Bill Clinton

Zachary Taylor

12th President of the United States
March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850

Zachary Taylor - The Enduring Power of Fuzzy Boundaries

Fun Fact:

Desperate for a nominee who could win for their party in the 1848 election, the Whigs chose war hero and general Zachary Taylor. The problem is, he didn’t know he had been nominated. The party sent him a letter to congratulate him, but they didn’t pay the postage. Irritated and refusing to pay the fee, Taylor wouldn’t learn of his nomination for weeks.
The Failed State of Deseret

The original proposal for the State of Deseret, the subsequent territory boundaries, and how it all turned out in the end for Utah.

. . .

Zachary Taylor, the human desire for community, and the failed state of Deseret


Taylor’s Presidency is a largely forgotten episode in American life, but like many things we don’t think much about, it’s deeply consequential.

In a little more than a decade, eleven Southern states would secede, launching a brutal Civil War that would cost the lives of more than 600,000 people. How we got to that point is just as important than what happened during or after. Only by studying the lead-up to the war could we hope to learn something that would help us avoid it.

But what?

I have come to learn that history (and business, and life, for that matter) can turn on the smallest of events: chance meetings, random conversations, unlikely illnesses, freak storms, you name it. I think we would do well to focus more on the little things.

Luckily, that’s a fruitful area to study. This period is full of some of the most colorful figures in all our history. In this entry alone, we’ll meet three of them: Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, famous to many of us for his debates with Abraham Lincoln. He was as scheming and short as Lincoln was magnanimous and tall. Next is Senator Truman Smith of Connecticut, a wheel-greaser and backroom operator par excellence. Friendly and energetic, Smith had little patience for Washington politics. Finally, we meet the dedicated Dr. John Milton Bernhisel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is desperately trying to find a “home” for the Mormon faithful where they won’t be distrusted, shunned from public life, and frankly, killed in the streets. He is a close confidant of church leader Brigham Young, so much so that Young trusted him to travel to the capital and plead their case for their own state.

This story is an especially human one. It’s the story of religious freedom, persecution, slavery, big personalities, personal grudges, and how the states got their shapes. But mostly, it’s the story about a deep human desire to create a community with others who share your values.

Bernhisel was in Washington to advocate for a state in the desert they called “Deseret” – a Mormon version of a theo-democracy – a quest for a “promised land” not dissimilar to the quest for the Jewish state of Israel. (The parallels are not lost on the Mormons.) There is nothing more hard-wired into the human experience than a community of people with shared beliefs looking for a place they can call their own. We see it again and again in American life, from the original Puritans feeling England, to Irish families escaping the Potato Famine, to Somali and Eritrean refugees starting a new life in the Riverside Neighborhood of Minneapolis.

To try to capture some of that drama, I would like your indulgence for something I haven’t tried before in this series. I’m going to take you inside the room where Douglas and Smith met Bernhisel to strategize about the Mormon’s chances in Congress and what they needed to do to assure Taylor’s support. While we don’t have notes of the meeting itself, we do have journal entries and recollections. They’re not perfect, of course. Memories can be false or colored by our perceptions (in fact, they always are). However, by piecing together the records, I think I can give you a good sense not only for the history of this episode, but also a window into the humanity.

Let’s get started.

. . .

Construction site of “Douglas Row” on the corner of I Street and New Jersey Avenue, Washington, D.C., March 1850

Dr. John Milton Bernhisel was nervous as his carriage approached what was shaping up to be a squat, three-story block of row homes on I street. The Capitol Building was a few blocks away, as was the Executive Mansion1, where he hoped to meet President Taylor in the coming days. But for that to happen, this meeting must go well.

His medical training helped him focus. Diagnosing people was the same in politics as it was in medicine. Observe the situation. Gather evidence. Diagnose. And only then, act. That deliberate manner was the reason church leader Brigham Young trusted him with this mission. He had been in the city for three days, calling on important people and their spouses. Until now, it was endless tea services and dinner parties with idle conversation. These were important opportunities to “humanize” the Mormon cause, but alone, they would not assure success.

This next meeting would be different.

Senators Stephen Douglas and Truman Smith seemed to indicate that they would be supportive in their correspondence, and Smith had even helped craft supportive legislation, but Bernhisel had not met either man in person. Today, they were his patients. He would have to make a sharp diagnosis of the situation if he hoped to succeed.

Stepping into the muddy road and walking across the broken lawn to the door, Bernhisel steeled his nerve and opened the door to a finished section of the Douglas residence. To his surprise, Senator Smith stood waiting for him.

“Dr. Bernhisel, I presume?” Smith beamed.

He had a smooth face, round spectacles, receding hairline, and an easy smile.

“Senator Smith, it’s my pleasure.” Bernhisel tipped his hat, exposing a wild frock of hair. “Thank you for granting my appointment.”

“Nonsense, good doctor! Please, call me Truman. Let’s get you inside and out of the muck. Whoever decided to put our capital in the middle of a swamp should be hanged!”

With that quip, Smith grasped Bernhisel’s hand, turn on his heel, and led him down the hallway.

“It is my pleasure to announce the honorable Doctor John Milton Bernhisel!” Smith proclaimed as he entered the study along with exaggerated pomp.

“Oh, Truman. No need for the dramatic here,” Douglas stood, chiding him in a rehearsed, easygoing way. “Dr Bernhisel, it is good to finally meet you.”

Douglas grasped Bernhisel’s hand in both of his and smiled up at him. Douglas was shorter than he had envisioned; he stood nearly a head taller than the Senator. If Bernhisel thought he had an advantage, he carefully noted that Douglas’ smile did not extend to his eyes. This man was no one to be trifled with.

“Please, please. Both of you sit,” Douglas said. “Let me put away the cigars and whiskey. I’m afraid we are not as chaste here in Washington as people of your faith.”

“It’s kind of you to oblige me, Senator. But I assure you, there is no need. I have become accustomed quickly in the ways of the capital.”

Smith and Douglas looked back at him knowingly.

“Ah yes, I know that you have. Word travels quickly. This is a small town,” Smith said thoughtfully.

“Duer and Meade. The bastards,” Douglas spat.

“Douglas!” snapped Smith, gesturing to Bernhisel. “Our guest.”

“No, no,” Bernhisel held up both hands. “Sometimes, the passions of men get the better of them. It is our duty to turn the other cheek.”

“You are a more forgiving man than I, Doctor” Douglas acquiesced. “Nonetheless, it is an important piece of information that the honorable representatives from New York and Virginia would nearly come to blows in your presence. Doctor, you must understand that the issue of servitude, what my Southern colleagues call ‘their institution,’ is a powerful force in politics today.”

“That much is clear,” Bernhisel replied. “But I see hope and grace as well. The wife of Justice MacLean graciously invited me into her home. She and the other wives of the Justices were curious about the Mormon faith. We had a pleasant and, might I say, congenial conversation. They even joked if all of them would be my wives in our community.”

Bernhisel smiled. He noticed that neither Douglas nor Smith were smiling.

“As yes, ‘plural wives’ you call it?” Smith said as gently as he could muster.

“Indeed. It is a part of the faith, but something you must understand is a minor affair in the grand scheme.”

Douglas glowered.

“It won’t seem minor for long. It’s about time we got down to strategy, good Doctor. You’ve made a fine impression thus far, but the issue of polygamy will weigh against your case. I suggest avoiding that issue entirely in all future conversations.”

“I have to agree with my colleague, Doctor,” Smith agreed. “The foxes in Washington will gleefully chase that rabbit down its hole. As you witnessed, passions are inflamed already. You should avoid adding fuel to this fire.”

Smith could tell this was a sensitive issue for Bernhisel and redirected the conversation.

“Doctor, your community has suffered. Your founder was murdered in Illinois2,” Smith said solemnly. “It is a terrible thing.”

A moment of respectful silence passed. Bernhisel said a brief prayer under his breath for Joseph Smith.

“What is done is done. Nothing can change that. We must move on,” Douglas spoke to break the silence, allowing all eyes to meet his. After a moment of holding their gaze, Douglas continued.

“We are inclined to help you achieve your aims because they help the Union grow and achieve its aims. That may seem insensitive to your plight, but you know as well as we that population provides power in a representative system, but not if that power is diluted in a larger body of water. To be direct, Doctor, in Illinois, your church is a nuisance at best, and a blasphemy at worst. But in the West, you can have power. Beg forgive my directness, Doctor.”

Bernhisel nodded once, acknowledging the clear truth. This was why people called Douglas the “Little Giant.”

“As we understand it, you have a proposal for a new territory?” Smith intervened again, adding a tact to the conversation to balance Douglas’ candor.

“A new state,” Bernhisel replied.

Douglas and Smith looked at each other with puzzlement for an instant that vanished as the realization set in. A small smile crossed both their faces.

“Ah, a wise change in stratagem, Doctor,” Douglas spoke up. “In a territorial arrangement, your community would have little control over your own affairs. Congress would take the initiative to appoint judicial and administrative officers to govern the territory until you reach the requisite sixty-thousand-person population.”

“Even then,” Smith replied. “Stephen, honestly, when was the last time Congress followed the sixty-thousand rule? You know as well as I that the appeal of patronage appointments is like an elixir that cannot be resisted by weak men.”

“Reverend Young will not accept outside influence of this type. That is why we changed our strategy. With Texas’ example, and a forthcoming state birthed from the former Mexican Alto California, we feel that bypassing the territorial stage is our best chance to protect the integrity of our community and way of life. As you have stated most poignantly, we have had preciously little success to date with alternatives.”

Douglas frowned, ceding the point.

“We may need to revisit the idea of a territory,” Douglas replied. “But let us put aside that discussion for now. I am intrigued by your statehood proposal. I trust you have a sense for the geographic considerations at play?”

“I do,” Bernhisel replied, reaching into his satchel, pulling out at large roll of yellowed parchment.

Clearing space on their table, he began to roll it out. Helpfully, Smith found four stone paperweights to secure the corners and prevent the parchment from retaking its former shape. All three men stood now and took a moment to examine the map.

Bernhisel broke the silence.

“The State of Deseret will occupy land in the Mexican cession, with each border selected as a strategic choice.”

Douglas and Smith were studying the map intently. Observing this with satisfaction, Bernhisel continued, pointing as he spoke.

“To the East and South, our border will not interfere with any territorial claims from Texas. To the North, we avoid the claims of Oregon country and critical agricultural areas. To the West, we avoid the Gold Rush territories and the city of San Francisco.”

Bernhisel could see eyes focusing on the Southwest corner of the map.

“Ah, I see that you have noticed our ports. We feel that the State of Deseret will increase its economic independence by maintaining deep water Pacific Ocean ports. Even rounding the horn3, goods and services can reach Washington two months faster than the same trip over a comparatively shorter distance over land.”

“Forgive my ignorance of Mexican geography,” Smith absently said. “The two cities on the map. What are their names?”

“Los Angeles and San Diego. Both can barely be considered settlements at all. They are of little consequence today, but they could become important with the proper guidance and leadership,” Bernhisel concluded.

The silence in the room carried a weight all its own.

“I beg your thoughts, Senators.”

Smith began.

“Your settlements are concentrated where, precisely, at present?”

“In the lake basin, here.” Bernhisel pointed to the center of the proposed state map.

“I hear that lake is like an inland ocean. Salty, undrinkable,” Douglas said.

“Saltier, in fact, than the oceans.”

Both Senators’ eyebrows rose.

“Egad, man! How do you make a living on such a lifeless expanse?” Douglas asked.

“How does one make a living here on the East Coast, within sight of the Atlantic Ocean?” Bernhisel answered with a question. Douglas nodded to respect the point of logic. He was impressed with the Doctor.

Answering the obvious rhetorical, Bernhisel continued: “Migratory birds and lake creatures and fish are edible, of course, and the frequent snows provide ample irrigation and fresh water. It is quite the oasis.”

“I see, yes,” Smith absently combed the strands of his thinning hair over his smooth head. “You’ve been careful and diligent, Doctor. I applaud the effort.”

“Agreed,” Douglas chimed in, his mind racing with the implications. “I suspect the President will be in accord with your proposal. Nonetheless, you need to be prepared to give him negotiating room, perhaps tightening the boundaries nearer the center of your settlements.”

“I’ve heard discussions of California entering the Union with much of the territory you have described. Doctor,” Smith said. “There are many machinations afoot.”

Bernhisel considered and answered slowly.

“I believe the Church would accept many proposals so long as the result is a state, and not a territory. Can I count on your support in Congress to help achieve this end?”

Both Douglas and Smith smiled at this clear and direct request.

Douglas nodded to Smith knowingly. Bernhisel sensed the two had already hatched a plan. Smith spoke first.

“I plan to hide some language in a spending bill before Congress, only about half as long as my little finger,” Smith held up his finger for effect. “The language would authorize the President to pay the salaries of your administrators in the ‘provisional’ State of Deseret.”

Douglas continued.

“This would not be a ‘state,’ mind you,” Douglas locked eyes with Bernhisel. “But it would be a state in all but name. I suspect the path to full statehood would be made clearer as well. Truman, do you think it will pass? Do we have the votes?”

“Of that, I cannot say at present,” Smith replied. “However, I am certain that if we pass the bill with the provision intact, President Taylor will sign it.”

Douglas nodded. Bernhisel simply watched and listened to the two masters at work.

“Yes, that may be the best course. However, I suspect my Southern colleagues will not be so easily fooled. We must address the balance of power in the Senate between slave and free-soil states. As you have seen, Doctor, passions are high. Tell me directly, what is the Church’s position on the matter?”

“Slavery, you mean,” Bernhisel frowned and looked down. “We explicitly chose territory that is not conducive to that,” he paused “… institution.”

Bernhisel continued. “We do not support it, nor do we own slaves as a matter of faith. However, we have been careful not to take a position, and I am not authorized to make that decision or enter into diplomacy on that point.”

It was Douglas’ turn to frown. Smith matched his gaze knowingly.

“I fear there is no neutral party in this debate, Doctor.” Douglas said, a bit more gently, as if he were exhausted from a long fight. “In the North, your Church already has its detractors. At times, they have become violent. Frankly, that is why you are showing us this map at all. They already distrust the ‘faith’ you speak of. Your equivocation will give them a stronger cause to distrust you. And the South, well, they react in fear of their way of life, their escaped ‘property,’ and diminishing power. Anything less than a full-throated trumpeting call for slaves to tend your fields will be met with equal suspicion.”

Bernhisel looked crestfallen.

Smith put his hand on Bernhisel’s shoulder.

“Doctor, there is no safe middle ground in this battle, and I fear that the expansion of the Union comes at a perilous time. However, know that we support you and your cause, and know that the President does as well. You have discharged your duties admirably. Now, let us discharge ours.”

Bernhisel nodded and rose. Douglas and Smith did likewise.

“Thank you, Senators. I will take my leave of you.”

“Godspeed, Doctor. Please give our respects to Reverend Young. He chose an able ambassador.”

. . .

Unfortunately, our story (albeit fictionalized) does not have the ending any of our protagonists hoped for.

Taylor did indeed wish to help the Mormon people, but more out of preservation of the Union than of any love and respect for their Church. He wanted to maintain the balance of power in any way possible. Before he died suddenly less than 18 months into his term, Taylor would encourage Douglas, Smith, and Senator Henry Clay to craft the “Compromise of 1850” – finalized during his successor’s (Millard Fillmore) term.

In short, it gave Bernhisel and the Mormons none of what they wanted. Although “a good compromise makes no one happy,” this one went down in history as tactically brilliant, but strategically disastrous.

California was allowed into the Union as a state, bypassing the territory status. The slave state of Texas ceded territory for debt forgiveness.  New Mexico and Utah were admitted as territories under a “popular sovereignty” clause, allowing the citizens to decide whether slavery would be allowed in their borders. As Douglas suspected, Southerners were not fooled. They may not have “won” any new states outright, but they secured a punishing and far-reaching fugitive slave law, allowing them to pursue fleeing slaves into free states and territories. It was this last clause more than any other that elevated tensions in the next decade.

You might have noticed that the State of Deseret does not appear in the Compromise language. The Mormons not only lost their dream of a state based on a theocratic democracy, and not only had to submit to territorial administration, but even lost the name they had chosen. It would be “Utah” – and a much-diminished territory at that, landlocked in the desert.

Although Fillmore agreed to a 50/50 split of administration appointments with the Mormon elders, which the President did not need to do, Young remained apoplectic – angry, distrustful, and betrayed.

For their part, administrators entering the territory to begin their assignments found a hostile Utah population, with polygamy openly practiced – much more common, indeed, than they were led to believe by Bernhisel and others. The entire situation came to a head in 1857 with the Utah War, less a war than a tense standoff that more dissolved than ended in 1858.

Perhaps realizing the dream of a Mormon-only state was untenable (or perhaps more that the dream of Pacific Ocean ports was gone), Young gave enthusiastic support to the transcontinental railroad. The massive project brought new (non-Mormon) settlers, but also needed economic activity and much faster travel. Nevertheless, lingering distrust of the Mormons would prevent Utah’s admission to the Union until 1896.

Bernhisel would see additional service to his territory, representing it in Congress from Utah Territory in the United States House of Representatives from 1851–59 and from 1861–63. Douglas would play a major role in attempting to keep the Union together, only to die at age 48 in 1861, right as the Civil War was beginning and his former adversary, Abraham Lincoln, ascended to the Presidency. Truman Smith wouldn’t complete even a full term in the Senate, returning to private law practice in New York in 1854.

In the end, the vision for a dedicated Mormon “promised land” succumbed to the larger drama of slavery and the Civil War. However, it is one of the best examples we have of a tight knit community working to carve out a piece of land to practice its faith in peace. It is one of the most American of ideas, and it very nearly succeeded.

But I’m not sure I see it that way. It seems that the United States rejected the idea of “mono-culture states” in favor of more fluid boundaries and diverse populations. The Civil War put in stark relief the risks of division. Perhaps the State of Deseret is better understood as the last of the pilgrimages, where the United States would begin a long and painful (and continuing) road to the multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural nation that it is today.

Deseret serves as a reminder of how difficult and painful that path would be.

. . .


  1. The Executive Mansion was not called “The White House” until 1901 when President Theodore Roosevelt gave it that name. Until then, in addition to the Executive Mansion, the building was known as “The President’s Palace” and “The President’s House”. Source.
  2. Joseph Smith, leader of the Mormon church was killed by a mob along with his brother, Hyrum Smith, in Carthage, Illinois, United States on June 27, 1844. Leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints passed to Brigham Young. Source.
  3. “Rounding the Horn” refers to the ocean voyage around the southern tip of the South American continent (aka Cape Horn), a dangerous journey with some of the most violent ocean weather on the planet. However, even this trip took less time than a wagon caravan overland in the United States. Source.
  4. This graduate thesis on the Deseret affair is better than many books on the subject. Well done, Bruce W. Worthen! If you’re interested in this subject, you should read it.

. . .

Tribes are trendy, but actual brand boundaries are blurry.


You can’t go three minutes scrolling through a “marketing” thread without stumbling on a discussion of brand communities, zealot behavior, and how to be more “sticky” with customers. Seth Godin popularized and crystalized the concept in 2008 with his book, Tribes. In it, Godin lays out the case that people have an instinct to join each other in a community linked to a leader and an idea.

The concept isn’t new (people have joined each other in communities for millennia), but today’s “tribes”1 can be virtual, leaders can be brands, and ideas can be anything.

Marketers seized on this flexible idea of community because they noticed loyal customers were profitable customers. Once consumers joined the “tribe,” they tended to continue to purchase the company’s products, required fewer incentives, and even did the “marketing” for the company – often on social media.

Although people can belong to many “tribes,”, there is a downside. The instinct to connect with other like-minded people can lead to isolation of viewpoints – the “echo chamber” effect, where people are not exposed to ideas that do not align with their worldview. That’s no big deal if you’re talking about Kraft versus Sargento cheese, but what happens when liberals and conservatives stop talking to each other? A focus on building “tribes” may make business sense, but in our civic life, it seems to have led to an environment where we cannot even agree on the facts of a situation, to say nothing about respecting other opinions.

Our discussion of the State of Deseret, for example, follows Godin’s three-part formula – including both its upsides and its downsides.

  1. Community: In the days before social media, followers of the Mormon faith connected in their own geographic locations – neighborhoods in Illinois and Iowa – with the hope of creating their own state in which to practice their faith with minimal interference. The risk (and the reason the Mormons wanted their own state in the first place) was that “separate” communities within larger ones tend to engender suspicion. That’s the root of the tension between sub-groups within a larger group – a certain amount of separate identity seems novel and interesting; too much seems suspicious and dangerous.
  2. Leader: The Mormon church, like most religious organizations, has a defined and clear leadership structure. The formality and authority of that leadership varies from faith to faith, but the Mormons of that era had charismatic and energetic leaders – Joseph Smith (who was viewed as a martyr) and Brigham Young. Strong leaders galvanize action among their followers, but also risk guiding their flock in the wrong direction. A single, strong leader is a single point of failure.
  3. Idea: A strong religious faith is among the most powerful “ideas” that can connect people together in a community – far more powerful than a brand loyalty to cheese or laundry detergent. However, the stronger the idea, the less flexible that idea tends to be, creating multiple points of contention and disagreement with other groups. Our history is littered with violence based only on tiny differences in the interpretation of religious doctrine.

Considering all that, aren’t we left with the milquetoast conclusion that “tribes” aren’t good or bad, they’re simply a tool? Or the even more watered-down version: It’s just the way people are?

I love a good story, but I’m suspicious of a story’s power. A good narrative that seems to explain something fundamental about “how people are” is nearly always a simplification. There’s value in seeing clearly the crux of an issue, but it’s dangerous to over-simplify. For example, the assumption that people live in media echo chambers leads us to lump people into binary groups – you’re either “with us or against us” – when the reality is much more complicated.

How about we try a different approach to answer the question.

Is it true?

What evidence do we have of so-called “tribal” behavior? I’m not going to attempt to boil the ocean here, so I’ll stay in my area of expertise and narrow the question: What evidence do we have of brand loyalty and communities? How sticky are they? Is the echo chamber real? How might we know?

Let’s find out.

. . .

How isolated are Target shoppers from Walmart shoppers?

Nielsen has been conducting versions of this survey for decades, and although Amazon now factors heavily into the calculus, let’s stick with the simpler version of the question: How many consumers shop at Target? At Walmart? At both? And at neither? Here are the results from a survey of more than 22,000 American consumers:

Walmart and Target Shopping Habits  

A few notes about the numbers. Walmart has more locations than Target, so you would expect the “Walmart primarily” shoppers to be a larger number overall. Proximity matters when shopping – in many communities, especially with Walmart’s more rural location strategy, Target is not a reasonable option for everyday “primary” shopping. Additionally, we see about one in eight consumers rejecting the idea of the “big box store” entirely, either for ideological reasons or because they’ve moved online entirely. That, in and of itself, is an interesting finding (it’s a bigger number than I thought), but I’ll bet you’ve been fixed on another number: the 40% of consumers who shop at both Target and Walmart. Compare that to 43% of consumers who choose one or the other. When you consider all the factors that may make someone choose a store (proximity is the biggest factor), you discover that brand affinity for either store is much less powerful than you might imagine … at least when it comes to big retail. Add recent data from those who also shop online (adding Amazon into the mix) and you see even less of an affinity.

How isolated are Target shoppers from Walmart shoppers? Less than you think.

. . .

How isolated are Cable TV news viewers?

When choosing a physical retail shopping destination, location matters. The old rule of “location, location, location” may be less true today in the age of online shopping than it once was, but proximity still make a difference. Perhaps virtual communities are stickier than their physical counterparts? We could choose several examples, but let’s start where we believe this is most true: Cable TV news. How true is it that conservative viewers only watch Fox News and that liberal viewers only watch MSNBC? Just for fun, let’s throw in CNN as well. The Pew Research group asked that question. Here’s what they learned:

Fox News MSNBC and CNN Viewing Overlap

Yes, the overlap could be professional (or slightly less than professional) journalists. Or it could be viewers angrily watch both broadcasts split screen to catch the other side in a “lie.” But I can’t believe those groups amount to 24 to 44% overlap, depending the combination. Doesn’t it seem interesting to you that the blurry line between viewers of cable news seems to be about the same blurry line between retail shoppers? If about a third of all viewers routinely watch multiple networks, is it really true that people live in their own private echo chambers? Even social media studies that examine our social networks tend to find “fuzzy boundaries” between groups. That’s not often the part you read about because it doesn’t fit the storyline that we’re isolated and only listening to people who share our views. I’m not ready to call bullshit on the concept of the echo chamber, but I am ready to remind all of us that the data paint a more complex picture.

How isolated are Cable TV news viewers? Some are, sure. Maybe even a slight majority. But certainly not all.

. . .

How loyal are technology buyers?

You can shop at more than one store. You can watch more than one newscast. But you can’t use more than one smartphone platform, can you? You’re either an iPhone or an Android user, right? Yes. And no. I love the Pew Research Center, and we can get a sense for what tech loyalty really means in today’s connected world. Here’s what they found:

Pew Research - Multi-device households

This chart matched my household nearly to the device. We’ve got three smartphones (two iPhones and one Android), three laptops (one PC and two Macs), two tablets (both iPads), one streaming device (Apple TV), and one Android-based Smart TV (a Samsung, with its spyware inactivated). A note: We’re not counting gaming systems (we have four) that are internet-enabled devices as well. Multiple device and platform households are the norm, not the exception, and that diversity in platform increases with income level and adoption cycle time. In other words, the more money you make and the more mature the platforms, the more of them you are likely to own. I’m reminded of the “Mac and PC” commercials of the early 2000s. Those ads no longer make sense. Today, they wouldn’t be different people.

How loyal are technology buyers? Not very.

. . .

As I said, I’m not ready to call bullshit on the idea of brand loyalty. Brand “zealotry” is a real phenomenon. Every brand owner knows the 1-2% of its customers who forsake all others (and happen to generate disproportionate profits). But when we pull back from those small groups and look at the big picture, we see a complex mosaic of overlapping group memberships, buying patterns, and preferences. Forming communities may be a natural human behavior, but isolation within those communities is not.

We share more in common than we are being led to believe. That should give us all deep hope for the future, especially now.

. . .


  1. I “quote” the word “tribes” because I hate it in this context. I can’t deny that my field has appropriated the term, and I’ll use it only for that reason, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it.

Books and Reference Materials

Zachary Taylor- The American Presidents Series- The 12th President, 1849-1850
Zachary Taylor: The American Presidents Series: The 12th President, 1849-1850

By: John Eisenhower

The Long Pursuit- Abraham Lincoln's Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas for the Heart and Soul of America
The Long Pursuit: Abraham Lincoln’s Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas for the Heart and Soul of America

By: Roy Morris, Jr.

The Mormon Rebellion- America's First Civil War, 1857–1858
The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857–1858

By: David L Bigler and Will Bagley

How the States Got Their Shapes
How the States Got Their Shapes

By: Mark Stein

Memorials and Official Sites

Zachary Taylor Home, Springfield, KY (National Park Service)

White House Official Site

Miller Center

PBS: The American Experience – Zachary Taylor

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