Three Things Marketers Can Learn From the 2016 Election

If there is one key take-away for marketers from this year’s big Election Day Surprise, it’s this:

It’s about the data, stupid.

As Americans stood in line to cast their votes on Tuesday, pollsters, data scientists, and journalists around the country were betting on a Hillary Clinton win – because state and national polls indicated she was outrunning Donald Trump. But the prognosticators turned out to be wrong, as they famously were in 1948 when President Harry S Truman nailed a stunning upset victory over Thomas E. Dewey.

Despite more sophisticated techniques, not to mention all the billions of dollars spent trying to understand the 2016 voter, political pollsters and pundits once again miscalculated the election outcome. Was there a lack of rigor? Bias? Did election models fall short due to the ineffectiveness of landline calling in a mobile-first world? Did predictive analytics fail based on shaky assumptions or faulty variables? Were voter responses unreliable?

Exactly what happened will be debated for years to come. But, like politicians, marketers operate in a fast-paced, increasingly data-driven world, and they will succeed or fail based on the quality of their data.

Marketers realize that knowing their customers is the top priority. But more connected devices, changing consumer behavior and fragmented marketing technologies pose difficult, new challenges to getting it right. And getting it wrong will similarly result in unsuccessful campaigns, wasted spend, lost conversions, poor customer experiences and underperforming ROI.

So as a marketer, what can you do differently to protect yourself from unpleasant surprises?

  1. Use the highest-quality data. For years, marketers have relied on anonymous or third-party data, investing heavily in data based on inferences about consumers. But inferred data isn’t the ticket for the kind of precise targeting or personalized and contextually relevant experiences that today’s customers expect. Research shows that first-party data is the future. Today’s most successful marketers are using first-party data at significantly higher rates than their peers. And, following in their footsteps, 82% of marketers plan to increase use of known customer data because it provides the richest, highest quality insights into consumer behavior.
  1. Build a centralized view of the customer. Your customer is showing up across multiple screens and appearing as multiple users, making it hard to understand the complete customer journey, and to accurately allocate and attribute cross-channel budgets. The ability to accurately identify customers as they move across touchpoints is the foundation for all marketing execution and analytics. Connecting all your offline and online data and tying it back to the individual customer on a continuous basis is the secret to identity. And if you can’t recognize the customer, you’re flying blind.
  1. Control your data investment. Marketers can “rent” identity data from various vendors or media/technology companies. But brands that don’t control their data aren’t in control of their customer relationships. Building your brand’s own, cross-channel data asset will maximize your flexibility in activating your data and insights where and how you want to. You should create durable profiles that are rooted in persistent identifiers, rather than short-lived cookies, to help you unlock greater value from your data. Think of your first-party data asset as a strategic weapon that grows deeper and richer over time, driving relevance and building lifetime value.


The recent election night upset serves as a reminder of the pitfalls involved in working with poor data. For customer-obsessed marketers, the choice is clear: first-party data and identity are the foundation for a winning cross-channel marketing strategy.

Originally published November 11, 2016

Kathy Menis

Kathy is an expert in technology marketing, with 20 years of experience creating and leading strategic, results-driven marketing programs. She was formerly the CMO at Signal.

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