Sunday, November 20, 2005

Psyching Out the Voters

If demographics are based on the notion that “birds of a feather flock together” then psychographics works on the premise that on selected topics birds of multiple flocks care about the same thing in similar ways.

Mike Bloomberg used psychographic models and segmentation to get beyond “Soccer Moms” in his re-election campaign for Mayor of New York. Some observers are saying this changes the political calculus, though most of us think a mastery of psychographics is the secret genius Karl Rove has traded on for years.

Demographics are generally good predictors of the gross segments. Age, education and income pretty much dictate your taste in consumer goods, real estate and politics. When you overlay purchase data, be it anything from cars, clothes to magazine subscriptions the picture gets more nuanced, though the conclusions are clearly inferences not facts. For many marketing purposes this level of specfication is good enough.

Psychographics take this data and mix it with attitudinal data to produce a richer profile. It’s a simple formula. The more data you mix the more nuanced the profile you get. The more nuanced the profile, the higher the cost. Most marketers can’t or won’t justify the incremental cost of psychographic profiling because the value of a sale is too low or the need for such precision targeting isn’t as great. Generally only the highest value items with long or complex selling cycles are willing to invest in a psychographic approach.

For years big research firms have been creating segmented profiles which combine demographic data with purchase history or purchase intention to yield discrete groups which are likely to be targeted by marketers. That’s how Volvo and Bill Clinton discovered “Soccer Moms” as a distinct subset of the population worthy of specific messages and a bit of romancing in the first place.

Psychographics approach the compilation of a group by zeroing on a common need, attitude or behavior. For Bloomberg, “Fearful or Anxious New Yorkers” (FANS) are lower income people heavily dependent on the City and its social services both to provide income, income support and basic social services. The group cuts across zip codes, age and ethnicity lines.

His message to them reinforced the idea of security. The City will thrive. They will keep their jobs. The City will keep services open and flowing. The proof points were his record on fighting crime and terrorism and his track record on job creation and heath care.

Compare this appeal with that to “Cultural Liberals” those higher income New Yorkers concerned that the arts, music and culture scene be maintained both for their own enjoyment, the status of the City and as a lure for tourists. The pitch here was his background as a businessman and his strong fiscal management which allows the City to afford these things and “do more with less.”

Why did Bloomberg go to this extent when he was paired against a has-been politician from the Bronx? I’m guessing because he can. Will this create a new paradigm for political campaigns, as suggested by Jim Ruttenberg in the New York Times?

Don’t bet on it. Bloomberg spent 10 million dollars on what his campagned called "list development". That's a number that would scare even a national campaign.

But look for a clever contender, with a good database marketer advising her, to take existing psychographic data sets from commercial vendors and enhance them with voting records, data on political or charitable donations and real-time polling data to yield the same insight for targeting at a shade of the price.

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