Who are you? The census helps demographers know
TheStar.com – News/Canada – A demographic tool defines all of us by our postal codes, via core data from the imperiled long-form census
Published On Fri Jul 30 2010. Antonia Zerbisias, Feature Writer
Location, location, location.
Does where you live determine who you are?
Yes, if marketers are trying to determine whether to locate another fast food drive-through in your neighbourhood, whether your town can sustain a big box outlet or whether your local supermarket should stock an extensive inventory of kosher food.
Some Canadians might balk at being thought of purely as consumers rather than citizens, as Volvo drivers versus Buick buyers, as falling something called the “Tools & Trucks” segment or the “Continental Culture” class.
That’s how one of Canada’s most sophisticated geodemographic statistical systems, Environics Analytics PrizmC2, sorts all of us. We all fit into one of 66 neighbourhood-lifestyle clusters, based on more than 1,800 variables, all beginning with data gathered via the Census of Canada.
That would be the compulsory long-form census data now under attack by the federal Conservative government, despite protests by some 200 organizations and statistical experts, representing business, non-profits, media and social services. (For an updated list, check out datalibre.ca/census-watch.)
“One of the things I’ve been saying in this census debate is that marketers do use this information; they rely very heavily on it,” says Environics Analytics president Jan Kestle. “The marketing community has been at the forefront of trying to get to what we call one-to-one marketing, making sure that you understand who your consumer is, that you’re not bothering them with advertising and marketing, but that you’re making their life convenient by trying to speak to their individual needs — and the census is a big component in doing that.”
In 2001, when Statistics Canada created some 53,000 “dissemination areas” — essentially neighbourhoods with about 300 households — Environics researchers started analyzing everything from dwelling age and type to the ethnicity of the occupants.
Into the statistical mix and match went data gathered from such other research organizations as the Print Measurement bureau and BBM (Bureau of Broadcast Measurement). Out came the 66 segments for Canada, ranked according to a Socioeconomic Status Indicator (SESI), which reflects such attributes as household income, home value (or rent paid) and education.
Those segments were further broken down into 18 social groups based on the SESI, ethnicity, official language and urbanity — how far subjects live from major metro areas, major highways and shopping malls, for example — plus 12 “lifestages” determined by social group, age and the presence of children.
If you live in the GTA, you’re most likely to fall into the biggest groups, starting with Pets & PCs, Newcomers Rising, Winner’s Circle and Asian Up-and-Comers.
And you thought that Harley-Davidson outlet opened near you just because? Not according to an Environics Analytics project that used PrizmC2 and other tools to track down and target prospective customers based on how “freewheeling” they are.
Other case studies include Carlton Cards, which needed to know what kinds of special occasion greetings to emphasize in which outlet, and the Toronto Raptors, who sought to “embrace a more ethnically-diverse fan base.”
Not everybody in any neighbourhood is the same as the people living around the corner, or even next door. But the 66 segments do describe the prevailing demographics in any single area.
Oakville resident Deborah Naperstkow, a senior account manager and married mother of two, falls into the very upscale Urbane Villager segment. But, she says, her family is really classic Pet & PC, just like all the households in another postal code on the opposite side of her River Oaks subdivision street. It’s the largest “lifestyle type” in Canada, accounting for nearly one in 20 households.
“Two houses, two kids, two dogs, three cars, that’s us,” she says. “Minivan and SUV, that’s us. Home computers? We have five, and that doesn’t include my business laptop and my husband’s business laptop . . . we have every possible electronic you can imagine. If I find another charger around the house that I don’t know what it’s for, I will scream. It’s never the charger I want.”
Although her girls are now well into their teens, they were small when the family moved in 12 years ago, as the Environics Analytics analysis suggests. Kestle points out the data is based on the 2006 census, and neighbourhoods do change.
“We’re finding the neighbourhood is starting to recycle itself, or rejuvenate itself, with younger families moving in,” confirms Naperstkow. The ethnic mix is also shifting.
Kestle says businesses such as hers, which require platoons of PhD statisticians and geographers, crunch the numbers for decision-makers, both business and social, at much less effort and cost than it would take for individual organizations. That keeps prices down and requires fewer taxpayer dollars for government services.
“The most reliable source of information for this is the census,” she says, dismissing claims that other countries cope well without the data gathered by the now-threatened compulsory long-form census.
“In other countries, they create these kinds of products using administrative data,” she explains. “In Canada we haven’t had access to a wide variety of administrative data, such as tax records, birth and deaths, and those things. Other countries do without a census but those are the same kind of countries where citizens have an identity card and all of their government records are linked together.
“There’s not a lot of enthusiasm for that in Canada.”
Home, it would appear, is where the target mart is.
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