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Applying Political Terms to Marketing Segmentation

By: Scott Miller



A key principle in any business is that getting one more customer will make a difference. Getting one more at a time is the way to build success over a lifetime. But when it comes to getting those customers, how do you do it? There are some important insights for product marketing that actually come from the political world and consultants for political campaigns.

One of the most important lessons is in how to segment the market—how you look at the target market and decide which customers to go after and which ones to ignore. The goal is to save money by not wasting money on targets that you are never going to be able to convert. Most lead lists or target generation lists have very few good targets, making them a poor investment. But the kind of segmentation done in politics can be done in the marketplace, and without using sophisticated, expensive tools. It requires just a simple technique indicating where to put your focus.

The result is a spectrum that looks like code, all based on political terminology. At one end is the H.O., or Hard Opposition. In a political campaign, these are the people who hate you and oppose everything you do. They are going to vote for your opponent no matter what, and they will be motivated and enthusiastic as they do it.

In terms of marketing or in business, that Hard Opposition is usually your competition, or it might be activists who are against your kind of business, what you sell, or how you do business. The Hard Opposition, the H.O., are impossible to get. Understand their effect in the marketplace, but leave them alone.

Next up is the S.O., which stands for the Soft Opposition. They might be followers of the opponent or, in marketing, the other brand. They might be loyal customers of your competitor, for instance. You could spend a lot of money and get them to come to you once, but you aren’t going to be able to get them to come back regularly, buying more. So once again, the S.O., the Soft Opposition, is a group to leave alone.

In the middle of every marketplace is a big group, the Undecided. Because this group is so huge, with so many people, it is very attractive. It is composed of people who don’t have any feelings one way or the other about what you’re doing, what you’re selling, or what your brand is. In general, most people in the Undecided are there for one of two reasons: either character or circumstance.

Some people are very active in the marketplace, but don’t like to affiliate with just one brand. They’ll go from one brand to the next with regularity. Those are people who are Undecided by character. They don’t want to have just one brand that they settle for all the time.

Then some people are Undecided by circumstance. These people decide that they have to buy based on price. Think of your local grocery store. Many people who are grocery shoppers are smart enough to know that one brand in a category is promoted one week, then another the next week, and a third the week after that, and so on. They will just move from deal to deal, without ever becoming loyal to the brand. They are loyal to the deal, making them Undecideds in the marketplace.

While the Undecided segment is huge, it is not the best outlet for your effort. You cannot move them and keep them in numbers. In politics, the saying is, “You can buy those votes; unfortunately, they don’t stay bought.” You can buy their loyalty for one sale, but then you have to keep buying it again and again and again. Big companies spend a lot of money on price promotion to win this group, but small businesses can’t afford to do that.

The next group is the S.S., or Soft Support. These are people who like you, your brand, and your product. They know about you. They might have bought from you a few times—but they don’t come back often enough or buy enough. They are in your brand franchise, but not loyally enough. Your goal is to move the Soft Support to the next group, the Hard Support.

The H.S., Hard Support, are your real loyalists. In politics, these are the people who support you whole heartedly, will vote for you no matter what, and will knock on doors and do whatever they can to help you win. In business, they are your best customers. They are your most profitable customers. But most importantly, they are the best, most compelling and credible advertising you can get. They will come back again and again, and they will spread the word to other people they know, bringing more people to your business.

The top priority for any business should be to lock down the Hard Support, because you really need them. Next on the list is finding ways to move the Soft Support to Hard Support. Find ways to give them some of the benefits that your Hard Supporters perceive and get them to come back more often. And pay attention to the Hard Opposition and the Soft Opposition; you have to know about the negatives in the marketplace and understand if there is a real problem with your product or if some people are actively working against you.

But one thing a small business cannot afford to do is throw money after the Undecided. Don’t try to win votes that you are just going to have to go out and buy again tomorrow. That’s an expensive proposition for the small businessman, and it doesn’t work.

Published: December 20, 2012

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Scott Miller

After graduating from Washington & Lee University in 1967, Scott Miller began a career in advertising and political consulting. As Creative Director of McCann-Erickson in New York, he worked for such clients as Coca-Cola, Miller Brewing and Exxon, and won every major award for creative excellence in the advertising industry, including Clio Awards and a Lion d'Or from the Cannes Film Festival. In 1979 he founded Sawyer/Miller Group with David Sawyer. In 1988, Scott co-founded Core Strategy Group. At Core, he has worked on developing communications, marketing and branding strategies for a number of Fortune 100 clients. In addition, he provides commentary on political and corporate communications on the major television networks, and often lectures on communications, branding and insurgent strategies.

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