How the politics of consumption affects the consumption of politics
Merriam Webster defines the term “Politics” as : “competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government)”.
This definition sounds a lot like the competition in a free capitalist market. The similarity between these two concepts is more than notional. Winning an election or getting hold of the majority share of a market are two flavours of the same cereal. The broad process in which this happens is well known. There is a product (or policy) which is developed. Subsequently the consumers, (or voters) are convinced of this entity’s superiority over the alternatives. They are then provided with cues, both conscious and otherwise to make a choice in favour of one particular product (or party).
There’s a close relation between politics and consumption. Influencing both involves analysing, comparing and establishing associations between conscious choices and unconscious thought. It follows that consumption practices are inherently political. The father of modern advertising, David Ogilvy famously said ”In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.” Marketing is all about getting people to believe in your brand. When a brand has an image of superiority, of premium and quality, or of economy and pragmatism, the consumer associates these traits with the product offered under it. Forming this image in an individual’s mind is the elusive art. This is not to undermine the value of developing a good product. People will always buy something that solves their problems.
“The product that will not sell without advertising, will not sell profitably with advertising”, said Albert Lasker, the first to use the science of psychology in the art of advertising.
Just as important as being visible is to ensure that the brand image relates to the utility of the offering. For example, a high end luxury car which is publicised for it’s low maintenance costs may not appeal to a consumer who wants to feel valuable as a part of the ownership experience. The marketer who knows this presents his premium product as the chariot of a demi-god. And demi-gods rarely think about miles per gallon.
Consumer marketing, in many ways, is simpler than politics. If you can segment your consumer, you can look into their mind. Whatever needs or wants the consumer has is what the product or service provides. Then there’s the case of politics. What if the prospect is every single citizen? Coming up with a unified pitch that appeals to both Wall Street bankers and single mothers on welfare is not a simple problem statement. Seemingly obvious trends are often counterintuitive and mistakes are rarely overlooked.
Those that successfully deal with the consumption of politics have one common faith.
“In God we trust; all others must bring data.” - W. Edward Demmings.
Data. The sieve that picks out objective fact from the pile of husk that is subjective opinion. Never have we known our people better than today, citizens and consumers, as we see their habits and beliefs surface from numbers in a grid.
There’s a case to be made for the informed decision. Instead of throwing
darts blindfolded, we can now paint the bullseye bright red. Fuelling this shift to consumer profiling is the internet revolution. A vast majority of the world has access to smartphones and as the consumption experience moves online, billions of transactions leave behind an incomprehensibly large trail of data. When interpreted accurately this produces comprehensive insights into the lives of the consumer.
A common question in the world of data driven decision making is regarding privacy. In a world where everyone is collecting data, strict compliance is necessary. Those organisations that deal with political strategy are checked for compliance with ethics codes to ensure privacy of the average citizen. Data is anonymised before it is collected.
Most corporates have already started making conclusions from their data. This use case isn’t limited to just sales. Product development teams enthusiastic about moulding their offering to market needs are using it everyday. To best meet the expectation of the consumer they are able to set up effective feedback loops. These are then used to iterate over increasingly better versions of the product that appeal to an increasingly larger market. Growth is no longer a guessing game.
Adding a whole new dimension to the game is social media. A platform that allows almost unbridled interaction with any individual across the globe. A tribe is no longer marked by geographical proximity. Any group of individuals with something in common, be it a music group or a collection obsession can be part of a “group” where they interact. Finding and targeting the right groups can reveal a gold mine for marketers. Never before has it been easier to find individuals with common interests together and offer them a value proposition.
The same principles which tell us what a consumer may buy hold the promise of concluding the political leanings of an individual. We know now that supporters of the right and left wing have completely different patterns of thought. These patterns of thought unite citizens with similar leanings as well. Lawmakers solve problems and those who promise to solve high priority problems are the ones they vote to bring to power. Combining the data of consumption and political leanings allows anonymous clustering of profiles. These clusters constitute combinations of several dimensions of data following a pattern. These patterns can be applied to new data to reveal possible inclination of more number of individuals.
In a connected world which operates out of the cloud every action leaves a data trail. The lines between politics and the market are blurring progressively. And both are for the taking. The music is playing for those who listen.