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Real life lessons from an unreal election

Here’s some good things you can learn from the US Election:

Don’t be pressured by uncertainty

Election night uncertainty prevented media from telling a rapidly evolving story that ended with a winner. Media needed the story to keep moving, so looked to the Presidential candidates to provide it.

This is a common challenge for organisations in the ordinary world; journalists press for information and certainty.

Joe Biden showed on election night that it’s best to say you don’t know, but to stick to your themes as you say it. When the stakes are high, space-filler is fine.

Biden’s comments signalled he could be optimistic and realistic in tough times, and that he trusted the good sense of ordinary Americans. It was a good message for a potential President of a divided country. This was enough for media, who grabbed the comments and replayed them for many hours afterwards.

Don’t trust surveys

The US pollsters are taking a beating. Most had put Biden at over 10 percentage points ahead of Trump. They’re finishing within a point or two of each other.

The glaring inaccuracies of election polls should warn professionals that polls and opinion surveys are only ever indicative.

This is because there’s as many ways of getting it wrong as there are survey participants; people lie to surveys (it’s clear that the infamous ‘shy Tory’ effect was operating in the US), don’t put a lot of thought into answers (they don’t care as much as the people reading the results), and they enjoy misleading surveyors.

The best thing to do with any survey is use answers as broadly indicative, and never invest yourself in detail and small differences.

Money can’t buy you love

The Democrats spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns for Senate candidates – including $200m in two states alone. These campaigns still lost.

This is further proof if you need it that money, especially on advertising and marketing, cannot buy the love of your audience. Money buys the opportunity to say what you want. It does not buy minds, and it does not buy you the skill to say what the audience wants or needs to hear. In the end, people will hear or ignore your message, and will decide for themselves.

Professionals need to look outside their bubble

If your colleagues are surprised or dismayed that Trump did so well (even if he loses) then you are witnessing a costly blindspot in corporate and institutional life; its difference from the general public.

In America, 75% of MBA-level professionals voted for Biden, compared to 50% of the general public.

This bias is related to the backgrounds and lifestyle of professionals. A recent UK study found that 70% of advertising and marketing professionals come from the top two socioeconomic groups, compared with only 29% of the population.

The UK survey showed these privileged professionals completely misjudge the aspirations and even the purchasing decision values of the public. For example, they considerably over-estimated the value customers put on brand values, and corporate positions on social issues and political affiliations.

This is an argument for hiring for diversity of backgrounds and opinions. But it is also a reminder that no matter what our background, the skill of a professional is to step outside their bubble.

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