Friday, March 7, 2008

Conservatism and Early Adopters

The chart above is from the paper "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition", by Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski and Sulloway.

Link to paper here

The paper summarizes several studies linking the psychological traits of individuals to their political views, focusing on which traits are positively and correlated with conservatism.

As the diagram above illustrates, fear & uncertainty are underlying contributors for the expression for political conservatism.

From a marketing standpoint, this presents an interesting challenge: if political conservatism is positively correlated to wealth and disposable income, how do get these consumers -- the ones who can afford to take risks -- to try new and innovative products (as innovation has been negatively correlated to conservatism in some studies)?

For this group, should innovative products be positioned as extensions of existing products -- downplaying their innovative features -- and emphasizing their performance attributed vis-a-vis peers? This would shift the consumer's mindset from a sense of risk of experimenting with unproven technology, to a fear that a competitor would be gaining an advantage.

Building further on this notion, it would seem that products that mitigated fears and anxiety of unseen contagions -- disease and crime -- would also be well positioned for the politically conservative segment, and a means for innovative ideas to gain access to the financial power of these consumers.


Anonymous said...

My goodness Rick - you've followed up your very best posting so far with one that may go down as your very worst.
The initial premise, that political conservatism (at least that which survives today, as Reaganism, with its roots in Barry Goldwater and most recently more-closely espoused by Ron Paul) is based on fear is a preposterous notion. Further, to conclude that political conservatives constitute the wealthy with more disposable income is, I strongly suspect, a very gross error.
I'm not certain at this point that it is even worthwhile to read the referenced article - perhaps.
Goldwater/Reagan, even Buckley - their conservatism is marked by faith in the strength of the human spirit, the unbridled opportunity that lies within each and every human, the premise that a big government cannot possibly be a good government, and economic fundamentals as codified by Adam Smith lead inexorably to the betterment of mankind.
Now, if you're talking about "conservatism" as branded by Bush (I or II), McCain, - well, then, perhaps you have a point.
But therein lies a problem for tackling marketing considerations as they relate to politcal leanings and affiliations - a lack of homogeniety? Is politics a factor that can even be effectively marketed too? conservative automobiles (Buicks) versus liberal cars (hmmm, don't even know what that would be - a Yugo?) Faucets fo wealthy right-wing fear mongers (Kohler?) versus faucets for trendy tree-huggers engorging themselves on half-baked ideas (Hans Grohe?)
A populist like Huckabee? A double-speaking political carcicature like McCain, an Al Gore in Republican clothing like Romney? Don't lump this conservative in with those....Republicans.....


spandrel said...

Building on your association between political conservatism and the Republican party, my correlation between political conservatism and increased wealth has been supported over time, altough it ebbs and flows:

There can certainly be politically conservative members of the Democratic party as well -- an interesting study might be to see how strong the correlation between wealth accumulation and conservatism in general -- versus specific political party affiliation.

Returning to the crux of the blog entry -- the correlation between fear/anxiety and conservatism in general is the key issue -- and an issue that goes beyond purchase tendencies to have import on political, religious, and ethnic affinities/beliefs.

The problem for businesses with new products is that those who are most willing to try new things are often the ones least able to afford to; while those most able to afford it are least motivated to do so. For new ideas that can't be made broadly affordable, the issue is how to position them to make them desirable to conservative buyers who can afford them.

Swivelchair said...

John, I think there are some data which correlate cognitive inflexibility with those who self-identify as conservatives.
(The cite to a PubMed abstract of Amodio et al., Neuroconitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism, Nat Neurosci. 2007 Oct;10(10):1246-7. Epub 2007 Sep 9.) (You may have already blogged on this, so apologies if it was brought up before).

Basically, self-identified conservatives are cognitively inflexible, in that they don't tolerate complex information, ambiguities or conflict as well as self-identified liberals.

The "Bill Buckley" conservative style is cognitively flexible. So perhaps there's a sub-set of self-identified "conservatives" who are really just the "cognitively inflexible" branch. But, if you are basing a marketing decision on self-identified conservatives, at least some are relatively cognitively inflexible. (And same for liberals probably, some are probably cognitively inflexible).

The "authoritarian personality" -- cognitively inflexible, values social order over creativity, values group over individualistic ideals, fears being "cast out" of the group more than fearing limits on self expression -- seems to fit right into the diagram (which I thought was great, I spent about 5 minutes following all the little arrows).

I think there's another study showing self-identified conservatives have extreme brain asymmetry -- right brain/left brain hemispheres are really specialized, as opposed to each hemisphere can do a little creativity/ trigonometry. Where there is brain asymmetry like that, it's tough to communicate between hemispheres in a cognitively flexible fashion, people get sort of stuck in one hemisphere, and tend to ignore the other. (I don't have the citation to that).

So, given the description, doesn't the ad copy write itself?
Authority figure, not spokesmodel
Good for the group, not indivual expression of creativity
Follow the pack, not try to veer away from what everyone does
Shame on you, vs good for you
Suggested slogans (heh):

"No one ever got fired for buying our product"
"Buy this if you don't want to look stupid"
"Be a big shot, but not too big"
"Don't be crazy."
"Secretly save your money, without looking like a tightwad"
"Send disciplinarian gifts to those creative-types - fruit of the month is good"
"Gated Products for gated communities"

Thanks for the post, and I really like your blog-- Swivelchair