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Why Marketers Need Accurate Census Data (and How You Can Use It)

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Update: As of October 13th, the Supreme Court ruled to permit the Trump administration’s shortening of the 2020 Census timeline. Now, the Census Bureau will only be accepting responses through October 15th.

It’s October, and the U.S. Census is in full swing. But chances are you already knew that because if you haven’t filled yours out yet, the Census Bureau has probably been knocking down your door.

Census data is of extreme importance for a variety of reasons, including its role in allocating government funding, essential services and even political representation across the country.

Of course, the once-in-a-decade event is occurring in 2020 – a year marked by social unrest, the presidential election and a global pandemic. It only makes sense that the census would make the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s list of programs at high-risk for fraud, abuse, waste or mismanagement.

With the pandemic calling for adjustments in how the Census Bureau collects responses, getting American’s to take the survey in times of crisis has been difficult.

Then the Trump administration made calls to shorten the timeline for collecting census data. The verdict was initially overruled by a federal judge, and the census was to continue through October 31st. The Supreme Court has since overruled the order and, per the Trump administration, census responses will stop being collected on October 15th.

While those familiar with the census understand its mighty impact on the state of the country and the people in it, there’s a group of people that rely heavily on accurate census data whether they know it or not: marketers.

How Marketers Use Census Data

On a broader scale, the census determines factors that directly and indirectly impact local economies, thus influencing consumers’ willingness to spend. Of higher importance to marketers, though, is the integral role that census data plays in the research that guides their very campaigns.

A common misconception is that the census only provides demographic data – which is still noteworthy in of itself – when in actuality, it also includes information spanning from competitors, the economy, health care coverage, commuting patterns, material wealth, living arrangements and social interaction.

In other words, it’s data that guides marketers on each and every campaign decision they make. At least, that’s the case if your marketing campaigns are centered around the customer, as they should be.

And at risk of stating the obvious: accurate data informs accurate decision making, and therefore, effective campaigns.

On Defining Your Audience

Any good marketer knows that effective marketing isn’t about appealing to the masses. Rather, it’s about targeting the people who have a need or desire for your product. This requires a thorough understanding of who those people are, which is why many create buyer personas or target audience profiles.

Census data provides a wide range of information on your audience that can help in developing these profiles. If you know basic demographic information about your audience, you can use it to sift through the data to develop a more thorough understanding of their everyday life.

For businesses limited to a physical location like brick and mortar shops or restaurants, the census provides invaluable data on the people who live near your location.

The same way marketing and advertising campaigns adjust to changes in the industry, having an awareness of the shifting composition of the population is integral to not getting left behind.

Even for online businesses, marketers understand the importance of audience insight. It’s the same reason why Facebook Insights allow the social media platform to offer such precise targeting. When you can use demographics as a guide, you can learn more about a consumer’s needs and online habits and how to use them to your advantage.

On Reaching Your Audience

Not only does census data help you define your audience, but it can tell you where to find them. From commuting patterns that can predict the effectiveness of an outdoor ad to a knowledge of whether your audience has access to the internet for digital consumption, media planners and buyers have to know where to look.

While geo-fencing and geo-targeting emphasize the benefits of location-based marketing for physical storefronts, location can be a powerful tool for online businesses as well.

It’s actually the non-physical boundaries of online businesses that make location-based marketing full of opportunity. Their customers can order from anywhere, but their most valuable and likely consumer may reside in key areas. Census data can unlock this information, opening up a wealth of opportunity throughout the US.

On Improving and Scaling Campaigns

It’s only natural that with a data-induced understanding of your ideal customer comes an ability to craft customized messaging for them. The more personalized and customer-centric a campaign is the more brand loyalty and customer retention you obtain.

It’s also not unheard of for businesses to use census data to inform the feasibility of a new product or location. Similarly, marketers can use census data to evaluate new markets for a campaign when looking to scale. Before investing in a potential audience, they can evaluate how well they really match up.

On Reducing Your Waste

We hate waste as much as the next marketing agency. Wasted time, effort, ad spend – you name it. With well-targeted marketing comes less waste in the form of promoting in the wrong places, at the wrong times or to the wrong people.

Advertising has long revolved around a medium being able to prove who is looking and when because it allows marketers to focus efforts on their target audience (aka where they produce results).

And how do they know where they’ll produce results?

That’s right. Census data.

On Advancing Research

As broad and comprehensive as census data is, there are times when a marketer needs more. Perhaps you need qualitative data on a product or to test consumer response to a change in branding.

Whatever the reason, census data still plays a role in conducting productive market research. Whether you’re sifting through secondary studies or constructing proposals for primary research, it can point you in the right direction.

If you need to conduct a study on a certain segment of people, for example, census data can instruct you on where and how to find them and whether your resource allocation and goals are reasonable.

Where Is All This Valuable Data Anyway

The Census Bureau publishes census data on its website following open data guidelines while keeping individual responses private. This means that anyone, even you, can access the wealth of data available.

Even so, sifting through an immense amount of data on everyone living in the country can be challenging and time-consuming. It’s why many marketers and agencies turn to third-party data providers and research firms to find insights and trends for them.

Since many of these third-party providers rely on census data for their own research and offerings, it’s imperative to recognize that threats to the accuracy of census data are actually threats to all data used by marketers.

What You Can Do to Protect the Census

The biggest threat to census data in 2020 is obtaining responses from as many people as possible. Whether you’re a marketer reliant on accurate data or a citizen looking to protect your local economy, there are ways to help.

  • Take the survey
  • Spread the word to friends and family
  • Post about it on social media
  • Sign up for census updates and resources
  • Host a census solutions workshop in your community
  • Apply for a temporary (and paid) part-time job with the Census Bureau

There’s only a month left to collect representative data for the 2020 census that will play an integral role in the future of marketing over the next decade. If you enjoy the feeling you get when your campaigns drive results, be sure to complete the survey and spread the word. If you don’t, do it for the rest of us and the good of the country.

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