Campaigns Have Companies Beat When Using Research for Strategic Decisions

Every campaign we talk to wants to know what innovations corporations are exploring in opinion and survey research. Likewise, companies and associations are eager to hear what new polling techniques were implemented last election cycle.  

– Bill Wallace, CEO, Goodwyn Mills & Since we work for clients in both the political and corporate research markets, we get to see the best – and worst – of it all. Companies, non-profits, associations, governments – pretty much everyone – have much to learn from how integrally campaign professionals use polling and survey research to understand their target audiences and make strategic decisions.

“We’re Not so Different, You and I”

Think about it. A political campaign is a business. It starts from nothing, builds a product (the candidate), raises resources (contributions), hires a staff, researches its key audience (voters), crafts marketing campaigns, delivers segmented messages to target groups, tests the ongoing impact of persuasion efforts (polling), and puts all of their energy toward closing the deal (on election day). The only difference is that politics is a zero-sum game – you either win or lose on a single day. There is no second chance.
Most campaigns we work with conduct several rounds of polling. The first survey sets the benchmark and is a deep dive into who the voters are, what they prefer, where they stand on the issues, and how their vote can be earned. Focus groups are likely conducted to qualitatively learn the nuances of how key voter groups talk the issues and candidates. The campaign then makes decisions about what groups of voters to target with which messages. Subsequent polls see if the chosen strategy is moving voters in the correct direction; they may also include new issues that pop up since the original benchmark. Toward the end of a campaign, nightly tracking surveys are used to make last-minute changes to media placement and ad copy.
Why do companies not take this same approach?
I wonder the same thing.
Companies have much more at risk – especially financially – than campaigns. The stakes are higher because organizations (hopefully) exist much longer than a political campaign. Competition changes rapidly. New markets pop up weekly. Consumer (or employee or member) tastes, focuses, and feelings are constantly shifting.

Do-it-yourself Rarely Gets It Done

Some prospects we talk to are at least trying to implement opinion and market research to better understand their audiences and markets, but most are on the do-it-yourself-plan. In the political space, no campaign would be taken seriously if they did their own polling. There are experts for a reason, just like your organization is an expert in whatever product or service it provides.

I venture to guess that most companies aren’t utilizing opinion and market research because they think it costs too much. That’s not inaccurate if you look at what the big firms charge for customer experience, employee satisfaction, or market research. We experienced the same concerns when we entered political polling. Now after we completed our first full election cycle as a full-service, research-only firm (we used to provide a ton of services), the New York Times / The Upshot named us the most accurate polling firm in the country – and we charge less than our peers, so mark price concern off your issues list.

Gut Only Gets You So Far

Others don’t see the need to pay for a better understanding of key stakeholders. We hear, “We already know what our customers/employees/members think” all the time. I learned long ago that my gut is a great tool, but it cannot not serve as a barometer of various groups of people. The only way to learn what really matters and how to change it is to speak with the audiences through a professionally-developed survey.
If I told you there is a way to increase the effectiveness of your workforce by double digits, would you jump at the opportunity to implement it? If I said you could increase your sales with a single tool, what would stop you from taking me up on the offer? If I presented a way to ensure success of your new product launch, where would it take your business?
All this is possible if you invest in opinion and market research like political campaigns do.

Avoid Others’ Mistakes

Remember the 2016 presidential election? Guess who quit polling two weeks out from election day? Hillary Clinton.
Don’t make the same mistakes in your industry that the Clinton campaign did! 😉 Make a decision to conduct at least one professional research project in the next six months.
I would enjoy the opportunity to help clarify what questions you need answered and then develop research that will help you answer them.

You Won’t Be the Only One

You’ll be surprised to learn that your assumptions are usually good but direct knowledge is better. If you have a few minutes, read how the Alabama Office of Information Technology thought it had one business problem but a Decision Co. research project unearthed a completely different issue. Then there’s the story of a professional services firm that unlocked more employee potential by letting The Decision Co. conduct their employee satisfaction surveys.
I bet your organization is not much different and could learn immensely from a survey.