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Alone or alongside private-label data, the 2000
be a powerful tool.
By Russell Shaw
The 2000 U.S. census counted
some 275 million Americans. Over the next several months, specific
demographic numbers and trends, divined from the massive canvass,
will be made available; businesses whose fortunes live and die based
on decisions informed by census
demographics are anxiously awaiting the data.
While the U.S. census, taken
every 10 years, is a critical market-research tool, the numbers it
comes up with are by no means the only demographical data available
to marketing and advertising decision-makers. A host of private
providers releases its own proprietary data. You may be
quite familiar with some of them:
- Claritas employs its PRIZM lifestyle-segmentation system to
define every neighborhood in the United States in terms of
demographically and behaviorally distinct "clusters."
- Mediamark Research "conducts more than 26,000 personal
interviews with consumers annually throughout the continental
United States to produce syndicated reports and data for
electronic access," according to the company's literature.
- Simmons Market Research Bureau, a unit of Symmetrical
Resources, matches demographic data with
If you are an agency or advertiser,
should you cast your lot with the publicly administered census or the
for-profit custom-information gatherers?
||"Research as detailed as the census is
hard to come by, even for a price, so the census data
shouldn't be ignored by marketers." |
||— Randall Whatley, president|
first glance, this decision would seem to be a no-brainer. Popular
wisdom tends to regard any enterprise run by the government as
plodding, technologically wanting and prone to inaccuracy. With some
justification, the privately run people counters claim to have some
of the best equipment to crunch the numbers and the best brains to
interpret what they mean.
There's only one thing wrong with
"The U.S. Census is the
skeleton of the data that
virtually all private companies provide. Thus, marketers need to
make sure their private suppliers use the census as the
basis for their individually detailed data sets," says
Martha Farnsworth Riche, director of the U.S. Census Bureau
from 1994 to 1998, and now a product-marketing demographics
consultant with her own company, Farnsworth Riche Associates.
So for an agency or advertiser, it is not a matter of
choosing between public-sector and private-sector information
gathering, but rather, understanding how to make decisions using
demographic data from both.
Farnsworth Riche also points out the unique value of the census findings:
"Remember, the census has two
characteristics that no other data set shares,
no matter how broad its coverage. First, it is a complete portrait
as of one moment in time (April 1), as opposed to records that are
gathered over a sometimes lengthy period. Second, it places people
at that time where they live. Most other sources focus on
individuals, but their geographic ties can be tenuous, given
Americans' chronic mobility."
page: The best uses for census data
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