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Of Data, Defeat and Denial: Lessons from the 2012 Presidential Election

Published: November 15, 2012

Author: Molly Shotwell

Today’s post is by Lynn Bruno, an online marketing consultant who specializes in helping companies combine search and social media to create content that generates conversation, community, and conversions.

Mitt Romney blame
“But the numbers didn’t back up my story!”

In the past week, Americans have witnessed a stunning display of accusations, rationalizations, and just plain ol’ sour grapes from Republicans who were clearly blindsided by Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat in the presidential election.
Amid all the whining, one thing has become clear: The Republicans, and the Romney campaign, had plenty of data that pointed to this exact outcome. Not only did they choose to ignore it, they actually ‘corrected’ the data so it would paint a more favorable picture.  There are lessons here for marketers.
In the past decade, data has become the holy grail of marketing. Companies tout themselves as being data-driven, or at least driving towards that goal. We’ve never had more data at our disposal. But just how data-driven are we?
Making sense of “big data” is a challenge that requires time, talent, and tools. With a reported $6 billion spent on campaigns that began 18 months ago, resources weren’t the issue. The issue was, and apparently still is, denial.
The Republicans had the facts. They simply didn’t believe the data because the story it told didn’t square with the story they had created and what they had come to believe about themselves.
As modern marketers, we live and die by the numbers, and yet we’ve all had the experience of having our analysis disregarded for reasons that have nothing to do with facts. We’ve seen clients spend tens of thousands of dollars on tools to gather data and devote time and top talent to analysis and reporting, only to make decisions based on somebody’s gut feeling, or on internal politics.
Why? Because for human beings, story is more powerful than data.  When the story told by the data differs from your own internal story, accepting the data story means you might have to change. Analyzing data is relatively easy. Change is hard.
What can we take away from all this, for ourselves as marketers and the organizations we serve?
For marketers, it means understanding the company culture, delivering data with diplomacy, and weaving it into the company’s internal story. Revenge, it is said, is a dish best served cold. Data, especially data that points to a need to change, is a dish best served warm.
For companies, it means going beyond being “data-driven” to creating a culture of inquiry where it is safe to question the status quo, try new things, and learn from failure.
The Republican response to their presidential election defeat should remind us all that at the ultimate skills for winning in the data-driven economy are just not the ability to collect, analyze, and report data. They are the ability to listen, accept feedback, and change.
lynn bruno consultant
– Lynn Bruno

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