Postulating consumers : how marketers conceptualise consumers in the era of big data analytics

  • Roger Ferdinand Francois Von Laufenberg

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


    The proliferation of big data analytics in marketing appears to be having significant effects on the field, such as changing how marketers perceive their consumers and how they act on them. As I discuss in my research, marketers are not satisfied to work solely with approximate, imagined conceptualisations of consumers as a basis for advertisements and offers. Instead, they are looking for exact virtual data doubles of existing and potential consumers, which is something they hope to achieve through big data analytics. In my thesis, I explore the question of how and why marketers conceptualise consumers differently when using big data analytics compared with traditional market and consumer research methods. This is embedded in the theory of the co-production of knowledge and empirically relies on interviews with marketers and data analysts, case studies, and participant observations at industry conferences.

    In my research, I show to what extent the idea of the data double consumer conceptualisation is considered an ideal case for marketers, and that it is believed to be made possible through big data analytics, which is expected to create an exact knowledge about consumers. However, my findings show that in practice, big data analytics should be considered a sociotechnical assemblage that produces knowledge which contains inaccuracies, errors and uncertainties. Knowledge about consumers is not just discovered – neither through traditional market and consumer research methods nor through big data analytics. Instead, it is the outcome of a co-production that involves different steps, individuals, teams, normativities, and technologies. Hence, knowledge about consumers is never an exact representation of reality, irrespective of its methods of production. Consequently, consumer conceptualisations expected to be exact data doubles cannot be attained. Instead, postulations are established that are believed to be accurate, without having actual proof. Yet, my findings show that knowledge resulting from big data analytics has a higher credibility and epistemic authority amongst the participants, explaining the persistence of the data double consumer conceptualisation in digital marketing.
    Date of Award2 Jul 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of St Andrews
    SupervisorKirstie Ball (Supervisor)


    • Organisational sociology
    • Digital marketing
    • Big data analytics
    • Epistemic authority
    • Co-production of knowledge
    • Critical marketing
    • Actor-network theory
    • Surveillance studies

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