Business Research: Census Data Versus Targeted Data
The goal of market research is to glean as much useful information as possible from the data available.
There are two main forms of data collection: census information and sample data. The first provides general population data on factors such as income levels, demographics, employment, and more. When it comes to getting a broad snapshot of the area where your business is working or thinking of working, census data can be helpful. However, if the goal is to use data to inform your business decisions, you’ll find that census data is very limiting.
Sample data, on the other hand, is highly targeted. Unlike census data that involves information gathered from the entire population, sample data uses the opinions of a portion of people to represent the characteristics and thoughts of the population at-large.
The US Census provides the most thorough data available. Since every member of the population has been accounted for in the census, there is no room for error. But big data is no good if you don’t have time to break it down and understand what it could mean for your business. The scope of the census means that analyzing data is a time consuming and expensive process. Not to mention the fact that the American Census is conducted only once a decade.
While laborious and expensive, census data can sometimes be used to inform business decisions. For example, if you’re looking to open a new car dealership, the census can provide information about the areas with highest population density, the commuting patterns of those people, the current number of vehicles per household, and the average income of those potential customers. By looking at this snapshot of information, a car dealership can make an informed decision to open in Neighborhood A rather than Neighborhood B. Here’s another example: if you want to open a daycare, the census can provide information about the number of women in the workplace and number of young children per household. However, beyond these general insights, census data holds little significance for business decision-makers.
Sample data is what businesses need to inform their strategy. Let’s go back to the car dealership example. Sample data collection may involve selecting 500 nearby residents to participate in a short market research survey. In that survey you ask which size of car they prefer, whether they want new or used vehicles, and the trips they most commonly take using vehicles. By collecting this specific data from a group who may be predisposed to be better car consumers, you are getting a specific look at what may succeed with those customers.
Unlike census data, sample data can be collected and analyzed in a matter of days and weeks. As such, the data is less expensive to collect. There is a larger margin for error, though, especially with smaller sample sizes. Which is why it’s so important to select a sample that accurately represents the diverse opinions and demographics of the population as a whole. The best way to accomplish this is through a market research platform that allows you to define and access a highly targeted survey sample from a pool of nationwide participants.
While census data can be interesting to look over, your business will benefit more from sample data that targets your ideal consumer and answers more specific questions. Whether you want to target your sample based on location, age, income, gender, or even online behavior, ZQ Now allows you to self-select the sample that makes sense for your business.