Governor Palin’s (and everybody else’s) Popularity

Yesterday I wrote about the candidate’s websites’ shifting communication styles in Me, Politics, Adam Zand’s Really Big Shoe, How Obama’s and McCain’s sites have changed when we weren’t looking[[Look for it. It’s in there, just down a ways]]. That post dealt with messaging — the Vs, Ks, As and {C, B/e, M} stuff that tells you a lot about how people think and not everything about how they share their thoughts.

A big predictor in the success or failure of any campaign — marketing, political, … — has to do with how messages are shared.

You could consider the “how” part as in how old, how well educated, and how easily.

Think of telling a sophisticated joke (one that requires some life experience to appreciate) to a child. They’re not old enough to understand it so the humor is lost on them. Now think of telling a joke that requires some knowledge of physics to the average person on the street. They don’t have the education so the humor, again, is lost on them. Lastly, think of telling a very sophisticated, very knowledge specific joke to an average person. You need to explain it, maybe more than once. They might get it, they might not. You might get someone who’s quick on the uptake and they guffaw or someone who just can’t get it and they laugh politely.

Messaging also has these components;

  1. Is the audience old enough to understand?
  2. Is the audience educated enough to understand?
  3. Can the audience easily respond to the message?

This is what is known colloquially as “The Gift of Gab”, what I often call “Talking their language” and is more correctly “communicating in a way your audience can rapidly and easily respond to”. Politicians more than anybody else need The Gift of Gab because the ability to communicate in a way people can rapidly and easily respond to equates to Popularity.

There is no doubt that Governor Palin is popular with her intended audience. There is also mounting evidence that the oomph! the Republican ticket got from announcing her has waned. I have heard on tv news and radio talk shows that both Independents and middle-road Republicans have more turned away than turned toward a McCain White House. Nor is there a question that Senator McCain can make himself understood.

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That offered, how well does the current Republican ticket get it’s message across to different age groups? It looks pretty good in this chart. The Republican ticket is capturing a very healthy chuck (30-43%) of the 20-44yo age group. That’s a serious piece of the voting public, don’t you think?

Before sharing the Democratic equivalent chart, I wanted to share a peek at Senator Obama’s popularity all by itself.

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Senator Obama’s “rock star” image may be due in part to his ability to speak directly (“gab”) to an amazingly large audience that spans Gen-Ys to Boomers. That broad an audience capture hasn’t been seen since Governor Dean’s early in his 2004 campaign. I noted during a presentation that Governor Dean’s audience capture had shrunk as the Iowa caucuses approached, that he’d lost his ability to appeal — to “gab” — to a broad demographic, and that this meant he was going to go down hard. That prediction along with several others came weeks if not months before the Iowa caucuses and other primary contests and proved NextStage’s methods accurate (see links below).

[[There was an image here. We can’t find it. If anyone has a copy, please let us know, and thanks!]]

Here we add Senator Biden’s “Gift of Gab” numbers to the chart and notice that Senator Biden’s no slouch either, especially with more youthful audiences. Perhaps he impresses people as a jovial father figure, perhaps and as he said in a Newsweek interview, “The very thing people like best about me at home is that I don’t have to pick every word and parse everything,” and “And if I say something politically incorrect, they know my motive is good.” Perhaps that longevity and his early campaigning for the Presidency in this cycle prepared people for his version of a “homespun” manner.

[[There was an image here. We can’t find it. If anyone has a copy, please let us know, and thanks!]]

But the real story is revealed here, me thinks. There only three age groups where the Republicans’ “Gift of Gab” outshines the Democrats’ and that’s with the 35-44, 65-74 and 75+ year olds, and even then the numbers are just 3.5%, 1.5% and 1% respectively in favor of the Republicans.

So looking at this and this alone, the Democratic Ticket wins if the voting occurs right now simply because a much larger population understands and easily and rapidly respond to their message. And let us remember what happened to Governor Dean. There’s still time for things to change, especially considering the number of firsts taking place in this election cycle (see Negative Campaigning for an explanation).

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Negative Campaigning

Several individuals and groups have contacted me during the past week or so regarding negative politicking. I commented and shared NextStage’s research with all of them (see Sticks and Stones for an example) and (I believe) much of what we shared has already been demonstrated in the (political) market.

Still, I thought this would be a good place to share my answers on negative campaigning:

1) Who started this and why?
It is doubtful McCain or Obama made this decision although they definitely accepted the advice of others. It’s worth noting that barbs were going back and forth for a while although the “barbs” were honorable in the sense that they were policy attacks, not character or personal attacks. Americans see a great difference between individuals and an individual’s acts, a kind of “I respect you but I don’t respect what you did”. Note that this person v act is a tough concept to sell to most people. They understand the concept it when it’s explained to them but most people won’t think of it on their own. So what to do? Up the ante to “You yourself are a bad person”. These are attacks on character and person and are much easier for the average person to understand and respond to. Because the concepts of “good/bad” are moral in nature they tend to be polarizing. People, once polarized, tend to stay polarized. This is good and not good. Polarized the “right” way, good thing. Not good is that once polarized people are like switches, flipping back and forth based on the latest information they receive. The hope is that they’re polarized the way you want them polarized when they have to act (vote).

2) If one candidate gets negative, does the other have to follow, or appear weak? Should they respond?
Unfortunately, yes, we are not a nation that appreciates “turning the other cheek” except in movies, novels, tv shows and the like. Also the time lag between being slapped and responding in kind, the nature of the attack, etc, are important elements. For example, if A is slapped and B responds with compassion. This is honored but not if A continues the attack. If A continues the attack and B continues to fail to respond, B is seen as weak, a coward, a victim or something similar. Again, the greater picture plays a part. Ghandi could get away with it because he wasn’t running for office (no personal gain for himself) but Presidential candidates can not.

3) Does negative campaigning work?
I wrote in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History that, during the ’04 Race, people didn’t like candidates going negative themselves although they were willing to accept a candidate’s surrogate going negative (as Palin is doing for McCain in this cycle).

Will direct negative campaigning work this time out?
This time out it’s a tougher call because

  1. there’s a far greater disparity in the voter base than there was in the past,
  2. the amazing number of “firsts” in this election cycle,
  3. the current waning of America as viewed at home and by the world and
  4. the public’s disfavor and distrust of politicians in general.

Humans like to have someone to blame and few people like to have the finger pointed at them. I don’t think negativity per se will be a decider but being able to scapegoat a party or group within a party (“Republicans” v “John McCain”, “Democrats” v “Barack Obama”, etc) will do the trick because it gives people someone/group to blame for the current situation.

4) What can we expect in the next four weeks? What will — and should — each of the candidates focus on?
What will they focus on? No idea. What should they focus on? The candidate who can present a simple, verifiable plan for solving any three of Iraq/Afghanistan, Wall St Bailout, Fuel costs or Mortgage crisis will win the day. If one of the candidates can solve the latter three the win will be a landslide because those problems are touching people here, not “there”.

5) What do the American people want to hear?
People want to hear that they’re not to blame for what’s happening and that someone else is going to take care of the problem for them, hence my suggestion in #4 above.

6) Are there still many undecideds out there?
(at the time I originally responded to these questions) Lots. An amazing number, really.(Now) Growing fewer every day.

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The Answer Is “What’s the Optimal Length of Spaghetti?”

I wrote in Eric Braden’s Intelligent Carpets about using the Chinese General Solicitation and a real world example. At the end of that post I invited readers to guess what we were really testing in the following:

We went to a suburban mall and invited people to sit down and try some spaghetti in red sauce. They were given small paper bowls of commercially available spaghetti in a commercially available red sauce and had to select plastic utensils — knife, fork, spoon — from some bins, along with napkins and drinks (two branded colas, two branded non-colas). They could go back through as many times as they wished. They were given US$5 for their trouble. Participants were told we were testing the sauce; would it be successful in that geographic market?

What we were really testing was the optimal length of spaghetti. Given that commercially available sauces and commercially available spaghetti were already established (branded) in the consumer’s mind, we were learning if the length of spaghetti affected how much people ate. Some people twirl their spaghetti on a spoon, some on the plate, some cut their spaghetti.

By the way, gender, age and ethnicity didn’t seem to matter. The winner was spaghetti that took 3-5 turns on the fork from plate to mouth with the big majority being 3½. Too many turns and people knocked spaghetti off and started again. Too little turns and they knocked it off and started again. Cutting spaghetti on the plate also occured but not enough to make that much of a dent or difference.

Sorry not to post this earlier, but you know it was worth the wait…

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Eric Braden’s Intelligent Carpets

You might have noticed that I’m continuing my quest for interesting blog content.

This time out, I found a post about intelligent carpets on Eric Braden’s blog. A company, Engadget, has a product which can determine age, weight and gender based on how people walk on it. A concern posted by Mr. Braden is privacy, something regular readers will recognize as an important topic to me.

NextStage has its own privacy and principles. We not only go by them ourselves, we monitor our partners and clients to make sure no abuses are taking place there, as well. Strangely enough, our principles also bring us clients and employees.

One of the things I find fascinating about Engadget’s Intelligent Carpet is that it is subtle, proactive, and doesn’t require the individual to do anything they wouldn’t normally do. This impresses me because it’s very much how NextStage’s Evolution TechnologyTM works. Any information gathered when the subjects know information is being gathered is tainted, period, and it takes incredibly skilled people to develop information gathering methods which sufficiently blind the subjects to what’s really being investigated.

The best method I found and the one NextStage makes great use of is the Chinese General Solicitation. In Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History Chapter 5 Section 3, “Internet Anthropology”, I explain that the Chinese General Solicitation is based on an old story in which the Emperor called all his generals together and said that the country was going to be invaded. Each of them was to explain to the Emperor why they were the best one to lead the troops into battle. The Emperor listened to each general separately and let them say any and every thing they wished. When they were through extolling their own virtues, the Emperor asked, “But if something happens to you, who would then lead my armies?” The individual whom the majority of the generals thought was second only to them was the one chosen by the Emperor to lead his armies.

Let me share a real world example of this method that I often use in our trainings. See if you can figure out what we were really testing.

We went to a suburban mall and invited people to sit down and try some spaghetti in red sauce. They were given small paper bowls of commercially available spaghetti in a commercially available red sauce and had to select plastic utensils — knife, fork, spoon — from some bins, along with napkins and drinks (two branded colas, two branded non-colas). They could go back through as many times as they wished. They were given US$5 for their trouble. Participants were told we were testing the sauce; would it be successful in that geographic market?
Can you guess what we were really testing?

I’ll post the answer in my next entry. Leave me a comment or send me an email if you think you know the answer.

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The Complete “TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse – Why ‘Whispering to Be Heard’?” Arc

Note: More historical posts in prep for Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th edition. Here is the complete “TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse – Why ‘Whispering to Be Heard’?” arc for your enjoyment

TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse – Why “Whispering to Be Heard”?

I wrote in SNCR NewComm Forum Day 2 – TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse that I would share how that presentation went and explain how TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse are linked, and I don’t mean through LinkedIn.

Can you say “blog arc”?

The title of the presentation was “Whispering to Be Heard: The Art and Science of Buzz Marketing”. I had some wonderful comments about this presentation, lots of good thoughts and feedback, so I’m sharing it here in several posts.

We’re going to discuss

  • TS Eliot,
  • Ezekiel discovering that the limit of his knowledge isn’t the limit of what is knowable,
  • How to have fun with beehives and the people inside them
  • and Mighty Mouse

And of course, all of this will have that distinctive, irrepressible NextStage flair…

But first, “Why ‘Whispering to Be Heard’?”

If you really want to be heard then you need to whisper because if you talk softly then some very specific things happen:

  • the only ones paying attention will be those truly interested
  • and they will show their interest
  • and tell others of their interest.
  • Also, you also immediately create a sense of intimacy, urgency and community (very important in buzz marketing and social media in general).

You just need to be sure you reward their interest with good quality and experience.

Next, TS Eliot does Information Mechanics!

TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse – TS Eliot does Information Mechanics

TS Eliot wrote

Where is the Wisdom we have lost in Knowledge? Where is the Knowledge we have lost in Information?

In 1997 I wrote a paper, “Semantic Information Mechanics”.

How many of you ever heard of it? I’m guessing the reason few of you heard of it, let alone read it, was because it was filled with stuff like this.

(You could imagine the tweets that go around about that slide)

Lose that Wisdom-Knowledge-Information thing, did ya?

I wrote something a little more accessible, Yes, You Can Predict Viral Marketing, in 2006. It listed the basic elements you need to know before you start a viral or WOM campaign in order to insure success:

  • How many individuals does the campaign need to start with (seed)?
  • How fast will the campaign spread (propagation factor)?
  • How will the campaign spread (vectors)?
  • How large a group is required to sustain the propagation (viral burden)?
  • What is the campaign’s goal (maintenance factor)?
  • How large a group is required to sustain the campaign once the goal is achieved (threshold point)?
  • At what point is the campaign too successful (saturation point)?

We followed that up a year later with some other research that we published in 3 Rules for Creating Buzz:

  • Do you want a mobile or static audience to get a message out quickly? (You’ll need to read the article to understand why this is a trick question)
  • Start with a general message
  • Change the message every X hours or Y miles

I should probably let you know that we’re always doing research, we’re always updating our research. And because our technology is based on very long and in depth studies of how humans think and respond to what’s going on around them, and because it’s both an adaptive and learning intelligence, it will often see trends well in advance of what we can see.

People follow less and less online conversations as they grow older until about age 55

What it discovered this time was that people, especially people over the age of 28, are self-regulating the amount of information they interact with in a day. Two direct comments we recorded during this research included “I don’t have time to follow 20 blogs” and “I don’t have time to be on half a dozen social networks”.

What we learned was that blogs and related information sources people thought relevant, important to their lives declines with age. This is true with blogs, newsletters, places to shop.

What did increase?

We discovered that people 28yo+ will often put an information governor on their intake, often trusting as little as 2 information sources. They may give time to others but they’re only able to redact to 2-5.

Thus TS Eliot, in stating that we’ve lost wisdom via knowledge via information, was ahead of his time. I’m pretty sure semantic information mechanics — which this is — wasn’t known of, at least not a formal discipline, in his time.

Next up, Ezekiel hits his wall.

TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse – Ezekiel Hits His Wall

So we learn from TS Eliot that the limit of our Knowledge isn’t the limit of our Information. Yet people continue to seek out new information sources while simultaneously throttling down the number of information sources they’ll give their time and attention to.

Like the pilgrim who discovers there’s more information beyond what he knew existed, we begin to wonder (at least you begin to wonder these things if you work at NextStage) “What are we searching for?”

It turns out there’s a limit, a ceiling if you will, to the amount of information people are able to respond to at any given point in time. This is based on the brain’s design more than anything else.

You don’t throw out 10 million years of evolutionary adaptation because your species has been sitting in front of computers for the past ten years.

The answer to this has to do with an understanding of how language influences belief. Some call this the “Information” Age. Is that because there’s more information in our environment than there ever was before or because the method of information interaction has changed from sought to delivered?

We use to seek information because it meant our survival. We needed to know if there were predators out there, be they dangerous animals or thieves and the brain-mind still has that wiring. It isn’t about to give it up, it simply puts it to different use.

And like our ancestors who learned to pay attention to only certain movements in the grass and certain shadows in the darkness we’re learning to pay attention to only certain sources of information.

So what are the three primary things we are searching for in our information sources?

What Are We Searching For?

  • Truth – I don’t have to agree, I have to believe
  • Meaning – Explain it so I can understand it
  • Wisdom – I won’t have to work as hard to survive

We’re looking for the ceiling, the arrow, the direction, the truth. We know we may not like it, and we want to know it anyway.

There’s so much information out there we want to know that someone can be trusted, to be our friend and guide even when we don’t like what they share.

In short, we’re looking for our shamans, our priest-kings, our heroes and guides. Those of you who are familiar with my background, training and education may appreciate how amusing this was when we discovered it.

Then what?

The Moody Blues' On the Threshold of a Dream

Once someone has gotten me to the edge of information I need to have it explained to me. Like The Moody Blues‘ “In the Beginning”, “I’m more than that, I know that I am”, and as Frankl and Maslow wrote and as every cognitive scientist and psycholinguist is discovering, humans will search for meaning until they find it. They will apply meaning from their own experience if no other meaning is supplied to them.

And what do we realize about lifting the veil from our own eyes?

That all our information and all our knowledge may not be meet for the challenges ahead. We seek the wisdom to apply the information, the wisdom to understand the meaning.

And this brings us right back to TS Eliot’s

Where is the Wisdom we have lost in Knowledge? Where is the Knowledge we have lost in Information?

Next up, Beehive the icebox, there’s a sheet of glass.

TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse – Beehive the Icebox, There’s a Sheet of Glass

How is social media “social” when the majority of people aren’t participating? Is it “ego media” if people only watch? Is it performance art?

Most people spend their lives seeking identity and they surround themselves with things that reinforce what they believe their identity to be. They do it via clubs, personal branding, any number of things. Their own sense of identity, of who and what they are, is influenced by and influences everything they do. This is the “If I am a thief then you must steal” syndrome so popular in 12-step communities.

Put differently, Sally Field’s character in Soapdish will always go to the Mall with Whoopi Goldberg’s character so that Whoopi can get the crowd to “notice” Sally Field.

People who were at my Boston SNCR Awards Gala presentation know this as Holmeses and Watsons.

We all want to know we’re part of the group, we just want to be sure everybody in the group knows who we are. No matter who we are and what our individual histories are, there is this amazing dualism in our neural coding that — much like flight or fight — keeps us moving between anonymity and recognition. The prey creature in us wants to be unseen and unknown while the predator in us wants to be recognized and identified. So while we’ll be a part of this:

What we really seek and strive for is to be part of something like this because being either predator or prey is hard work. Doesn’t matter if you’re in a large crowd and are anonymous or in a small society and well known. The only safety and solace is to be part of a community, a semi-small circle of friends (about 60-75 is tops) where the balance between anonymity and recognition can be easily managed and maintained.

Prediction #1

I think vendors in the blog awareness world might call this “You’re known by the comments you keep”.

What we’ve learned and what I’ll share is that buzz marketing, word of mouth marketing, viral marketing, whatever you want to call it, will evolve to a very sophisticated “smart mob” environment, a “Hive” mind mentality.

How many people have actually tracked their buzz efforts? How many have actually observed and monitored how rapidly and how far their buzz travels, through whom, how fast, who’re the best carriers, …?

These little charts that look like petri dish cultures gone mad? These are actual charts of the spread of a viral message, each little drop signifies a cluster of 100 people “infected” with a message and spreading it on. There’s a reason it’s called “viral”, you know.

One thing these little charts are showing that is obvious only when you know what to look at is the fact that the message literally spread in one direction only; the direction of “infection” parallels the travel paths of those infected.

The clustering of the “infection” is also dependent on where the most highly infected (ie, the ones most likely to pass your message on) spend the majority of their day. NextStage has someone very knowledgeable in virology on its team and all of this information was anticipated then proven in various trials. Why other groups doing viral marketing aren’t employing these types of people I don’t know.

Spreading Your Message

You want the message to spread and there are two basic ways to do it with hive mentalities. First, you can have everyone come to your site. The benefit is that you control the message. The detriment is that there will be limits on how many people participate, how long your message stays in public awareness and how far your message can travel.

This is where the pilgrim’s wall meets the beehive.

Trust, Meaning and Wisdom are lost if you fail to provide guidance beyond the wall, yet every member of a functioning beehive — or any functioning society for that matter — knows their role in that society. Trust, Meaning and Wisdom exist and the hive functions as a whole. It simply doesn’t let any bees out of the hive and eventually dies for any number of reasons.

Or you can simply put your message out there. This is the bee coming back to the hive and dancing their little tookas off because its discovered your message about an incredibly rich field of flowers. All the bees go, lots of pollenation, lots of honey, new hives form, some go on to greatness and some just go on to other great things.

Totally different dynamics, completely different parameters same amount of risk for completely different reasons. However, you’ll never lose trust, meaning or wisdom because you’re not in control of it to begin with and you can’t lose what you’ve never had. The bees are taking the risk with the flowers.

But the big payoff is that you’ll also learn from your audience. Your offering matures as does your audience to the point where you need each other. Very good. Symbiosis, you have to love it.

This symbiotic relationship is SmartMob behavior at its best. Our current thinking is that SmartMob methods will become the most effective marketing because it is an immediate, highly specific, highly targeted and quickly rewarded call to action.

This is extremely important because people are searching for help understanding all the information in their environment. And few things will get their attention better than a reward right now for something they did right now, something directed at them, something specific they can get done and something they can do without a lot of planning.

Next up, Mighty Mouse.

TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse – Mighty Mouse

The new goal of advertising and marketing will be helping consumers brand themselves.

Anybody want to hear about the big computer company that turned bloggers around one more time? (everybody was citing Dell in their presentations)

Herding cats is possible. There’s lots of case studies and the methodology is well documented and easily understandable.

Anybody guess how to do it?

What’s the best way to herd cats? Get a very well trained mouse.


  • People seek meaning in their lives and one of the ways they get that meaning is by self-branding, creating an identity for themselves based on what they have around them.
  • Lee Iacocca said “People want economy and they’ll pay any price to get it.” I offer “People want simplicity and they’ll pay any price to get it.”
  • You can start a conversation and you must be prepared for the consequences.
  • But always always always it’s easier to control a conversation you start than one you enter.

And finally,

Invest in Mice.

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