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Is There Personality in Big Data?

Bryan DonovanJuly 20, 2015

There is a long history of philosophy on the concept of personalities.  Research has shown that personality comes in large part from our genetics, tends to be fairly stable over time, and affects our thinking, emotions and behavior.  In turn, our personality and interactions with the world help form our attitudes towards people and things.  If you pay attention, you can see signs of this in the people all around you.

My wife and I are the lucky parents of twins, a boy and a girl, who have very different personalities.  From a very young age, we observed noticeable differences in how each child approached new situations, learned new things, and formed relationships.  Now that they are beginning to earn and spend money of their own, we also see the differences in how they decide what to buy and what they value.  Their personalities have a large impact on these decisions.

As the study of personality in psychology has seeped into marketing over many decades, there have been numerous attempts to segment buyers by personality to drive more effective marketing.  How you market to someone who is outgoing by nature and always open to new experiences should intuitively look and feel quite differently than how you market to a person who is more introspective, reserved and cautious about new things.  However, segmenting consumers accurately by personality in order to market to them at scale has not been possible previously.  While the marketing data industry generally does a great job compiling demographic, lifestyle and interest data, it’s not as easy to collect information on people’s personalities.  You may get to a subset of your customers via surveys but you can’t get every consumer to submit to a personality test, and basic demographics are insufficient at predicting personality.

In the age of “big data” in consumer marketing there continue to be many new data sources and approaches to audience targeting that were not previously possible.  You could argue that on some platforms marketers have too many choices for audience data.  In spite of the array of options, most ignore personality entirely.  Consider the cliché of “soccer moms” as a popular target audience.  Given my son’s intense love of soccer, I happen to know a few.  The fact is that, even when there are similar demographics, these moms can have very different personalities and therefore behaviors, attitudes and buying decisions.  We have a huge opportunity to harness big data at an individual consumer level to help marketers target consumers by personality, at scale.

What type of insight on personality can be gained by hundreds of data points on an individual consumer?  If you knew a range of (mostly) accurate information on demographics, lifestyles, interests and purchases, what could you deduce about the underlying personality?  Like a doctor diagnosing a patient based on their symptoms, advanced analytics can help us “diagnose” a personality based on compiled consumer marketing data.

As we onboard a broad and diverse catalog of offline data and link it anonymously to online and mobile activity we can create insights never before possible in the history of marketing.  We can generate critical insights specific to personality when we have a reasonable subset of data on personality indicators, tests or surveys.  These insights drive more accurate models, which can then be deployed at scale across permissible offline data, to empower omni-channel marketing.  Together, Acxiom’s Audience Solutions and Connectivity (LiveRamp) divisions enable leading partners from big data insight generation, model scoring, onboarding and distribution, to precise consumer targeting on the leading media platforms.  Regardless of your personality, if you are in consumer marketing you should be excited about this!