Using the math behind customer behaviour

..mathematical modeling of humanity promises to be one of the great undertakings of the 21st century.

The clearest example of math’s disruptive power is in advertising. There Google and other search companies built on math are turning an industry that grew on ideas, hunches, and personal relationships into a series of calculations. They can pull it off because, quite simply, they know where their prospective customers are browsing, what they click on, and often, what they buy. Internet companies use this data not only to profile customers but also to pitch for more contracts. Some 18 months ago, 30 blue-chip companies, from Procter & Gamble Co. (PG ) to Walt Disney Co. (DIS ), underwent a series of tests promoted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry group. These studies crunched consumer data to measure the effectiveness of advertising in a host of media. The results came back in hard numbers. They indicated, for example, that Ford Motor Co. (F ) could have sold an additional $625 million worth of trucks if it had lifted its online ad budget from 2.5% to 6% of the total. Ford responded vigorously: Last August it announced plans to move up to 30% of its $1 billion ad budget into media targeted to individual customers, half of it through online advertising. Such moves are sure to generate even more data, giving greater clout to the numbers people.

As data mavens gather more information about customers, they gain muscle to demand changes inside companies. Take media. With banks of consumer data continuing to swell, quants on the marketing side will be able to provide editors and program managers with increasingly sophisticated statistical models, telling them which types of TV scenes or articles appeal most to certain demographic groups.

thro’ Business Week

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