The most recent US presidential election proves that, once again, Big Data is a major player in not only how we live our day-to-day lives, but also how we, as a nation, make important decisions about our collective future. From the New York Times to Time to InfoWorld, major news sources agree: big data played a significant role in President Obama’s 2012 victory. While both the Obama camp and the Romney clan used big data in their campaign efforts, it’s clear that the Obama number crunchers had the edge, as they were able to turn it into an enormous win.
MEGA Data Crunching
While big data was used to a much larger and broader degree in the 2012 elections, this isn’t the first time candidates have amassed vast amounts of data on their potential and current constituents. The Obama campaign inherited tons of data from the 2008 campaign and election. The problem? It was an unorganized mess—a total disaster that was no longer of use for the new 2012 campaign.
So they scrapped it entirely and began accumulating a massive amount of new data gathered from polls and surveys, Facebook, Twitter and other social media profiles and behavior trends, various marketing campaign responses, general search engine traffic, and other information tracking this country’s online behavior. Just how much information is out there to be skimmed? Let’s just say: a LOT.
Another interesting little twist: let’s note that presidential elections and campaign practices are generally very public, as they’re frequently discussed in the media, especially leading up to Election Day. This level of transparency allowed the same number crunchers to run additional tests in real-time to better predict exactly which people would be persuaded by certain types of appeals. For example, based on which people already gave money online vs. people who preferred the mail, they were able to better target similar demographics with the appeals that produced the desired results. They could even identify which people might be model campaign volunteers!
By compiling all this information in a meaningful fashion, then applying (likely extremely complicated) algorithms, Obama’s number experts created a brand new strategic approach, using big data to identify and target certain very specific voter markets with very particular demographics. These targeted efforts resulted in not only more votes in the end, but more campaign contributions along the way. And frankly, it’s really quite brilliant in its effectiveness.
As individuals, we really hate to think we’re so easily predictable in large groups, but the proof is in the pudding. Yet, while we may exhibit patterns of behavior by demographic, arranging and analyzing that information is no piece of cake. However, once the pattern is revealed, the path to lure in that batch of voters becomes much more clear.
Using these distinct data patterns, each particular voter market was identified then targeted with a marketing style that effectively appealed to that specific audience. The most oft cited example is Obama’s Have Dinner with George Clooney fundraiser that, for no mystical reason, greatly appealed to West Coast females aged 40 to 49, who were happy to hand over their money to the Obama campaign for even a chance at winning the grand prize.
While this new form of glad-handing is now more driven by data than ever before, it should give us pause. The trend toward the openness and availability of (sometimes highly personal) information is a rather menacing condition we face as it continues, unhindered. After all, all of this information was legally culled from potential voters.
There are no laws preventing presidential campaigns, or even everyday marketing agencies, from compiling your personal information. Many people aren’t even aware just how much of their information is available, or how to keep their own personal data anonymous, or even that individually, we’re each currently personally responsible for protecting much of our own data.
It’s true. Right now ANYONE with the propensity to do so can do the exact same thing. Marketers and advertisers can and already do use this information to discover how potential products or services will be received in certain markets. Anyone can take this information, distil and crunch it down into these incredibly complex systems of information that provide unparalleled and unprecedented insight into human behavior. As a society, we’re taking the science of marketing to a whole new level.
Whether it’s marketing a politician, or a product, or even a city—knowing what people want, knowing what businesses want, knowing what residents and families want? That’s HUGE.
Think of how this kind of big data technology could be used in the hands of a city, such as Milwaukee. Our own Milwaukee number crunchers could go out and gather this information, then turn around and use that data to really revitalize the city’s image, attracting more businesses and new industries, while attracting and retaining talent, all right here.
With all that market data analysis on hand, Milwaukee business development becomes easier. We could even see a future where city development teams are able to make highly informed, targeted decisions about the future of the City of Milwaukee, by accurately predicting the impact of particular projects—and in real time.
More big changes and big challenges are coming, and nowadays, more often than not, our individual and collective futures are in the hands Big Data.