What Marketers Can Learn From Nate Silver

September 29, 2016

What Marketers Can Learn From Nate Silver

Nate Silver’s Advertising Week session, “FiveThirtyEight Breaks Down ElevenEight,” during which he took the stage with two fellow FiveThirtyEight employees, addressed the presidential election and FiveThirtyEight’s data-driven approach to analyzing the political process.

First, let’s talk Silver’s take on the election. With no hard data available yet on Monday night’s debate -- in which most observers said Hillary Clinton outperformed Donald Trump, Silver, who is editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, said the election was still too close to call. However, the Democratic nominee holds on to a one-to-two-point lead.  “As of 24 hours ago, it was a really close race,” said Silver, acknowledging that Clinton’s defeat of Trump in the debate may have moved the needle on the polling. But he said that reliable, new polling following the debate would not be available before the end of this week.

That conclusion was essentially the meat of the session’s discussion of the presidential campaign. Yet even though most of the session did focus on politics, there were three key takeaways for marketers.

Data Matters.

FiveThirtyEight, which is now owned by ESPN, has built a sturdy brand and made a minor celebrity out of Silver with its focus on data. In what was billed “The Triumph of the Nerds,” Silver used his analysis of a variety of polls to predict 50 out of 50 states in the 2012 presidential election. That performance outdid his 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 election. And FiveThirtyEight just doesn’t analyze politics; it also analyzes sports, culture and more with data-driven journalism.

The lesson for marketers: Data is essential to getting things right. It can help us to understand our audience, to place our ads in front of the right people, and to know who is opening our emails and visiting our websites. With data, we can get the right message to the right people and the right time.

People Want Stories.

Even though FiveThirtyEight’s differentiator is its data, it is a journalistic enterprise and embraces great storytelling. For instance, Faira Chideya, Senior Writer at FiveThirtyEight, has just completed a data-driven story on Evangelical Christians and the election, but she used stories of individual members of this demographic to tell the story. “When we write stories we get really into the number, but we try to add a lot of people, because people like people in stories,” said Clare Malone, also a Senior Writer at FiveThirtyEight. Malone is working on a series of 10 articles on the swing states that will embrace what she calls “empirical journalism” to tell stories that rely on numbers but are illustrated with human tales. 

The lesson for marketers: Data can support stories and shape stories, but people — and B2B buyers and consumers alike are people  — respond to the emotional resonance of stories, a reaction that is built into our DNA. 

Demographics Are Shifting, Which Will Change the Way We Market.

The demographics that controlled the last election are different than the demographics that will influence this one. The number of minorities in the U.S. is shifting — so much so that minorities will soon be the majority in the country, with whites representing less than 50 percent of the population sometime within the next few decades, Malone said. This demographic transformation will change how campaigns are run and probably who is running them.

The lesson for marketers: Marketers understand that they must know their customers and prospects, but they also must understand that the demographics of this audience are changing constantly. For instance, some Millennials are now high-net worth consumers and even B2B buyers; the way Millennials use mobile and other media means that marketers must adjust tactics to reach them. “Changing demographics will change the vote and politics,” Chideya said. “It will also impact how (marketers) reach people.”  

For more advice from smart marketers, for smart marketers, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog.