Online research: not demographics, but intent?

Think with Google team published an interesting article about an analysis of online target audience. Based on a study they conducted with Millward Brown Digital Agency, they argue that (at least for users with mobile devices), it is better to look at user´s intent rather than their demographics.

Is it better to look at user's intent rather than their demographics? Click To Tweet

“Intent beats identity. Immediacy trumps loyalty. When someone has a want or need, they turn to their smartphone for help—whether it’s a karate newbie watching an expert do a move on YouTube or a mom looking for the best deal on a pair of sneakers. When a need arises, people turn to search and YouTube to look for answers, discover new things, and make decisions.”

It is an interesting conclusion and it seems to be supported by scholars too. I would like to refer to an excerpt of Olivier Philippe’s article (citation below). For anyone studying online behavior, as well as anyone looking for proper marketing targeting, it seems to be a good scheme to follow.

Philippe’s article:


“1. Variety – Post Demographics

People are posting about their preferences, tastes, profiles, attachments, networks and so on. They are building networks with people who matter to them. This information differs from our standard social science instrument. It is not driven by pre-defined categories – class, gender, race, ethnicity or other supposedly stable traits that are often used in sociology to categorize people, but information about, what people actually say on ONS. It is different from data gathered by surveys or interviews as it is built from the data and not decided in advance which categories makes sense and which do not. This point was made by Rogers who coined the term post-demographics data to represent this idea of shift in theoretical paradigm: “It also marks a theoretical shift from how demographics have been used ‘bio-politically’ (to govern bodies) to how post- demographics are employed ‘info-politically’, to steer or recommend certain information to certain people.” (Rogers, 2009). We see from this explanation, the affiliation to the marketing world, where recommendations and predictions are central and need to be individualized.

People post about their preferences or tastes. This information differs from standard instruments. Click To Tweet

Developing a marketing approach to building social-categories seems to be more efficient than staying on the concept of demography and nation states as usually envisaged with regards to information we can obtain. Pointing out the lack of demographic information in Big Data issue is necessary, (Boyd & Crawford, 2011) but we can put this importance into perspective with the current pertinence of social-categories in a global and almost generic space (Barber, 2003; Lash, 2002).

As we live more and more in a global space where we are all inter-connected without national limits, on Twitter and on Facebook, it is not necessarily the physical place which is important, but the topic discussed, the place within the network, the imagined communities mentioned above; based not on myths and traditions, but based on profiles, “like” or other “Here more people you might know” recommendations constantly asked by any ONS, The identity is atomised and externalised within the groups in which we belong by the technology (Lafontaine, 2003). It is not based on our economical status or a stable environment but as a fluid identity, changing and intense (Wittel, 2001).”



Philippe, O 2012 Reassembling the Data – How to Understand Opportunities using and Interdisciplinary Approach. In: IPP2012: Big Data, Big Challenges?

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