There was a time when I thought that the US Census data was limited to demographic information about people and households. Boy was I wrong! It turns out that the US Census is a treasure trove of data, available for free at http://www.census.gov courtesy of the US government. You can even download a free app!
Here are three ways that you can use census data in your market research efforts:
- To locate potential sites for your business – Say you want to open up a casual restaurant catering primarily to Hispanic families with young children. You can use the Census’ Interactive Population Map to find and compare potential sites. This map enables you to use population data at the most granular level, right down to the census block. You can segment data by age, race, ethnicity and housing status, and then compare up to four locations side by side.
- To find people to market to – In my previous article on buying a mailing list I said that the first step is to clearly define your target. Census data can be helpful for this, as it can be used to find geographic areas that have a high concentration of people who meet your customer profile. For example, say you’re selling season tickets for a professional football team. You’ve determined that your average ticket holder is a 55-year-old male who makes $100,000 per year and lives within 50 miles of the stadium. You can use census data to find areas with the highest concentration of people who meet this profile and then buy a mailing list that only includes these areas.
- To identify potential markets for expansion – Another useful tool is the County and Business Demographics Interactive Map (or CBD Map). This is similar to the Interactive Population Map, but it also layers in some business demographic data about industries, business patterns and raw counts of establishments per industry. The CBD Map (and its corresponding Interactive Text page) can be used to help you find areas that have a high concentration of your target demographic but a low concentration of competitors. Although the business information is only available at the county level, and the counts are only for broadly defined industries, it can still be quite useful anyway.
These are just a few ideas for how you can use census data. I recommend that you visit http://www.census.gov and spend some time poking around. You might be amazed to see how much data is available – for free.