Why Census Data is Useful for Market Research

The Upfront Analytics TeamStrategy1 Comment

A 3d map of the United States, with the most populated states in dark blue and the least populated in light blue, data from 2000 U.S. Census

Census Data: Special Sauce for Market Research

The U.S. Census may not be the most interactive or engaging of surveys, but it does have one thing firmly on its side: The law. And while you probably can’t invoke legal penalties to encourage respondents to complete your next market research study, you can still reap some of the benefits from Census Bureau’s approach. The breadth of information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau can offer key insights for market researchers, especially when combined with respondent location data.

Location, Location, Location

Census data has already proven itself to be an invaluable component of the market research toolbox for the purposes of demographic targeting, segmentation and re-weighting. Now, with the addition of precise location data from mobile devices, you can use the same data to make more accurate inferences about your respondents.

For example, when a player logs into our mobile game suite, The Pryz Manor, we map their device location to one of the 220,333 block groups included in the 2012 American Community Survey. We can then assign a base rate probability for each demographic attribute from the community survey block group data available for their location.


census data through mobile games

These base rates allow us to prioritize demographically predictive games for those demographic segments that are most in question. They are also especially useful to know when approaching socially sensitive topics e.g. disability or government aid, or crafting demographic questions that are likely to be subject to social desirability bias e.g. income, age or employment status.

Creating a Sample

Thanks to readily available census data, creating a sample based on anything from age to race and marital status to household income is quick work. But not only can census data help you fill your sample, it can also help you define your sample. You may not even realize to whom you want to market until you look at a comprehensive compilation of data that allows you to best define the ideal customer. Census data is free and plentiful, which gives you a leg up on your next marketing campaign.

Business Demographics

Whether you’re selling B2B or you just want to know a little more about your competition, census data can also be useful for sizing up other businesses. Look beyond the traditional U.S. Census and you’ll find the Economic Census; a report that specifically details business information, such as sales, shipments, revenue, and even expenses broken down by both industry and geographical location. By checking out the Economic Census, you can gain a better grasp of how your prospects and competitors are faring. Similarly, census data lets you better see how specific industries or sectors are faring, allowing you to target the right businesses and act upon their needs accordingly.

Narrowing Down Location

Survey respondents are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to giving location data. They might be purposefully vague, sloppy, or even play jokes by entering incorrect location information. When that happens, it’s census data to the rescue. That information allows researchers to corroborate survey results based on geography for more accurate results. Add that to mobile location information, and you have a near ironclad way to pinpoint a respondent’s location, as well as trends and patterns in a certain area.

Census Challenges

It’s not a perfect method. Obviously, census data is a secondary research source and one that should be used in conjunction with other strategies. And, because of the sheer size of the datasets, using census demographics can be time-consuming. Still, if you’re willing to put in the effort, it is possible to comb through the data and find specifics to form hypotheses, identify behaviors, and track entire demographic groups. This process also relates to datafication, which businesses are using more than ever.

Census data can either be the start of a project in helping to frame a sample, or the last piece to your demographic behavioral puzzle when filling out your research. It’s cheap, plentiful, and just might be the secret sauce that your market research report has been missing.

One Comment on “Why Census Data is Useful for Market Research”

  1. Pingback: Understanding the Importance of Demographics in Marketing - Upfront Analytics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *