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Scalable Inference of Customer Similarities from Interactions Data Using Dirichlet Processes

  • Michael Braun


    (MIT Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139)

  • André Bonfrer


    (School of Management, Marketing and International Business, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200, Australia)

Under the sociological theory of homophily, people who are similar to one another are more likely to interact with one another. Marketers often have access to data on interactions among customers from which, with homophily as a guiding principle, inferences could be made about the underlying similarities. However, larger networks face a quadratic explosion in the number of potential interactions that need to be modeled. This scalability problem renders probability models of social interactions computationally infeasible for all but the smallest networks. In this paper, we develop a probabilistic framework for modeling customer interactions that is both grounded in the theory of homophily and is flexible enough to account for random variation in who interacts with whom. In particular, we present a novel Bayesian nonparametric approach, using Dirichlet processes, to moderate the scalability problems that marketing researchers encounter when working with networked data. We find that this framework is a powerful way to draw insights into latent similarities of customers, and we discuss how marketers can apply these insights to segmentation and targeting activities.

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Article provided by INFORMS in its journal Marketing Science.

Volume (Year): 30 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 (05-06)
Pages: 513-531

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Handle: RePEc:inm:ormksc:v:30:y:2011:i:3:p:513-531
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