Psychographics, suddenly in the news after the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook controversy exploded, is a fairly well-defined concept — psychological profiling of target groups that helps to understand them better so corporates can make better sales pitches for their products, and governments can tailor their schemes and customise political campaigns.
“Psychographics analyses lifestyle,” said Dr Shanthi Venkatesh, Associate Professor, Loyola Institute of Business Administration. It is a routine market research tool, she said — “For example, there may be people who have the same earning capacity, but who may differ in their decision-making. One person who earns Rs 1 lakh a month could, for example, be more inclined to save most of it, while another could spend it all on latest accessories.”
A knowledge of these choices that people make — how conservative they may be to new ideas, and how they organise themselves — will likely offer clues on how people think. When combined with demographic surveys, which look at a person’s place in society, it generates data to create powerful campaigns that are more likely to succeed, experts say.
“If you have the resources, survey all,” said Dr Venkatesh, when asked approximately how many people would need to be surveyed to get an accurate picture of the consumer.
And this is where technology comes into play.
There is a huge cache of data waiting to be mined in quick time, leading to improved customisation. Online targeting tools can help here — a Google search will throw up results that will include those specific keywords in that search, and Facebook’s algorithm will look at your recent activities and throw up ads that you may find interesting.
At the periphery of the global noise around Facebook lies a study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013. It showed that if you had enough data, just based on the “Likes”, you could predict sensitive personal attributes, including political views, fairly accurately.
This study had the explicit consent of 58,000 volunteers. Cambridge Analytica, on the other hand, is accused of profiling 50 million users, not just of those who downloaded the particular app, but of their friends as well, to create highly targeted ad campaigns.