On November 8, 2016 we learned a valuable lesson. Well, we learned a few valuable lessons, but the one that we can actually do something about has to do with polls. Or, more specifically, surveys.
We have to stop relying on surveys for any information. They’re just not reliable.
In the weeks leading up to the presidential election in the United States, almost every poll showed Hillary Clinton winning the nomination. It seemed to make perfect sense that she would become the 45th president.
And then she didn’t.
Everyone was stunned. Plenty of Republicans couldn’t believe that they had succeeded in taking both the congressional majority and the presidency. Nothing we were told from our journalism sources predicted this outcome. Even the reliable ones.
It’s not solely the fault of news sources or journalists that their polls missed the mark. They can only ask the questions and hope for the best representative sample. But they do have to take some responsibility for continuing to use polls and surveys as a way to predict human behavior. We all do.
Surveys don’t work. For a lot of reasons, but mostly because people aren’t honest. We cannot answer most questions with correct information. Either through intentional lying or an ignorance to our own biases, humans will not accurately predict our own behavior.
And none of this is new information. We know we can’t count on people to predict their own behavior, or the reasons why they’re acting that way. So why are we continuing to use surveys as if they provide any real value?
Probably because that’s what we do. We won’t quit something — even if we know it’s bad — until there’s something new to fill the void.
But it’s a habit that is dangerous and one we wouldn’t practice in any other situation in life.
If you were driving in the wrong direction, once you figured it out, you don’t just keep going until you figure out a new route. You turn around. You pull out a map. At the very least, you turn the car around.
Somehow in media and marketing, we’ve doubled down on the wrong direction — maybe hoping that at some point we will have circled back to the right thing or the better thing. But it’s not going to happen. We have to stop craving uninformed information just because it confirms our bias or the result that we’re hoping for. We have to stop asking questions of people who don’t have the answers.
So what do we do instead? How do we prove our ideas are valid or that they’ll resonate with our audiences?
Simple. Go back to being the expert of your own product or your own brand. You tell your story. You lead with honesty and authenticity. You behave the way you’re hoping that your audience will.
Don’t worry about what people are thinking. You come up with the best strategy and execution of your ideas based on the facts from the past and your vision for the future. And never again ask a single other person whether or not they’d like it because they have no idea.