Big Data

Happy Holidata! Your spending potential revealed

Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign's data company, used its massive cache of 220 million records to build a tool that helps consumers better understand what companies know about them.

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Image: Cambridge Analytica

Imagine: Against all odds your little-known tech company helped Donald Trump become president of the United States. What's next?

Spread holiday cheer, of course.

Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based analytics firm with a database that contains over 5,000 demographic and psychographic data points on more than 220 million individual consumers, made a splash in the US market as the Trump campaign's data partner. The company now plans to use its massive cache to help corporations in verticals like finance, healthcare, and media target, market to, and activate consumers. "Our data is based on you as an individual," said CEO Alexander Nix in an interview with TechRepublic, and not simply a "model representation of an individual."

SEE: Seven ways to build brand awareness into your digital strategy (Tech Pro Research)

During the holiday season Cambridge Analytica used its data stockpile to create a tool called Holidata that helps consumers better understand what companies know about them. "The database draws from two primary data sources," said Nix, including "aggregated commercial transactions from our data partners and [our] primary research data collected via proprietary online surveys. [We] combine both data sources to provide segments of the population that are key to an effective microtargeting campaign; large enough to make an impact but detailed enough to give marketers a clear narrative."

The tool prompts users to enter location information, then feeds back demographic information. "When customers are described in broad strokes it's difficult to find a message that can reach them. Big data allows a company to analyze its customers in sufficient detail to find a message that appeals to them as individuals," Nix said. "We had a lot of fun designing segments that would pique interest over the festive season."

The Holidata tool ranked consumer data in six holiday-related categories for each state and Washington, D.C.

Mistletoe Mischief is based on individual-level data on extroverted personality types and the highest numbers of singles who might be looking for a holiday romance.

Big Spenders uses data on household income to calculate state averages for earnings, identifying where the biggest holiday spenders are most likely to be.

Super Parents shows the likely level of holiday preparation by parents on the basis of data on conscientious personality types.

Christmas Miracles shows by state how much more or less likely it is that a baby will be born in December than in the average month.

Jetsetters uses unique data models based on travel habits and expenditure, giving an insight into where in the US people might opt to spend the holidays away from home.

White Christmas is based on public data sources on climate and our own data on winter sports.

Using the "super parents" topic as an example Nix explained how the tool works. "The conscientiousness score was derived from [our] psychographic survey, which gathered responses to fifty questions from tens of thousands of US residents. Data on topics including propensity to postpone household chores and tidying your room were key to derive the level of insight required to evaluate conscientiousness. We then bolstered the survey data with commercial data. The models used for cooking preferences were derived by aggregating credit card transactions for purchases of telltale items, such as cooking equipment and raw ingredients. The Holidata ranking of states was then derived by comparing the product of average conscientiousness and propensity to cook at home in each state."

WATCH: Documentary shows information revolution of big data (CBS News)

The Holidata site concluded, for example, that Brooklyn, New York, contains a significant percentage of extroverted, affluent, single consumers who are likely to spend lavishly on gifts and travel during the holidays. Conversely, residents of rural South Dakota are unlikely to travel and spend very little on gifts.

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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