The Crash of Cruz and the Danger of Datafication in Business
“If someone like Ted Cruz can win with psychological analytics, imagine what it could do for you and your company.”
That’s the pitch made tonight by a data analytics company — Ted Cruz is winning the Republican presidential race because his campaign has the most sophisticated algorithms for voter segmentation, enabling specially targeted communications painstakingly crafted through objective testing.
There’s only one flaw with the pitch: Ted Cruz isn’t winning the Republican presidential race. He’s struggling to survive. The story of data has gone far beyond what the data actually describe.
Over the last couple of weeks, the Ted Cruz for President campaign has been lauded for its use of data-driven campaign tactics to an extent that had previously only been seen in the business world. NPR celebrated the Cruz campaign’s acquisition of “4,000 data points on every single American voter.” The Washinton Post declared Cruz the master of “a political era dictated by data analytics.” TechRepublic called Big Data “the new ground game” and credited Cruz campaign data modeling of voter psychology with his victory in Iowa.
Since the Iowa caucuses, however, Cruz’s Big Data advantage doesn’t look so impressive. The Cruz algorithms have failed to provide the campaign with the tools to move forward after his impressive initial performance. Over time, the analytics-dependent approach of The Cruz campaign seems to have led the candidate and his advisors into an increasing distance from voters, resulting in a series of clumsy mistakes. Precisely targeted communications have failed to hit the mark. The campaign has been out of step, awkward and slow to react. Cruz has had to fire his Director of Communications, and still, even with 4,000 data points on every America, the campaign doesn’t seem to understand how to talk with people in an engaging way.
Now, the results of the datafication of the Cruz campaign are leading to worried whispers — if it looks this ugly on the political stage, could reliance on quantitative analytics be causing similar, though less publicly visible, problems in marketing?
Across the marketplace, new data-driven techniques have brought some early successes, but have also led to a deepening estrangement from consumers that looks an awful lot like the gap between Ted Cruz and Republican voters. Consumers may be targeted with the right message at the right time, but when it arrives, it leaves them cold. The mountain of data about consumer behavior is piled high, but engagement and trust in the brands that use that data is at an all time low.
It would be a mistake to suggest that either big business or powerful political candidates should simply abandon their investment in data analytics. Systems of digital information have a tremendous potential to support insight into opportunities in commerce and democratic society. However, as demonstrated by the withering of the Cruz for President campaign and the pervasive disenchantment of consumers with the companies that presume to have calculated the coefficient of their loyalty, increases in quantitative analytical power bring diminishing benefits when they are allowed to become the primary focus of development.
We have reached the point where Big Data can’t provide much more advantage to marketers just by getting bigger. Ted Cruz could come up with new, more elaborate voter segmentation schemes, but it wouldn’t do him much good, because he hasn’t grasped how to build a human connection with his constituents. If his candidacy is to survive, he will have to dig deep.
Digital technologies will only be able to take us further when we have developed the cultural technologies to make them meaningful. Until we learn to use data to support emotionally satisfying connections rather than providing mere convenience, using analysis rather than mere analytics, all the information we possess will bring us to a commerce that we will find relentlessly functional and formulaic.