October 22, 2005

How do NiNis make a living?

Businesses know that it pays to know your market. Rule one of marketing is "know your customers." How old are they? How much money do they make? What's their gender? Where do they live? How educated are they? How do they make a living? How does your product relate to their needs, wants, and fantasies? You need clear answers to these questions before you can put together a sensible marketing strategy.

What I've been trying to say in the last few posts is that the traditional opposition's failure has been a failure of political marketing: they didn't know their customer!

Watching a lot of oppo leaders speak, they didn't seem to have any clear idea of who they were talking to, or should be talking to. They failed to think through carefully the demographic groups they needed to win over and to craft their message accordingly. Not surprisingly, they made all sorts of rookie mistakes. They put out messages that alienated people they needed to attract, that ignored the concerns of those they wanted to represent, that contradicted those they needed to cozy up to, etc. etc. etc.

One reason to think Venezuela de Primera could do better is that they're led by a businessman, and one from a business - mobile telephony - where marketing is everything. Fortunately, Venezuela de Primera has learned some key lessons from the traditional oppo's political marketing failures. And make no mistake: it will take real marketing savvy to put together a message that can attract an electoral majority in the wake of the traditional opposition's implosion.

There's one key bit of political marketing data I don't have, though, and really wander about. We know that roughly half of Venezuela's workers are in the formal economy and half in the informal sector. But how do political attitudes vary between those two groups? What percentage of chavistas have formal work? More importantly, what proportion of NiNis work informally? How do NiNis make a living?

My guess - and this is only a guess - is that NiNis are less likely to have formal work than either chavistas or antichavistas. (If anyone has data about this, I'd love to see it.) If my hunch is right, then marketing to the political center means marketing to the needs of the informal worker. If so, it shouldn't be hard to put together a political message that is specifically geared at the very serious problems of informal workers as such.

Because, when you think about it, informal sector workers have all kinds of problems the government has done very little to address over the last seven years. With no prestaciones, no pensions funding, no sick leave, no vacation leave, no collective bargaining, no health insurance, no help for pre-school education and no workplace health and safety protections, their position is incredibly precarious. The government has done nothing for them on these fronts - largely because it's failed to stimulate formal sector work - and the opposition almost never talks about these themes. The specific needs of informal workers are ripe for the picking, politically speaking.

What's more, as I wrote at mind-numbing length in this essay, some very interesting recent research suggests that putting informal sector workers at the center of a developing country government's concerns could serve as a catalyst for development. So, by making a pitch specifically at the informal sector, you could also be laying down the foundations for success once you get into office.