Can marketers benefit from Cambridge Analytica’s data mining techniques?

Can marketers benefit from Cambridge Analytica’s data mining techniques?
Photo Credit: Reuters
9 Apr, 2018

Cambridge Analytica made headlines around the world last month for allegedly helping Donald Trump win the US presidency. It has also faced accusations for aiding the UK’s exit from the EU and has been associated with various controversies around political campaigns. The firm’s role in these campaigns has brought it under the scanner of law enforcement agencies in both the US and the UK.

Back in 2016, Alexander Nix, the firm’s former chief executive, explained the working of Cambridge Analytica as follows, “If you know the personality of the people you’re targeting, you can nuance your messaging to resonate more effectively with those key audience groups.”[1]

The advancements in the field of data science have given rise to many methods of collating and using user data. What Nix described above is what is formally known as ‘psychographic targeting’.

How Cambridge Analytica leveraged psychographic targeting

The social networking platform is known for offering advertisers and organisations numerous ways to target specific audiences. It categorises users based on their demographic information like age, current city, birth city, gender, etc. Psychographic targeting, on the other hand, targets people based on their personality traits.

The personality assessment tool that Cambridge Analytica created was based on the basic Big Five or OCEAN psychometric test. It measures a test taker on five traits—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion/introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism—which researchers consider to be consistent across languages and cultures.

Some of the questions test takers have to answer include “Am I organised?”, “Do I rarely feel excited?”, or even “Do I have strong artistic interests?” on a scale of ‘strongly agree’ (5) to ‘strongly disagree’ (1). Cambridge Analytica combined the results of this test with the Facebook profile data of users and their friend networks to develop personality profiles.

According to experts, significant correlations about people can be made through psychographic analysis by combining data and running it through sophisticated algorithms. Cambridge Analytica generated data points on each US voter by administering the personality test. Through the data points gathered from the test, campaigns could target their specific audiences in a much more efficient way. The output of this personality profiling helped Cambridge Analytica practice what is known as ‘behavioural microtargeting’ and ‘psychographic messaging’. Essentially, this data allowed campaigns to put out messages, news, and images via Facebook and other platforms, which was finely tuned to evoke the right emotions in an individual, and so, influence their voting preferences.

Benefits of psychographic targeting

For ages, businesses have been targeting customers based on data such as their demography, geography and more. These methods aim to identify who the customer is. However, psychographic targeting goes a step further and reveals the inner motivations of the customer. It attempts to understand why a customer might perform a specific action.

Psychographic information, if leveraged correctly, can improve an organisation’s outreach manifold, thereby helping them improve their marketing campaigns. Marketers are slow to use psychographic targeting as the data is extremely difficult and time-consuming to collect. If done correctly, psychographic information can help organisations in the following ways:

●        Create more refined social media audience

●        Write more emotionally appealing content for ads/campaigns

●        Enhance A/B tests

●        Identify new content topics depending on a firm’s audience interests

●        Create accurate buyer personas

●        Improve lead conversion ratio

●        Reach out to existing and potential customers at a more personal level

Demographics alone only provide half the picture. The other half is beneath the surface, which psychographics helps uncover in a very precise manner. However, the risk of psychographic information is that audiences may find the approach too personal and invasive.

Vivek Kumar is president of consumer revenue at ed-tech startup UpGrad. Views expressed here are personal


Vivek Kumar