correlation is of no value.
In the early days, attribution in direct response was easy. A commercial airs on television, the consumer calls a toll-free 1-800 line, buys the product/service and voila – 100% attribution. Today, the consumer watches an ad on TV, moves to mobile to tablet to desktop and back, and the omnichannel dilemma is alive and well. This is an endless source of frustration for the direct marketer who must now try to figure out where this consumer came from. In fact, one seemingly logical solution would be to simply ask the consumer after the sale.
Hang on, isn’t this just another form of an exit poll? Uh oh.
The Answer Is Better Data
In a recent Ad Age article examining how the pollsters got the election so wrong, Raghavan Mayur, President of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which handles the Investor Business Daily/Tipp poll that has been the closest or among the closest to the actual popular vote in the past three elections, was quoted as saying:
“The best analysis in the world will not compensate for bad quality data,” said Mr. Mayur. “The quality issue has a direct bearing on how problems in election polling can be reflected in brand research. Everybody wants the right research. But everybody wants cheap research. And you get what you pay for.”
Getting It Right
As direct marketers, we often don’t control the quality of the data we receive from multiple sources. And since we are in the business of optimizing based on the most recent data available, there is no time to stop and scrub the data because the report/analysis/optimization/client meeting cycle is relentless week in and week out. This does not dismiss the need for data integrity or quality analysis. In fact, based on the escalating investment in human capital, platforms, tools and innovation all indicate that the demand for superior and sophisticated data analytics in direct response is greater than ever.
As direct marketers, we want to be right. We want to be able to point to the data and say, “I knew that customer was going to respond before they did.” Every week in direct response is like election week. We use the science matched up with the right tools and we make the call. We look to the data to back it up. And we are right. We have to be. Clients want results, not hope, and most certainly not excuses.
Only on weekends can we dream of being a pollster.