Personality, Big Data and Marketing


Personality, Big Data and Marketing

  • By Ian Bradley
  • 3 Tags

Can the mining of big date effectively tailor political or advertising communication to match basic personality dimensions in a target audience.   In other words, if you’re a voter, who is extraverted and therefore someone who values assertiveness and positive emotions, can the product or political message be tailored to your own personality. A pioneering company in London, Cambridge Analytica, seems to think so:


 At Cambridge Analytica we understand that every customer, every cause, and every campaign is unique. That’s why we help you connect with every member of your audience on an individual level in ways that engage, inform and drive them to action.


Some psychology history.When I was in graduate school,the study of personality was frowned upon.

Situational determinants of behaviour were all the rage. Research studies from leading psychologists such as Walter Michel (the psychologist of don’t eat the marsh mellow” fame) and others argued that manipulating elements of a situation ultimately drove behaviour. For example, compliance of a subject to an authoritarian leader seemed to be related to the degree of power and influence expressed by the leader, why then look for individual differences among subjects.


Another reason for ignoring personality was that there were simply too many ways of describing it- theories and measures were abundant. However, things dramatically changed in the 80’s when psychologists finally agreed upon the key elements of personality as well as how to measure them.


How did this come about? The methodology returned to basics by first systematically collecting all available descriptors of personality from anally analytical to zealously zoophobic. Psychologists culled the field of literature, political culture and of course existing theories of personality to derive a comprehensive way of capturing all possible ways to describe people.


Then, instead of using theory or expert judgment to group these individual descriptors into unique clusters, they used an empirical method that surveyed thousands of people. Factor analyzing the results gave birth to the so-called Big Five- five independent factors that, across various languages and cultures, accounted for most of the variance in what we call personality.


The five factors, each one representing a dimension, comprise the following:

 Extraversion (E)     Hi scorers on Extraversion tend not only to like people, preferring large gathering etc but also to be assertive, talkative and active. They are generally upbeat, energetic and optimistic.

 Agreeableness (A)     Like extraversion, this dimension reflects basic interpersonal tendencies with a hi scorer on Agreeableness like to be altruistic, eager to help others believing that they will return the favour.

 Conscientiousness (C)  High C scorers tends to be purposeful, strong willed and determined, the score best predicts leadership ability.

 Neuroticism (N)   Neuroticism can include things such as anxiety, depression and impulsiveness.

 Openness (E)       Hi scorers can be characterized as having an active imagination, aesthetic, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety and independence of judgment – in short, they are curious about their inner as well as outer worlds.


Let’s get back to Cambridge Analytica a company stuffed in doctorates from physics and computer science. Instead of using questionnaires, these folks attempt to characterize internet users on these Big Five dimensions by using peoples’ digital print footprints. Segmenting a target audience on the Gif Five personality dimensions, Cambridge Analytica claims allows political parties and consumers marketers to best shape their messages to gain votes or sales. Time will tell, but the study of personality is certainly back in vogue!