Big Data

What businesses can learn from political campaigns about using big data

Chris Wilson of WPA Intelligence explains how businesses could use predictive analytics to target customers, much like how political campaigners use targeting of potential voters.

CNET's Dan Patterson interviewed Chris Wilson, CEO of WPA Intelligence, about how businesses can learn from the evolution of big data analytics in politics. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Campaign 2018: Election Hacking is a weekly series from TechRepublic sibling sites, CBS News & CNET, about the cyber-threats and vulnerabilities of the 2018 midterm election.

Dan Patterson: What can businesses learn from how politics is not just using big data, but evolving with big data?

Chris Wilson: That's a great question. I think the first one is because we in campaigns, we really are building a company that either survives or goes out of business on one day, and one day... I mean, early voting kind of makes this a little bit different, but one day we have that we have to get more similar products than our opponent, or we're gone. Think about it that way. What if CBS, if they had one day in which they had to have more viewers than a rival network or you're out of business, you'd be really focused on that. I think it causes a level of focus and a level of targeting that most businesses don't really factor into what they do, and so when I go and work with an individual company, usually I'm brought in from a public affairs perspective, help them solve a problem they may have, and then along the way someone will say, "Well, you know, that's really interesting. Could you help us sell more dog food?" Well, yeah, I could build a predictive model, people who are likely to buy dog food. Oh gosh, never thought about that.

It's remarkable to me how little individual targeting is utilized in a corporate perspective. I think that just stems from most advertising firms, whether they're big national firms or small local ones in a market like Oklahoma City where I happen to live, are primarily focused on buying ads the way they always have.

We were talking earlier about the CBS over-the-top-platform, in which you can go in and target people individually. You know who's watching that, and the utilization to that, and you mentioned CBS now has the largest viewership in that category, the fact that you probably don't have... My bet is those ads today cost far less than buying an ad on CBS national, and it shouldn't.

I mean, really the value of that to me as someone who helps target people individually, that over-the-top- targeting and that over-the-top-ad is so much more valuable than if I were to go just buy a national ad that goes to everybody, because I know who's seen it. I know if they did see it or they didn't see it and I think the reluctance of businesses to adapt that as aggressively as politics has is myopic on their part.

SEE: Data center automation research report 2018: Despite growth in data, automation adoption remains slow (Tech Pro Research)

Dan Patterson: Pandering always works. All right. Last question, easy. Beto or Cruz? What's your take?

Chris Wilson: My take is Beto O'Rourke, he's become a national phenomenon in the media and that national phenomenon, the reason why the media writes about him is what has now made him the most unpopular statewide figure in Texas. He has the higher unfavorables of anybody running for office statewide this year in Texas, and it's because of the stance he's taken that causes all the reporters from New York to go down and gush over him and write all these glowing profiles and he goes out and he goes on Ellen's show, and every time he does that his unfaves tick up a little bit higher. So, I think that's point number one.

Point number two is as you know, I've got many friends who do what I do on the Democratic side. There's a real frustration with that campaign because it's seen as sort of a vanity suicide mission, but the problem is he's making it into a murder-suicide in the sense that he's raised $38 million last cycle, but as he raises that money, there's not an infinite amount of money going into Democratic campaigns this year. There's more than there has been before, but it's still not infinite, so a dollar that goes into an O'Rourke campaign that's going to lose in November is coming out of a Heitkamp in North Dakota or a McCaskill in Missouri or a Sinema in Arizona or a Rosen in Nevada or a Tester in Montana where they might actually be able to win.

Now, I'm involved in all those races so I think they're all going to lose, but having said that, I do think that that's really a problem. And so you have those campaigns that are not raising money anywhere near, and yesterday you may have seen O'Rourke made the announcement that he's not going to share any money with other democratic campaigns. I wasn't exactly shocked by that, but he wouldn't have said that if someone hadn't gone and asked. I think that is really the factor of what's happening. Somebody made a joke the other day to me that, "Well, maybe he has a republican plant trying to just suck up money from democratic donors to keep it from going other places." I say, "We're not that smart, but if we had, it was a brilliant strategy."

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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