A few days ago I posted about the concept of customer engagement (Branding, Customer Engagement, and Neuromarketing) and in particular some work done by the Gallup organization which, using an fMRI study, demonstrated that more engaged customers had higher levels of activation in specific brain areas when they were asked questions about the brand. What about voter engagement? One study that I’d love to see (and wouldn’t it be great publicity for Gallup?) is an fMRI comparison of supporters of front-running Democratic presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. Specifically, I think it would be fascinating to compare the level of “customer engagement” with each candidate.
I think we’d see that Clinton, currently leading in the polls, has less engagement than Obama. Some of Gallup’s customer engagement questions about pride in association, level of trust, etc., would work almost equally well in the political arena. It seems likely that Clinton has drawn a lot of her support based on rational consideration by her supporters – she has the best state-by-state organization, she has the most money and strongest fundraising machine, she has the highest name recognition, and so on. Obama, meanwhile, seems to draw much support on a more emotional basis – he’s fresh, he seems to be less political and more trustworthy, he has no Whitewaters and Vince Fosters in his background… Watching public appearances, Obama’s supporters certainly look more engaged.
This dichotomy is already affecting the campaigns. Notably, the unofficial “Hilary 1984” video created by a video geek related to the Obama campaign drives the point home by comparing Clinton supporters to the mindless drones of Apple’s classic 1984 commercial. The comparison is particularly apt – even decades after the 1984 commercial aired, Apple still inspires passion in its users, while Microsoft, the embodiment of Apple’s foes now that the PC hardware and even CPU markets are divided, survives for rational reasons: more application software, more developers, more trained network engineers, more scalable corporate networks, etc. Sure, Microsoft has supporters who get emotional, but the average PC user doesn’t have a tenth of the passion about their computer that a Mac user does.
If an fMRI study showed that Obama supporters were far more engaged with their candidate than Clinton’s, would that let us predict a winner? Probably not – keep in mind that despite Apple’s emotional appeal to its users, they have put only the tiniest dent in Microsoft’s share of the PC market. Sometimes, apparently, rational and boring criteria for decision-making trump emotions.