Archive for January, 2008

David Pogue wonders about the Macintosh Surge

David Pogue has recently attempted to explain the Macintosh Surge, and solicited opinions about it:

The comments, hundreds of them!, are a primer on WOM and should be read by anyone interested in WOM.

(Those of you who go to the WOMMA conventions: remember when I got up and challenged the Vista product manager to give me a single reason to switch to Vista, instead of a contest to win a trip to the moon!)

In part, here’s what he says:

At the risk of enraging the Apple bashers, I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer: Something is going on with the Macintosh.

At this week’s Macworld Expo, there were 475 exhibitors. That’s 100 more booths than last year.

There were 50,000 attendees. That’s 10,000 more people than last year.

A book publisher told me that 2007 Macintosh book sales were up by double-digit leaps over the previous year.

Gartner’s fourth-quarter 2007 research shows that Mac shipments grew 28 percent over the year before, giving it an 6.1 percent market share. (It was 3-point-something only a couple of years ago.)

According to Net Applications, use of the Mac’s Web browser, Safari, climbed 32 percent in 2007.

Apple sold 2.16 million Macs in the last quarter–a new company record.

And anecdotally—well, you probably know somebody who’s switched to the Mac recently.

What is going on?

He rejects the IPod (and by implication iPhone) halo effects.

He rejects the “fed up with viruses and spyware” argument.

He says that the best theory is “Windows Vista.” “When people found out they’d have to buy a new computer and learn a new interface, a certain slice of them just said, ‘Well, if I have to buy a new machine and learn a new interface, I may as well get the cool-looking, virus-free one.’

He goes on to ask, ”But could that effect explain this gigantic 35 percent leap in just 12 months? It’s still an expensive proposition to switch platforms once you’ve got an investment in software and peripherals.

Anyone else got a better theory?“

What he didn’t mention:

He and other gurus now openly support the Mac.

A HUGE increase in the Mac notebook share of market.

The ability for Macs to co-exist on Windows networks.

The seamless integration between the iPhone and/or iPods, email programs, iPhoto, ITunes, IMovie, iCal (the Mac calendar).

Some programs that are Mac-only that are so good that it’s worth switching for them. For me, they are DevonThink Pro (a free-form database that you can dump all your info into and retrieve with artificial intelligence — and a whole lot more) and Scrivener, an authoring program for articles, scripts and books that goes light years beyond word processing by separating info gathering, writing and formatting into totally separate processes. Quicksilver — the most useful program I’ve ever used that is so all-purpose that I can’t even describe it adequately. (But, here’s a try: with a couple of keystrokes, it lets me instantaneously find any file, move it, open it, launch programs, add text to files without even opening them, send emails, look up phone numbers, plus dozens of other things without even thinking.) Plus, Keynote is way better than PowerPoint. Plus some technically advanced photography programs that I can’t even go into.

in addition, the upcoming arrival (which he did mention in another post) of MacSpeech Dictate, the super-accurate speech recognition program, and the even better implementation of Microsoft Word 2008 on the Mac than Word 2007 on Windows itself! also make the Mac much more attractive, and well worth the learning curve.

Here’s my take:

His premise is wrong. He is looking for something that has recently changed to explain it all.

PC vs. Mac is the largest word-of-mouth disparity that I have found in decades of studying word of mouth. I’ve been predicting this surge for years because nothing can withstand the degree of negative word of mouth that Windows and Microsoft have, especially against such a positive WOM alternative.

As I’ve reported before, when I give a speech and talk about this, I ask the audience how many people use Windows. Then I ask, knowing what they know now, how many of them think they would switch to a Mac for their next machine if it were feasible to run their Windows programs, or make an easy switch, if it didn’t cost them much in money or time. At least 80% of them say they would, if their companies would only let them. This much pent-up demand is screaming to be satisfied.

But for the first time, it’s becoming ever more easily satisfied.

What has held it back is that Apple has ”knowledge blindness“ and doesn’t understand how onerous people imagine the switch to be. Apple doesn’t understand that most people don’t even know what an operating system is, and don’t want to. Apple doesn’t understand all the things they could be doing to ease the switch and think they are doing all they can.

The ”Tipping Point“ is arriving.

Gradually, these decision barriers have been coming down. Required, legacy Windows programs can be run on the Mac, so businesses can use it. Famous Windows mavins, and regular IT people are encouraging their non-geek spouses, children, friends and grandmothers to buy Macs, so they don’t have to be bothered by phone calls. The technology mavins like Pogue  himself and Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal have finally come out of the closet and no longer afraid to say that the Mac is much better. The Mac kids are growing up. The last few areas missing Mac programs, such as voice recognition and GPS mapping, now have Mac alternatives, often better ones. And now, they keep hearing how easy it all is to switch. Apple is porting over files from PCs at Apple stores. More complete switching support would be even better, but it’s coming along. Apple stores themselves have revolutionized retailing. More of people’s friends are able to offer support, as are stores and consultants. Apple offers a $99 one-year series of private, weekly lessons in how to do YOUR things on the Mac. It’s turned many people I know from people who hate the computer, to people who have fun on it and produce cool things that spread the word of mouth.

Example: My wife — who barely tolerated and rarely used her Windows computer — has been having a ball doing the things she is learning in those lessons. She has produced our Holiday cards on it, stunning picture and all. Of course, on the back of each card, it says ”Made on a Mac“ (which could have been optionally removed, but we are Mac fans).

Gradually, the word of mouth is reaching critical mass, so that a large number of people keep hearing from people they know and trust that the switch will be painless and supported. In addition, they keep seeing all the cool things that their friends can do: the movies, greeting cards, coffee-table picture books, web sites, picture galleries, etc.

So, the answer, David, in summary, is that you are seeing a surge now because of the exponential effects of word of mouth. At some point, it reaches critical mass, then everyone asks, ”what’s new,“ looks around for an event, and points to the most obvious or most proximal. There is no single event. The so-called ”tipping point“ is made possible by all of these events, plus the removal of most of the under-appreciated barriers to switching.

Apple creates WOMworthy products (spectacularly simple, elegant yet powerful) that makes people feel very good about themselves, creating word of mouth. AND — the reason that the geeks don’t understand — we are reaching the point where real people are viewing the switch as less onerous. What technical people see as an adventure and ”not a problem“ is becoming actually just about tolerable and only minimally painful for the rest of the world..

At some point WOM grows exponentially, so look for the surge to turn into an explosion in Mac sales at some point in the very near future, if Apple doesn’t get too arrogant and shoot itself in the foot, which it could easily do, since it is product oriented (in the best sense) rather than people oriented. When they make mistakes, that’s where they tend to make them.

One last point. Imagine what would happen if the Mac OS could run Windows programs natively, without virtualization software and without Windows. Apple would take over the market overnight.

George Silverman

Word-of-Mouth Marketing Speaker and Consultant

The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

main website:    blog:

Beware the Oracles

Listening to the pundits speculate about why the polls failed to predict the Clinton win in New Hampshire, why they had prematurely counted out McCain, Huckabee and Obama, why they had paid so much attention to Thompson and why they can’t call the nominees yet, has caused me to think about experts and expertise, particularly in marketing.

The presidential elections are intensely competitive, often interactive, marketing campaigns. As such, they fascinate me.

For once, the political pundits were talking about something that I know a lot more about than they do. They were talking about marketing research, even though they talked in terms of polls and elections, rather than surveys and purchases. Polls = surveys and elections = a purchase, or product selection. What’s different is that in elections, the products talk (I know, the analogy breaks down with Elmo).

What was amazing to me is that there were the pundits doing exactly the same thing as marketing executives, agency executives and consultants that I have been observing for decades. They blindly project past behavior and intentional data (what people say they will do) into the future. They are very, very often wrong. But they are highly paid, so they have to look right. So what do they do? They make up plausible stories.

Sometimes, they even go out and find the data that will back up their stories. What’s going on here?

The network’s producers call up an expert who they are about to book for a show. They ask that expert what he/she thinks. Producers are not going to provide an airplane and limousine to the studio for an expert who was simply going to say, “we just don’t know.” They want people with definite opinions, strongly held. They want controversy. They want plausibility. The pundits are all too willing to provide that. They spin out plausible explanations with great certainty.

The same is true with the marketing pundits, when they are making predictions.

I’m standing up, like that little boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes, and telling you there’s nothing there. They don’t have a clue.

Not when they’re explaining the past or predicting the future or describing the present. Why? Because there is much more that they don’t know than they do know. Furthermore, they don’t know it, because if they knew it, they would know it. You don’t know what you don’t know. So, while do you know that you don’t know some things, you severely underestimate the things that you don’t know.

So, they are saying things like the Clinton voters showed up in greater numbers than were expected because they were angered by other candidates ganging up on Hillary, or because of Hillary’s becoming choked up. Never mind that this was not reflected in the exit polls. They quote their mothers, their friends, or passersby in the streets.

The actual experts in polling, who are, for the most part, pretty dull and therefore don’t make it to television interviews, are saying that it was probably the Bradley effect (blacks do worse in the actual elections and they do in the polls), or the fact that lower income people to not like to be interviewed and have a higher refusal rate, and favor Clinton. They would be likely to refuse both polls prior to the election, and exit polls. These, to me, are the most likely explanations, but they are not as politically correct as other explanations. Notice that I said “most likely.” The so-called experts rarely use this or equivalent phrases. The fact is, that we don’t know, and may never know.

So, what are we to do? In politics, we have to make predictions. In business, we have to make forecasts. One very successful marketing vice president, who came up from marketing research, when I asked him once about forecasting said, “give them a date, and give them a number, but never, ever at the same time.”

I used to be asked, “Based on the focus groups, will the product be successful?” I suspect that my answers were rather disappointing. Now, I am never asked that question because I make it clear beforehand that focus groups and surveys can’t predict a product’s success, although they can sometimes predict a product’s failure when there is a fundamental flaw in the product. There are just too many things that have to go right for success. For instance, there is no way to predict what competitors will do. What if an iPod or an iPhone comes along? What if you are Alta Vista, doing a great job, and a Google comes along?

There are last-moment, decisive factors that hit people when they are in the privacy of the voting booth, or are about to click their product choice, or standing at the shelf in the store.

People do not know what they are going to do. They don’t know what they will buy or not buy (or vote). They do not know how strongly held their preferences are. They do not know “what it would take to get you to buy the product,” a favorite, stupid question that marketers like to ask. Or, “On a scale of one to 10, 1 being least likely and 10 being certain, how likely are you to vote for your previous choice.?” (Who says there are no stupid questions?)

If people (including pollsters) can’t predict their own behavior, how do you think they’re going to predict others’?

So, what can focus groups, polls and surveys tell us? They can tell us about many obvious and hidden attitudes, opinions, beliefs, wishes, fears, etc. that may need to be addressed. They can tell us, for instance, that people are frustrated because their music libraries are a mess. They can tell us that the iTunes/iPod system of keeping them organized addresses that frustration. They can’t tell you that these will displace the ubiquitous Walkmans and CD players. They can’t tell you that these will take over the music industry.

They can’t tell you that an obscure Arkansas governor (Bill Clinton) can go up against a wildly popular president who just won the Gulf War (1), who the Democrats were despairing about running against, and who had lost the first primaries, could go on to win the presidency.

The Taurus, wildly popular in its time, was ridiculed as a “jelly bean” in focus groups. The VW bug, as well as its revived version decades later, was also ridiculed, but found its niche, who probably weren’t well represented in the surveys and focus groups. Respondents loved the Edsel and New Coke.

The Oracles are frauds. Predicting is a con game. Historians are fiction writers. Stock pickers are just racetrack touts. Forecasting is only on target by chance. Get it?

Sometimes, you just have to refine your guesses by marketing research, then put them out into the marketplace and let reality decide.

The main lesson: Clues are clues. Reality is reality. Sometimes they coincide. Sometimes… You get the picture.

Using Online Networks for Market Research Can Be Dangerous

In an article last Monday in the Wall Street Journal, reporter Emily Steel described the growing trend of using online social networks — both existing and company-encouraged — for marketing research. It’s a very dangerous trend, as I point out in my letter to her. Many companies are headed for disaster if they give undue weight to the opinions expressed on their online networks.


Very much enjoyed your article The New Focus Groups: Online Networks.

However, it didn’t cover the major pitfalls, of which there are many. (Full disclosure: I am a marketing consultant who runs face-to-face focus groups and telephone focus groups. I’m a founder of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association and member of its Professionalism Committee, although I am speaking officially for neither.)

I have rejected the methodology of online groups for reasons enumerated in detail in the following article:

In brief, the written word does not allow for the reading of emotions that live focus groups do, and the reading of these emotions is absolutely necessary for the interpretation of the results. (E.g., How enthusiastic are they? Are they hesitant? Are their remarks ironic and sarcastic? Are they coming from their heads or hearts? Are they mildly annoyed or royally pissed off?)

However, these kinds of standing panels have a problem that I didn’t discuss in the article. It is one of sample bias. As you describe, people are continually dropping out of the group and being replenished. This severely skews the kind of people who remain in the panel, in ways that are virtually impossible to account for in interpreting the findings. It is well known that participators are radically different than non-participators and ex-participators. For instance, probably the more enthusiastic and/or more lonely people (including social misfits) tend to stay in. So, you keep the enthusiasts, for whom the panel becomes a part of their social life (as mentioned in your article). They are sometimes less prone to criticize, but sometimes more prone to criticize. The point is, one never knows. But as this sample becomes more and more distorted and unrepresentative of real customers, you have a disaster waiting to happen.

On the other hand, these panels are a wonderful source of ideas and a way to make sure that certain actions and wording do not antagonize loyal customers.. But they are notoriously unpredictive of success in the marketplace. The Edsel automobile and New Coke are but two of many examples of going to the wrong people and asking the wrong questions. Many of the .com failures were guided by discussions on company forums, forgetting that most real people to not hang out on forums, especially for prolonged periods of time.

I hope that, as a reporter, you will follow this phenomenon. You will have many juicy disasters to cover. When you ask, “What were they thinking and why were they thinking it?” I hope that you will keep this letter in mind when they tell you “That’s what our customers told us they wanted.”

Best regards,


George Silverman

President and Founder,

Market Navigation, Inc.

Word of Mouth Consultants

Author of “The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing: How to Trigger

Exponential Sales Through Runaway Word of Mouth” AMACOM

Sometimes you want to tell everybody! Why?

Here is an old joke, that I’m not telling for the humor. I’m telling it to make a point.

An elderly man goes into confession and says to the priest, “Father, I’m 80 years old, married, have four kids and 11 grandchildren, and last night I had an affair. I made love to two 21 year old girls. Both of them. Twice.”

The priest said: “Well, my son, when was the last time you were in confession?”

“Never Father, I’m Jewish.”

“So then, why are you telling me?”

“Are you kidding? I’m telling everybody!”

When you understand what is driving that man, you will understand more about marketing than you can possibly learn in all the marketing books put together. More about this in future blog posts, but there is breaking news that I want to “tell everybody!.”

On Tuesday, at MacWorld, a product was officially announced that I have been beta testing. This releases me to talk about some details that have been publicly revealed, although I still can’t talk about many of the other details.

MacSpeech has announced a completely new voice dictation product for the Mac. One that is so accurate that it can be used by professional writers.

For those of you who don’t know what voice dictation is, or who don’t yet appreciate its significance, let me explain. Simply, you talk and your words magically appear on the screen, like in a science fiction movie.

I have been beta testing this new product for the last three weeks. While I have been publicly critical of MacSpeech’s previous product, iListen, this product, MacSpeech Dictate, just blows me away. It has sensational accuracy with only 5 minutes of training. That means that you can dictate into any program on the Mac and have your words appear.

Now I’m a pretty fast Dvorak typist, around 120 wpm.

But, when I’m writing books, articles and speeches, that’s not fast enough, and my arms and hands get tired, even with the 1/16th lower finger movement that Dvorak typing requires (look it up). So I have written my last two books in Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which is a Windows program. At this point, with continual training and corrections, I’ve gotten it beyond 99.7% accuracy. But, I had to maintain a separate Windows machine to do it, which was a great inconvenience, and ruled out voice dictation when I traveled, when I do a lot of my writing.

Ever since it’s been possible, I’ve been running Dragon NaturallySpeaking on my Mac. I has been an acceptable solution, even though it takes considerable memory resources, disk space, and central processing power. It also requires me to run Windows, putting me at considerable risk, even though I have a firewall, anti-spyware software, antivirus software, etc. Windows also requires constant maintenance, and is unstable, so it can’t stay up for days and weeks on end like my Mac. I consider Windows to be an almost criminally unsafe product. Also, I have to continually transfer my dictation into whatever program I’m using, such as my word processor and my e-mail.

None of these drawbacks is terrible, but all of them together add up to considerable inconvenience. Like most Mac users, I can work much longer and conveniently on the Mac side of the machine. The Mac aesthetics are not just a matter of being pretty. The machine is much easier on the eyes, cutting down on fatigue, something that is almost never mentioned.

Then, I broke my arm skiing three weeks ago. I found myself totally dependent upon voice dictation, except that using the trackball to highlight text, copy and paste it was excruciating. In an extraordinary bit of coincidence, MacSpeech happened to send me a beta copy of their new program, MacSpeech Dictate, a couple of days after my accident. I was pretty skeptical, since I found their previous program unacceptable for sustained writing.

Even though some parts of it were still under development, it blew me away. (The MacSpeech people just revealed that it has licensed the Dragon NaturallySpeeking speech recognition engine, and is adapting it to the Mac. So, MacSpeech Dictate is using the Dragon voice recognition engine.) It also dictates right into my word processor, e-mail, writing program (Scrivener) and my blog post editor (Ecto). I can dictate so fast it’s almost frightening. Steven Wright jokes that he got hurt in a speed-reading accident. I feel like I’m about to get injured in a speed writing accident.

What’s so important about writing fast? Time saving is the least of it.

It makes my writing better. The processes of writing and editing should be separated. With voice dictation, I can close my eyes or look at the ceiling and just think my thoughts without distraction. When I look at the screen, there are my thoughts! I can then go back and polish. This has made a dramatic difference in the quality of my writing. Anything that gets in the way of putting thoughts onto paper is a distraction and decreases the quality. With voice dictation finally accurate enough to use on the Mac, all I have to do is think the thought and it magically appears in whatever program I want. Nothing else gets in the way.

Furthermore, my typing speed is about 2-3 times faster, since I make virtually no mistakes and can dictate much faster than I can actually type. So, I can sail through my e-mail at dazzling speed.

This entire blog post was done with MacSpeech Dictate, with well over 99% accuracy.

I want to congratulate the folks at MacSpeech. They are a living lesson in word-of-mouth marketing. I was publicly critical of their previous product. Instead of ignoring me or getting defensive, they contacted me and asked if I would like to work with their technical support in increasing my accuracy. Their technical support put in hours increasing my accuracy, but still, the fundamental design of the program and how it made corrections was just was too unwieldy for me to use. I stayed on as a beta tester mostly on the strength of their Customer Evangelist’s enthusiasm (thanks Chuck Rogers) and complete confidence that things would get better. What they couldn’t tell me was that they were coming out with an entirely new program, based on Dragon.

They were so  customer oriented and enthusiastic about their product that I hung in there with them. As a result, I am now the poster boy for the expression “The biggest skeptic is the biggest convert.” I’m also going to tell thousands of people about the program via my speeches and blog, and demo it every chance I get. I can now also enthusiastically recommend the Mac, since it now has voice dictation. (I would never recommend that anyone but a very sophisticated user put Windows on a Mac.)

My arm is feeling better, but I won’t ever go back to Dragon NaturallySpeaking in Windows. Although I will leave Windows on my Mac just in case I need to run another Windows program, I really don’t think I’m ever going to see Windows defacing my Mac ever again.

WHWL? (What have we learned?)

  • if you’ve got the goods, stay with your strongest critics, work with them, acknowledge that they may be right, take their suggestions. You never know who they will tell, who they know, how many thousands of people they can reach.
  • Get them involved in product improvement. It’s very hard to be a net detractor for a product you have helped develop. They will, however, not be shy about criticizing you, usually constructively.
  • Be straight with customers. Don’t make believe your product is better than it is. if you tell the truth, you’ll always be reality based and fix real things. If you distort, you’ll be fantasy based and start believing your own fantasies. You will break a lot more than you will fix.
  • Make your customers feel like that 80 year old guy. Well, as close as you can get. These days, people only talk about the sensational.

Breaking News: MacSpeech Dictate just received Best of Show at Macworld! Congratulations!

Oh, by the way, the new Apple announcements at Macworld are pretty good too, but you can read about them elsewhere.

George Silverman

Word-of-Mouth Marketing Speaker and Consultant

Author, The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

main website:    blog:

Negative Word of Mouth

January 10, 2008 |  by  |  Word-of-Mouth Marketing  |  No Comments

IThis is a perfect example of negative word of mouth gone viral.


it reminds me that I got up in a word of mouth marketing Association meeting and publicly criticized two Dell and Microsoft  product managers for a presentation in which they each showed how they were creating what I call artificial  word of mouth. As I recall, they were going to create events that people would  talk about, rather than present genuine advantages about their product that were so outstanding that people would talk about them. Later, out in the hall, the Microsoft product manager showed me Vista on his laptop. I asked him to show me some features, other than cosmetic ones, that would actually get me to go out and switch from either XP or from a Mac. He had none. That’s when I told him that no amount of word-of-mouth marketing was going to get him anywhere.

The rest is history. I didn’t get the Microsoft account. They didn’t get a successful word-of-mouth marketing program, even though they got on the networks with a giveaway for flight into space. That was worth talking about., but didn’t give anyone any reasons to actually switch to Vista, especially in the face of all of the negative word of mouth that persists to this day, over a year later.

Mac’s new operating system, Leopard, on the other hand is a smashing success. Why? Because they actually have several features that will get people to go out and spend their hard-earned money on an upgrade, or even to switch from Windows. Keep in mind, this is in a world where real people don’t even know what an operating system is.

Dell, on the other hand, understands that it’s about the product, not the buzz. They Have taken a whole range of steps in support, software, and hardware that has caused them to turn around.

BTW, come back Tuesday afternoon to read about an announcement about a Mac program that I think will be truly revolutionary.

Things are not always as simple as they seem in surveys

The New Hampshire Primary was a cautionary marketing tale. It shows us why surveys (polls) can be very misleading.

The polls missed the Clinton victory by a mile yesterday, yet they were right on target with the McCain victory. Why?

No one knows exactly what happened for sure yet, but several possibilities illustrate some of the pitfalls in marketing research.

First of all, there is the assumption that you can believe people when you ask them what they have decided to do in matters of simple choice like whether they have a preference for Coke or Pepsi, or which candidate they favor. In most cases, this is a reasonable assumption, and most of the time, polls are accurate.

Other times, what looks like a simple question is not. It turns out that in the minds of New Hampshire voters, McCain versus Romney was one of these simple questions. Though polls got it right, both on preference and amount.

On Clinton vs. Obama, not so simple, on many grounds.

Here are some of the possibilities that are yet to be investigated and quite possibly never definitively determined.

(1) What if people’s minds are not made up? Not a problem, at least as far as taking a snapshot. While that would make prediction difficult, with these people would have turned up as a large number of undecideds. This is not what happened. So, the pundits say, the people didn’t make up their minds at the last moment. But what if they were undecided, but didn’t know it? What if they thought they favored one candidate over the other, but this was a weakly held preference and they were easily swayed by last-minute remarks that they heard on the radio or from their friends, on the way to the voting booth?

So, when people hold an opinion, the strength of the opinion is just as important as the opinion itself. Sometimes opinions can be held so weakly that they might as well not be an opinion at all. But that’s not the way it’s experienced by the person.  In the absence of a challenge, it’s often experienced as an opinion that is pretty firmly held.  So it is of no use to ask the person in the survey, “on a scale of 1-10, how strongly do you hold that opinion?” It’s also equally nonsensical to ask people what it would take to change their minds.

So, the first possibility is that they changed their minds at the last moment, perhaps even in the voting booth, but did not know until that moment that their previous choice was weakly held.

(2) People may have in fact held a very strong beliefs, but changed their minds quickly and decisively when they saw, for instance, Hillary Clinton cry the day before the voting. This may have been too close to the voting for the polls to have picked up. But, I don’t think so because it wasn’t picked up in the exit polls either.

(3) Here is the most intriguing one for me: What if racism isn’t dead? Well, of course racism isn’t dead. It didn’t evaporate just because Obama it isn’t running as a black candidate. In that case, many people (it would only have to be about 10% to account for the data) might not want to tell a pollster that he or she was not voting for Obama, even though they thought that Obama was the best candidate. They might be feeling guilty, or they might expect disapproval, or they might just experience a vague sense of unease about Obama that makes them feel vaguely uncomfortable. Or, they may be worried about being perceived as racists even though they are not. So, when asked, they blurt out “Obama,” and maybe even mean it at the moment. But in the privacy of the voting booth, that vague sense of unease — which, I suspect, is the main way that racism is experienced among people who are just mildly racist, especially those who are ashamed of it or are unaware of it— rears its annoying little head and causes a private little finger twitch that never gets reported.

This is a well-known, and well-documented effect called the Bradley Effect, or the Wilder Effect, where blacks often poll with stronger support than they ultimately show in the polling booth. Even exit polls often say that the politically correct person won, but when the votes are counted, the politically correct is not the politically erect.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the primaries versus the caucuses. For instance, in the Iowa caucus, people had to stand up in front of their peers openly and declare their allegiance, unlike in the New Hampshire secret ballot.

So the marketing lessons here are:

  • “Take a survey [poll]” isn’t always the answer.
  • Simple questions are often not.
  • Asking questions gets answers, but not necessarily the truth.
  • People don’t always know what they believe or how strongly they believe it.
  • People often have beliefs that they don’t know they have.
  • People can’t even predict their own behavior.
  • People often say things based upon what they think you want to hear.
  • Distrust after-the-fact explanations from pundits, including me.

What I am really saying here is things are not as simple as they seem. If you have a product with any degree of controversy you are navigating a mine field when you try to assess public opinion. Even professionals don’t always know what they are doing.