Voters Express Exhaustion Over Campaign Coverage

A Pew Research Center poll shows a majority of Americans are already exhausted from all the news media coverage of the 2016 presidential election – with four more months of campaigning still to go.

A Pew Research Center poll shows a majority of Americans are already exhausted from all the news media coverage of the 2016 presidential election – with four more months of campaigning still to go.

Voters feel exhausted from media coverage of the 2016 presidential election, but not because of too much attention paid to candidate positions on important issues.

A new Pew Research Center Poll conducted from June 7 to July 5 finds 59 percent of respondents worn out from election news with four months of campaigning yet to go. But almost the same number of respondents say they feel shortchanged by the amount of coverage focused on policy questions.

Forty-four percent of respondents think there has been too much attention paid to candidate comments and 43 percent say the personal lives of candidates has also gotten too much ink and air time.

Some 45 percent of respondents believe the candidates' experience level has been overlooked. That view is especially strong among respondents identifying themselves as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.

Those expressing the most exhaustion with election coverage are younger adults, women, whites and independents, Pew Research says. Almost two-thirds of 18 to 29 year olds said they are worn out.

A separate Pew Research poll in June gleaned that 65 percent of registered voters felt the presidential campaigns had failed to focus on important policy issues. That view held across party lines. So it is little wonder that Pew Research found 55 percent of respondents thought media coverage of the actual issues was thin.

Respondents had mixed views about coverage of candidates' moral character (30 percent too much, 34 percent too little, 33 percent just right) and who is leading in the polls (37 percent too little, 46 percent just right, 13 percent too little).

An earlier Pew Research survey found relatively strong interest among voters in the 2016 presidential campaign. The amount of coverage is less likely to weigh down close followers of the election (41 percent) and more likely to fatigue those who are barely paying attention (69 percent).

The next few weeks will be chock-full of political coverage as Republicans and Democrats hold their national conventions to nominate their standard bearers. But the 2016 Olympics start in August, which could provide a short reprieve before a barrage of political TV ads begin in the fall.

Buyer Personas Bridge Market Research and Marketing

One way to bridge market research and marketing is collaboration  to build buyer personas that humanize your target audience and give you insight into their motivation and source of influences.

One way to bridge market research and marketing is collaboration  to build buyer personas that humanize your target audience and give you insight into their motivation and source of influences.

Constructing buyer personas is a great way to close the gap between market research and marketing.

Buyer personas built from solid market research help marketers understand their target audience, how and where to connect with them and the journey they take to become buyers. Buyer personas also make buyers more human and less like ciphers, a quality that goes a long way in the marketplace of the 21st century.

The path to red-blooded buyer personas is to talk formally or informally with every kind of buyer imaginable: current buyers, previous buyers, buyers who stopped buying and super buyers who influence other buyers. Their comments about your product, service, quality and customer experience can paint a telling picture and a real-life video of the buyer journey.

For the picture to be more than a sketch, the market research needs to dig deeper than superficial observations about product characteristics and customer behavior. Market research must probe the “why" behind what customers do at different stages of the buyer journey so buyer personas reflect motivation, sources of influence and trigger points.

Once constructed, buyer personas represent an invaluable tool to segment customers for customized marketing outreach, product offerings, targeted discounts and purchasing options.

Well developed buyer personas don’t belong on the shelf or buried in a desk drawer. They should be the equivalent of having an actual customer sitting on the corner of a marketer's desk whispering into his or her ear.

Few may dispute the value of buyer personas, but many marketers overlook or ignore them in doing their jobs. Buyer personas can get in the way of a great marketing idea or message.

One solution to the disconnect between market research and marketing departments is to work together in fashioning buyer personas. The portraits from collaborative thinking are likely to be even more three dimensional than from isolated or strictly statistical market research. The conversations with present, past and potential buyers can explore marketing concepts to test their viability and bake in the findings to buyer persona portraits.

Perhaps the greatest contribution for marketers from buyer personas is a human-scale map of where to track down their ideal customers. Great content, useful information and fantastic offers can fall flat if they don’t reach their intended audience. Understanding your own buyer personas can help chart the map to find and connect with your customers. 

Dr. Oz and Crowd-Sourced Diet Soda Substitutes

Breaking an addiction to diet soda requires a plan, including what to drink instead. A great way to find acceptable substitutes is to stage a focus group consisting of diet soda drinkers who sip and assess alternatives.

Breaking an addiction to diet soda requires a plan, including what to drink instead. A great way to find acceptable substitutes is to stage a focus group consisting of diet soda drinkers who sip and assess alternatives.

Dr. Oz displayed a great use of crowd-sourced research on a recent show about how to escape addiction to diet sodas by finding taste-worthy alternatives..

After describing research that explains why diet soda drinkers are more prone to protruding midriffs, Dr. Oz introduced a three-point plan to help people gradually scale back their heavy daily diet soda consumption. A key component of the plan is finding a healthier, similar tasting substitute beverage.

His solution: Ask his Dr. Oz Show production staff, which includes diet soda drinkers, to taste-test potential alternatives. After sipping a dozen or so options, his crew came up with four they liked and would drink in place of a diet soda.

Footage of the taste test that was aired showed younger and more senior staff members eagerly swigging sample sizes of various drinks and comparing their relative features. Some, they said, were too sugary. Others lacked carbonation. One or two provoked chokes. A few satisfied their diet soda cravings.

It was like watching a focus group on television. In fact, it was a focus group. An informal one without a facilitator, but definitely a focus group.

For people unaccustomed to this staple of market research, focus groups are used to assess product ideas and features, as well as for the promotion and advertising of products. Each focus group consists of a few people – usually between eight and 12 – who are given a chance to view, touch, feel or taste a product. They can be infants playing with toys or adults trying out virtual reality headsets.

Focus groups, unlike polls, don’t produce findings that can be reliably reduced to percentages. Their purpose is to provide personal perceptions of how a product looks, feels, works or tastes. Focus group participants also can be a good reality check on whether a product is something they would actually buy and use.

Dr. Oz made a wise choice in his selection of a focus group to hunt for a diet soda replacement. Focus groups aren’t the solution for every research challenge, but in this case focus groups were the smart choice. People who drank diet sodas, some of them addictively, sampled alternatives and gave honest appraisals of what they would drink instead as they weaned off their diet soda habit. They were the perfect representative sample. And their reactions were real and immediate.

That information was a credibility-builder for Dr. Oz’ three-part plan. Urging people to go from five diet sodas or more a day to one and eventually none may sound great, but it clearly is a hard habit to break. Finding a healthier substitute can make the weaning process more achievable and, as a result, the objective of getting rid of unwanted belly fat more attainable. But the diet soda substitute needs to pass the taste test.

The Dr. Oz Show may be an untypical learning laboratory for market research, but the diet soda sampling underscored the value of crowd-sourced research – not just for products or product alternatives, but also for real-world decision-making, including how to break an addiction to diet soda.

A Heaping Helping of KFC’s Comedy Colonels

The always bronze George Hamilton is the latest in the carousel of Colonel Sanders characters in a new, buzzy KFC TV ad campaign. Hamilton is the new face for KFC’s extra crispy chicken.

The always bronze George Hamilton is the latest in the carousel of Colonel Sanders characters in a new, buzzy KFC TV ad campaign. Hamilton is the new face for KFC’s extra crispy chicken.

Keeping track of who wears KFC’s Colonel Sanders iconic white suit is becoming as hard as holding on to a greasy fried chicken leg.

The latest addition to the cast is George Hamilton who depicts, with a certain unsettling realism, Extra Crispy Colonel Sanders. Hamilton follows in the footsteps of Darrell Hammond, Norm Macdonald and Jim Gaffigan to assume the Southern fried charm of KFC founder Harland Sanders who died in 1980.

The rotating Colonels is an attempt by the restaurant chain to add zip and lightheartedness to its TV ads. KFC Chief Marketing Officer Keven Hochman says, “Just like no one person can play the Colonel, no one Colonel can sell both Original Recipe and Extra Crispy fried chicken.” In the sequence of ads, the Macdonald and Gaffigan “Colonels” call their predecessors an impostor and a bad dream, respectively.

Who will be the next Colonel Sanders in KFC's clever marketing campaign?

Who will be the next Colonel Sanders in KFC's clever marketing campaign?

KFC has trafficked in Sanders’ image before. There was an animated Colonel in TV commercials from 1998-2001 with Randy Quaid’s voice.

Jim Gaffigan made a bold impression in his round as Colonel Sanders.

Jim Gaffigan made a bold impression in his round as Colonel Sanders.

Unquestionably the new actor-shifting Colonel routine has attracted notice and brought some fun to the KFC brand, but not everyone is happy. Some traditional KFC consumers find it disrespectful to have a carousel of Colonels replace the original brand ambassador.

Norm Macdonald brought his signature comedy style to the role, as each of his successors continues to do.

Norm Macdonald brought his signature comedy style to the role, as each of his successors continues to do.

Sanders may not have minded. In his lifetime, he worked as a steam engine stoker, insurance salesman, teamster in Cuba, lawyer and ferry boat operator before setting up a roadside stand next to a gas station in Kentucky to hawk his special recipe fried chicken. Viewed by some as a dandy Southern gentleman, Sanders was actually born in Indiana and spent much of his life away from Kentucky, including in Canada. He learned to cook after his father died, his mother was forced to take a job and he was left to care for his younger siblings. 

Many of Sanders’ occupations ended abruptly. He was fired as an insurance salesman for insubordination. His legal career ended after a brawl with a client.

There is plenty of evidence that Sanders was a character, but no trace that he told funny jokes, so the selection of an SNL regular, a Canadian stand-up comic and an American jokester who makes fun of fatherhood might seem questionable choices to carry on his legacy. George Hamilton is close to unthinkable, which is why his Colonel Sanders get-up features an unbuttoned white shirt with no tie.

Ironically, Hamilton makes the most sense as Colonel Sanders’ face for extra crispy chicken. "I like to think I know a thing or two about being extra crispy,” says the Hollywood actor known for his bronzed appearance. “It didn’t take long for me to get into character. One could argue that my entire career has been leading up to this role.” 

Instead of breezy ads, KFC might consider commissioning someone to make a movie about Sanders, though it may have to tone down the part about the Colonel throwing food on the floor, swearing and denouncing the restaurant chain he founded and was paid to promote in his adopted uniform. Sanders described KFC’s reformulated gravy as tasting like “wallpaper paste” and “sludge.”

A colorful character who once was almost a victim in a shootout involving a competitor was officially commissioned as a colonel in Kentucky and became a sort of cult figure. There is even a Japanese twist called the “Curse of the Colonel” that began when his statue was mistakenly tossed into a river causing the Hansin Tigers baseball team to go into a prolonged tailspin.

When Sanders died at age 90 in 1980, his body lay in state at the Kentucky state capitol and more than 1,000 people attended his funeral. Of course, Sanders was buried wearing his trademark white suit and string tie.

Metaphorically Speaking, Showing and Thinking

Metaphors, like this one about gay marriage, touch the familiar and trigger emotions that can persuade, explain or entertain. Some of the most powerful metaphors are visuals that elegantly make a point with few or no words.

Metaphors, like this one about gay marriage, touch the familiar and trigger emotions that can persuade, explain or entertain. Some of the most powerful metaphors are visuals that elegantly make a point with few or no words.

Getting noticed is getting harder. With a lot of money, you can pummel your audience with advertising, assuming they are still tuning in where the advertising is placed. Without a lot of money, the best course is to penetrate the brains of your intended audience wherever they are.

Metaphors are a proven path into people’s brains. By piggybacking onto something familiar and that you can sense, your message has a better chance to get noticed, triggering a memory and evoking an emotion. Neuroscientists have found that emotional responses are accompanied by physical reactions, which are key to actual decision-making.

Journalist and writer James Geary said in a TED Talk that “metaphor lives a secret life all around us. We utter six metaphors a minute. Metaphorical thinking is essential to how we understand ourselves and others, how we communicate, learn, discover and invent. Metaphor is a way of thought before it is a way with words.”

Linguist Adele Goldberg says a familiar line such as “that was a sweet comment" can activate human taste centers and the portion of the brain linked to fear or pleasure. The phrase touches emotions and memory. More importantly, it sticks because our subconsciousness tends to be literal.

Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick point out the value of “concrete” references to create mental “stickiness.” Something is concrete, according to the Heath brothers, when it can be “described or detected by human senses.” One example – a V-8 engine is a concrete reference contrasted to a high-performance engine, which is more abstract.

Metaphors add concrete to what you say. Instead of noting a box of movie popcorn contains 20 grams of fat, you could more persuasively say the box contains more fat than a bacon and eggs breakfast, Big Mac lunch and steak dinner combined. People know what fat is, but they can taste, see and smell bacon and eggs, a hamburger and a steak.

Writing for ragan.com, Nick Morgan said metaphors reach the senses with “sweet lines, loud opinions, beautiful phrases, soft poetry and smelly scenes.” Put another way, metaphors put abstract concepts into concrete – and more familiar and digestible – terms.

While we commonly think of metaphors as words, pictures and symbols are often more powerful metaphors. Icons are a great example. We see a light bulb icon and our minds associate it with a “bright idea” or “innovation.” Familiar shapes or visual devices serve as handy metaphors, such as faces of clocks, luggage tags and party invites. Their shape sends a message our minds receive.

Visual metaphors help propel the eye through visual explanations and infographics. Metaphors also can take the form of familiar formats like a flipchart or a website with easy-to-find navigation that enhance user experience and lessen frustration over finding what they want. Pattern recognition can be a key to people’s willingness to explore or engage.

And there is such a thing as an anti-metaphor, which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Writers refer to it as a “man-bites-dog” statement that startles a listener. Geary’s example: “Some jobs are jails.” The juxtaposition isn’t familiar, but the imagery is concrete and the meaning is clear.

Metaphors can help you get noticed, make your point and earn valuable media coverage. Hillary Clinton showed how in her speech this week taking aim at Donald Trump’s business record. “He's written a lot of books about business,” she said. “They all seem to end at Chapter 11."

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

The Blistering Battle Over Facts

Trust in science and the scientific community is declining as people cling to pseudoscientific beliefs that align with their intuition, cultural domain or politics.

Trust in science and the scientific community is declining as people cling to pseudoscientific beliefs that align with their intuition, cultural domain or politics.

TV detective Joe Friday asked for “just the facts.” Today, facts are under siege as science and pseudoscience wage war to win the public’s confidence.

Atul Gawande, a former surgeon and public health researcher writing for The New Yorker, explores why science has gotten a bad rap, even as scientific knowledge has exponentially expanded, producing health breakthroughs, breathtaking discoveries in space and practical advances that have improved our everyday lives.

“People are prone to resist scientific claims when they clash with intuitive beliefs,” Gawande writes. A mom who says her child was fine until he was vaccinated and then was diagnosed as autistic becomes more believable than scientific evidence rejecting any causal relationship.

Gawande cites “deeply alarming trends” unearthed by sociologist Gordon Gauchat who tracked survey data from 1974 and 2010 that reflected an increase in distrust of the scientific community. The increase was most marked among political conservatives, even those with college degrees. “In 1974, conservatives with college degrees had the highest level of trust in science and the scientific community,” Gauchat found. “Today, they have the least.”

Gauchat explained cultural domains “generating their own knowledge base that is often in conflict with the cultural authority of the scientific community.” Some of the homespun “science” comes from religious groups. But increasingly, industry manufactures pseudo facts as part of disinformation campaigns to discredit scientific findings on climate change or the evidence behind new regulations.

And Gauchat says this isn’t just a conservative phenomenon. Political liberals are skeptical of the medical establishment and challenge data showing genetically modified crops have done more good than harm.

“As varied as these groups are, they are all alike in one way,” Gawande concludes. “They all harbor sacred beliefs that they do not consider open to question.”

In the world of pseudoscience, conspiracy theories reign. There are fake experts. Data is cherry-picked. Logical fallacies abound. And real research is mocked as inadequate or insufficient. Real science doesn’t make facts easy to discern with clunky peer review processes, obscure journals and out-of-context press releases.

Gawande notes that attacking pseudoscience has the perverse effect of strengthening the resolve of the disciples of false facts. He points to research that shows efforts to debunk bad science backfires, in part because it helps to spread the false facts more broadly.

A better approach to bolster credible scientific findings, he says, is to point out their benefits. Instead of disputing the autism-from-vaccination claim, focus on the positive outcomes of vaccines to eliminate many childhood diseases, which can be demonstrated by localized situations where vaccinations decline and diseases such as measles recurred.

Gawande says it also is important “to expose the bad science tactics that are being used to mislead people.” This requires teaching people – all people – to have a scientific perspective on weighing facts.

“Having a scientific understanding of the world is fundamentally about how you judge which information to trust,” Gawande says. “It doesn’t mean poring through the evidence on every question yourself. You can’t.” You can’t simply trust someone with credentials. Good science, Gawande explains, is social science where a hive mentality swarms findings, tests and retests theories and inches toward factual understanding. Or as Max Planck dryly observed, “science advances one funeral at a time.”

More than ever before, Gawande concludes, “how you think matters.” Facts aren’t rooted in ideology and aren’t confirmed by intuition. Facts emerge from ”curiosity, inquisitiveness, openness and discipline.” In other words, from healthy skepticism and real scientific inquiry.