Friday, September 7, 2012

Who Am I Anyway? A Political Identity Crisis

A waving American flag atop the United States ...
I am a registered independent. I have not decided whom I will cast my vote for in November.

I am steadfastly independent, and take pride in that position, yet I am dismayed by pundits on TV (and there have been a lot lately) who characterize independents as people who can’t make up their minds, as individuals who are uncertain of their convictions, as the “undecided.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I have no lack of opinions or positions. I am rarely swayed by popular opinion, non-issues, or negative campaigns.

While watching the Republican National Convention on PBS last week, mention was made of a Pew Research Center political party quiz. I decided to take it – perhaps it would help me decide where I belong politically. You may want to try it too – it’s just 12 questions.

The initial results were no surprise – my views are most closely aligned with the “average independent” – I was right smack in the middle. But I thought that odd, as I selected “strongly agree,” or “strongly disagree,” on most questions. (Again, I tend to have opinions.) So I dug further.

I clicked on the “on economic issues,” and “on social issues” buttons, and surprise, surprise, I am not in the middle at all. It turns out I am very conservative on economic issues – more so than the average republican. At the same time I am very liberal on social issues – more so than the average democrat. I am nowhere near the middle, uncertain, or undecided.

Where is the candidate that represents me?

I can’t imagine a future United States that doesn’t include same sex marriage. I can’t imagine a United States that isn’t a melting pot of varying cultures and religious beliefs (including the choice to not believe). At the same time I can’t imagine a future United States without a vibrant (debt-free) economy, where enterprise, innovation, and capitalism thrives. Call me idealistic.

Most of all, I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. When did our political parties (and their candidates) become so polarized in their views? The problem with the Pew political party poll (and perhaps with our two party political system) is that it’s missing an axis. Individual beliefs (at least mine) can’t be accurately characterized on a single left-right dimension. Where do you fall?

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Art of Getting the Give

Front Door open
Front Door open (Photo credit: cottonM)
Ding-dong (the doorbell rings).

“Hi, I’m Sarah from NY PIRG, and I’d like to thank for your support.” (NY PIRG is New York Public Research Interest Group, a non-profit education and advocacy organization for environmental and health issues affecting NY state residents.)

“Now is not a good time, I’m in the middle of a big project.”

“Well this won’t take long, since you’re already familiar with us…” and the bubbly young college student at my front door continues without missing a beat.

Smart. She knows that if I close the door she won’t be able to come back. She also knows that if she keeps talking, she won’t leave without a check.

I don’t need to hear her pitch – in fact, I’m barely listening. Instead, I am focused on the fact that this articulate, bright, young adult has chosen to spend her summer as an intern, ringing doorbells, giving the same speech over and over again, sounding as excited as she can (and she is practically bouncing on my front porch), just to raise money for a cause she clearly believes in.

Having recently joined the board of directors for The Kids with Food Allergies Foundation, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what causes people to open up their checkbooks, and how they choose one cause over another.

And as I listen to the intern, it occurs to me – if you want a donation, send a student.

I can’t say no to the college student at my door any more than I can say no to the Girl Scout selling cookies (even though none of her cookies are gluten-free and I won’t be able to eat them). Enthusiasm and passion are part of the equation, but it’s also the innate desire that many of use have to help our children be successful. I can ignore the fund-raising letter that comes from a college President, but when a student from my alma mater calls and tells me how much my gift means to them, they’ll get my commitment for a donation.

At this point, it doesn’t matter whether I support the cause that Sarah is at my door to tell me about (and she’s know her stuff inside and out), she will leave with a check.

When being asked for a donation, what triggers you to say yes?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Are Baby Boomers an Invisible Goldmine for Marketers?

dollars (Photo credit: Tddy)
According to, baby boomers are just 44% of the population, but control 70% of disposable income, spend money online, and dominate in nearly all consumer product goods categories.

And (surprise!) baby boomers care about a lot more than medications that help them feel younger and gadgets that allow them to call emergency services.

Is technology just for our kids? Data shows that 41% of those who purchase Apple computers (as I did when I left my job in Corporate America) are baby boomers. Some of us are even classified as “Techno Boomers” by Nielsen. With my bag full of cool gadgets, I count myself among those who qualify for that distinction.

According to a Forrester Report published in November 2011, boomers aged 56-66 spend the most online, followed by those aged 46-55. Only the oldest Americans spend less than Gen X (and slightly less than Gen Y) online.

Why then are these spenders seemingly invisible to marketers?

According to USA Today
, “The traditional thinking among marketers is that older folks spend less, have little interest in new products and have brand preferences set in stone.”

I admit that I like what I like. But after 30+ years as a dedicated PC user, I am now a huge fan of Apple products. After swearing that I preferred paper books, I now read e-books on my Kindle and on my iPad. My preferences for clothing and home goods brands change from year to year, but are strongly influenced by loyalty programs and customer support.

I am turned off by surveys that request age, with the highest age category being 50+. I am happy to see young people manning the booths at trade fairs, conferences, and expos, but treat me the same way you treat the younger attendees, please.

Consider that the market segment aged 50+ is expected to grow 34% between now and 2030, while the 18-49 segment will grow much more slowly at 12%.

Product marketers, if you want to grow your market you must learn what the baby boomers want and how to talk to them, or you will be missing the boat.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Is There Value in the Polls?

Ron Paul taking questions in Manchester, NH
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The phone rings at 3:35 pm, right in the middle of my writing time. I consider not answering, but the piercing ring gets to me.

Me: (tentatively) Hello

The voice on the other end of the line: (a little too exuberantly) Hello!!!

Me: (silence)

The voice: (worried) Hello?

Me: Uh huh

The voice: Hi! I'm with xxxxx polls. If you had to vote today, would you vote for Romney or Obama?

Me: (hang up)

And I think (in this order):

Why did I pick up the phone?

Please don't call me back.

I should have asked them to take me off the calling list. (Can you do that for pollsters?)

I should have answered, "Ron Paul." Not that I really plan to vote for Ron Paul, but I amuse myself momentarily by thinking it would be fun to give her an answer that isn’t in the script.

And I wonder (in this order):

How did she record my answer? As undecided, perhaps? Uncooperative? Either would be an assumption on her part. The only accurate recording would be "refused to participate."

Do other people just answer honestly, unfazed by the intrusion to their day? Can their responses be believed? Is it just me that is tempted to give a snarky response?

Is there someone out there who actually wants the pollsters to call them?