Unless you are a hermit living off grid (and if you are reading this you are probably not) everything you do leaves digital traces. Everything you buy with your cards, every site you visit and every search you make is logged.

Okay, you may say. You know you are faced with online ads for holidays for weeks if you once typed ‘Spain’ into Google. But it goes much further than that. Your phone is reporting on you. It doesn’t just log every call you make, it tracks every step you take, and even how you take them.

There’s a lot of information, and it’s all being recorded, 24/7. This Big Data is meaningless in itself, but by applying some serious computing power patterns start to emerge. Suddenly, its possible to know what individual people are like, what their opinions are – and which kind of messages will have the most impact.

Introducing psychometrics

In the 1980s, psychologists developed a model that assessed personality on five dimensions:

Openness (how open you are to new experiences?),

Conscientiousness (how much of a perfectionist are you?),

Extroversion (how sociable are you?),

Agreeableness (how considerate and cooperative you are?)

Neuroticism (are you easily upset?).

These dimensions allow a relatively accurate assessment of an individual’s needs and fears, and more important, how they are likely to behave, what they are likely to buy and even how they will vote.

This was known as psychometrics (or psychographics). It meant a long dull questionnaire, and  looked set to  remain an academic exercise. But then came the internet.

The hidden truths in Facebook

Psychologists Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell developed a Facebook app as part of their doctoral studies at the Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge. MyPersonality let users fill out different psychometric questionnaires, and receive a “personality profile”.

The two doctoral candidates expected responses from few dozen college friends, but soon owned the largest psychometric dataset ever complied, with millions of individuals. Comparing the results with other online data from the subjects – such as their ‘likes’ –  showed clear correlations. When tens of thousands of individual data points could be combined, the resulting predictions become startlingly accurate.

Suddenly, there was a scientific basis for all kinds of assumptions.  For example, men who “liked” the cosmetics brand MAC were more likely to be gay. Followers of Lady Gaga were most probably extroverts ; those who “liked” philosophy tended to be introverts. There were thousands of proven correlations. Intelligence, religious affiliation, alcohol, cigarette and drug use and even skin colour could be derived from data. With enough likes, Kosinski could make predictions about people more accurately than they could themselves.

As any sales person will tell you, the more you know about an individual, the easier it is to sell to them.

Want to find people most likely to  buy your product? Kosinski had invented  a people search engine. Looking through the data could call them up. Conversely, you could precisely target a sales message to the interests of a particular person.

Digging the Data

Political bodies have already grasped the potential. Influencing elections by innovative political marketing—microtargeting individual voters with messages relevant to their personality types may have helped both Brexit and President Trump.

In the distant past, political messages were broadcast to all. More recently, the coming of email and social media meant that it had become routine to segment the market based on demographics. A female retiree might receive a political message focussing on pensions. Her grandson might have been sent a message focussed on job creation and house building.

Psychometrics takes things to the next stage, with the database segmented to deliver precise ad targeting  – personalised advertising, with dozens or even hundreds of messages sent, each one precisely tuned to the personality of its reader.

Data powered persuasion

This data driven messaging persuades like never before. The company behind the success of many candidates in the US election claim to be able to form a model to predict the personality of every single adult in the USA. Psychographics,  Big Data analysis, and ad targeting. If they can affect the outcome of arguably the most important election in the world, and consequently the course of history, what can they do for conventional marketing?

Dr. Kosinski took no part in the US election campaign, but observed the techniques he had helped create being used. He has analysed their effectiveness in marketing, and his findings are clear.  Marketers can attract up to 63% more clicks and up to 1,400 more conversions in real-life advertising campaigns when matching products and marketing messages to consumers’ personality characteristics.

At Eunoia, we believe that mass marketing is being replaced by something much more powerful.