An interesting new report looking at the US political landscape was published this week (see the end of this article).
Why interesting? It’s a good example of a nice-looking segmentation – examining American public opinion through the lens of seven population segments. The report’s authors describe these segments as “America’s hidden tribes” – hidden because they have shared beliefs, values, and identities that shape the way they see the world, rather than visible external traits such as age, race or gender. By avoiding the use of demographic information or other observables – the authors contend – segments go beyond conventional categories and identify people’s most basic psychological differences.
The tribes identified are:
- Progressive Activists: highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial.
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: highly engaged, uncompromising, patriotic.
“Essex man” was an example of a type of median voter that explained the electoral success of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s. The closely related “Mondeo man” was identified as the sort of voter the Labour Party needed to attract to win the election in 1997
Now there’s nothing new about political segmentation – whenever an election looms, someone produces a segmentation of the political landscape, and the media get over excited. In the UK this has famously resulted in Essex man, Mondeo man, Worcester Woman etc. All of these shed interesting insight on a phenomenon BUT, as with commercial segmentation, there is usually practical limitation on their application.
This latest US report cites its ultimate aim as “identifying the most effective interventions that can be applied on the ground to counter division and help build a renewed and more expansive sense of American national identity”. But how are these interventions supposed to happen? How do you intervene with the ‘Passive Liberal Tribe’? Put simply, how do you find them?
We’ve discussed before how the dissatisfaction with the outcomes of segmentation has risen, as the mix of effective marketing levers that an organisation has at its disposal has proliferated. The rise of direct-to-consumer, and the increasing importance of targeted communication and the use of databases has mean that the ability easily identify a segment (rather than relying on the customer to self-select) has become a crucial success factor.
The inability to effectively ‘target’ segments is at the crux of much of the dissatisfaction with segmentation. I have no doubt that this work on ‘tribes’ includes a complex algorithm to determine segment membership but these are difficult to action as the criteria for segment membership are complex and often difficult to replicate. How do you find the segments in the real world? While it is possible to profile these clusters after they have been created, as they have done with the ‘tribes’, often the results are less than clear cut.
This is less of an issue when you are using ‘above the line’ communications to communicate a political (or commercial) position, but increasingly organisations want to target their communication activity, undertake ‘direct-to-consumer’ advertising (for example) and locate these segments in their CRM database. An actionable segmentation allows us to better address strategic ‘where to play’ questions i.e. which voters (or customers) to focus effort on, their relative priority, and the opportunity they represent … as well as tactical ‘how to win’ questions i.e. what activities or messages are most likely to achieve our objectives in priority segments.
For those of us who don’t get to vote in US elections, all of this can be something of a spectator sport – but if you have a professional interest in segmentation and marketing frameworks – it raises interesting questions. While the ‘tribes’ segmentation is intrinsically interesting and insightful – too often in the commercial world we find that this type of analytical methodology limits the ability to identify “the most effective interventions that can be applied”.