Accepted Paper:

Postulated consumers - big data in a marketable world  


Roger von Laufenberg (University of St Andrews )

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper looks at how knowledge about consumers is co-produced for marketing purposes through big data, which is perceived as being objective and infallible. This has the possibility of changing how knowledge is used in marketing settings, affecting marketing professionals and consumers alike.

Paper long abstract:

Big data analytics (BDAs) are deployed in market research with the perception of being an objective and infallible technology for uncovering consumer behavior and preferences. Especially comparing with traditional methods like surveys or interviews, BDAs are depicted as more reliable for creating consumer knowledge. This assumption often goes hand in hand with a belief in the supremacy of (digital) data. The use of BDAs in organizations however requires a collaboration of an array of teams, all with their own expertise and practices. Knowledge is never produced in vacuo but co-produced, many factors are involved in how information is gained through BDAs, which subsequently influences the usage of this knowledge.

In this early-stage research, I aim at showing how BDAs influence the co-production of knowledge in marketing settings in organizations. When information resulting from big data technologies tend to not be questioned by marketers and are perceived as mirroring the reality, also consumer knowledge risks of not being seen as approximations anymore. Instead conceptualizations of consumers become postulations, incontestable due to being established through big data analysis. These practices tend to neglect the subjectivity involved in BDAs, such as the necessity for data manipulation, data interpretation and the possibilities of errors. At the same time, they intensify the social sorting of consumers. Individuals are reduced to their marketable characteristics for which big data analysis and the accompanying algorithms define the criteria. These marketable characteristics set the rules for who has access to markets, goods or services, and often also their pricing.

Panel G03
Technologies that count: big data and social order