Census' Multiracial Data a Bonanza for Marketers

Direct marketers and their suppliers next month will finally be able to get their hands on population data down to the block level by race, Hispanic origin and voting age from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2000 census.

Unlike the 1990 census, marketers will have access to more than 63 single-race or multirace categories down to the census block. Experts say this new data will open a plethora of new marketing opportunities.

“When direct marketers start looking at this data, they will begin pondering what to do with it,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a Washington-based consultant on census issues for data users and the business community. “They will have to see if there is a significant multiracial population in a particular community and whether that warrants some changes in advertising.”

For example, marketers would have to decide whether to put “more multiracial people in their catalogs or Web sites to appeal to those populations.”

Companies already are gearing up to use and sell the new data.

“We plan to incorporate the new data into the Claritas 2001 small-area estimates,” said Ken Hodges, director of demography at Claritas Inc., Ithaca, NY, a consumer marketing information firm that uses census data for many of its product and service offerings.

However, Hodges said this information might create some problems because it will be different from what most data users have come to expect.

“Marketers [and suppliers] are going to have to go through an adjustment period, learning how to use multirace data,” he said. “Comparing this data against the last census is something you can't really do. Instead, we'll have to do a lot of estimating, figuring out what the 1990 census data might have looked like had multirace data been an option.”

David Axline, a manager of database marketing at Hyundai Motor America, Fountain Valley, CA, a unit of Hyundai Corp., Seoul, South Korea, said he relies on census data regularly when targeting mailings. He is looking forward to the new multiracial data, especially since Hyundai started targeting the Hispanic and Korean markets with direct mail last year. The company plans to increase the program this year.

“We will definitely be using some of the ethnic and multiracial breakups for analysis purposes to help us quantify who we want to mail our mailings to,” Axline said.

Also unlike 1990, all of the census data will be posted on a flow basis on the Internet and on a CD-ROM or DVD within 48 hours of its release. The data will be sent and released throughout March. Under law, all data must be transmitted by April 1. The data online are free; the CD and DVD products cost about $50.

The Census Bureau released its first figures in December, sending out only state population totals, which determine congressional representation. More detailed population data, down to census blocks of 25 to 50 households each, will be available now, though some of the richest information — such as income, education and property value — will not be available until next year. These data were collected from the long form, which was sent to one-sixth of the population and contains 52 questions compared with the short form's seven questions.

The first batch of data showed that the total U.S. population increased 13.2 percent from 1990 and that there were 6 million more Americans than the bureau's demographers had estimated. Nevada was the fastest-growing state, with a 66.3 percent growth rate; other booming states included Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Georgia. In addition, the census found a sharp rise in the U.S. Hispanic population.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau is seeking congressional approval to change the way it gathers detailed information about the country. The agency wants to kill off the long form and replace it with a smaller, annual sample.

Canvassing a select group of residents every year would be cheaper than the current system, officials say, and managing it with a full-time staff would mean higher productivity and less wasted effort. Questions could be modified frequently, and results could be disseminated more quickly. Results from a test program of the new annual method will be published in July, long before reports from the 2000 long form's data begin to be released in March 2002.

Fully implemented, the American Community Survey would canvass 3 million of the country's 120 million households each year. The long form reaches 20 million households, so the new strategy would mean a 50 percent increase in the number of respondents reached each decade.

Before the survey becomes a census standard, the bureau needs final approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which acts as a watchdog on burden-of-reporting issues. Its biggest hurdle will be to get full funding. The Clinton administration budgeted $22 million this year for in-depth annual data collection in 31 states and $24 million for test runs in all 50 states. Congress and President Bush have yet to decide whether to continue paying for the program.

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