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"This is provocative and practical"
Pam Radford, Senior Director, Global Marketing

"Super interesting - a new and predictive way to understand customers."
Mark Staples, Editorial Director
McKinsey & Company

Red and Blue Customer Growth Part I: Introduction

Red and Blue Customer Growth Part I: Introduction

We avoid talking about customers as conservative or liberal because it feels like politics and politics is divisive. Same with religion. We study who customers are, what attitudes they might have, and what they do, but we rarely study how they think. That’s where worldview comes in. 

Customer worldview - defined by being liberal or conservative - sits at the highest level of customer insight. Worldview represents a framework for understanding how customers see the world and what they believe to be true. More importantly for you, it encompasses how they see your business, products, communications, merchandising, and more. 

No matter what you sell, you have conservative and liberal customers. The odds are you have more of one group than the other. If you have equal numbers of both groups in your customer database, matching the even split in the United States, your business is the exception. 

Every business aligns differently with customers who have either a conservative or liberal worldview because each group sees your business differently and forms purchase decisions in different ways. Your business, people, strategies, products, merchandising, communications, and location influence whether conservative or liberal customers buy from you. The question is one of alignment - is your business in sync with your market from a worldview perspective or not? If not, product-market fit decreases, leading to slower growth, reduced efficiency, and lower customer value. 

That doesn’t mean if your business projects a conservative worldview that liberals won’t buy from you or vice versa. But you will make them work harder to evaluate what you have and determine if your products are right for them. As a result, you won’t look as familiar, and you may not even speak the same language. 

If you sell nationally, you may need to be worldview-neutral to maximize market share. Not Apple, Samsung, or Ford. If you sell locally or regionally, you must decide whether you optimize toward one group or another, create variation in strategy across a region, or try to achieve worldview neutrality.

None of this has anything to do with politics, although it’s easy to go there. When I start talking about customers having a conservative or liberal worldview, someone will inevitably bring up a specific political issue. For this newsletter, politics is beside the point. We’re not interested in who customers choose to run the country - we’re interested in what they decide to buy.

To remove potential divisiveness from this topic, I explore how conservatives and liberals see your business based on decades of social anthropology and cognitive sciences research. Social anthropologists look at different social groups, including primitive cultures, to understand how different groups come together and operate. They view social groups and societies from the outside, in a structural way, devoid of wanting it to be one way or another. American liberalism and conservatism can be approached in this structural, academic way to gain stronger insights into how customers think while completely avoiding any discussion of taxes, immigration, or foreign policy.

In this newsletter and the forthcoming book, Red and Blue Customers, the idea is to build a foundation for understanding American liberalism and conservatism using social anthropology and other disciplines and translate it specifically to a business context. This means bringing this all to life with specific examples - industries, people, products, brands, and communications - to show how conservative or liberal worldviews drive different purchase decisions and how businesses can optimize the alignment to improve business results.

I mentioned Apple, Samsung, and Tesla at the start of this essay. I’ll deliver future issues specific to those brands as to why they skew liberal or conservative and how that affects results. You’ll see, for example, why Tesla has more conservative customers than you may think. You’ll see how each group thinks differently about the concept of status.

To help bring all of this to life, let’s take a relatively quick look at a specific difference between conservative and liberal worldviews and then apply it to a particular industry and three companies.  Along the way, you’ll see a framework for studying alignment between customer worldview and a business.

To demonstrate the differences between the two worldviews, let’s use a broad cognitive concept - perception of the future. It seems pretty straightforward, something everyone would think about the same way. Yet there are significant differences in what the future means inside a conservative vs. liberal worldview, which demands different ways of thinking about products and communications. It’s one of twenty-five cognitive concepts covered in the forthcoming book Red and Blue Customers

How conservatives and liberals perceive the future is the focus of Part II of this series. I think you’ll find it interesting.

Originally published in the newsletter Red and Blue Customers.

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