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Online Resources for Business Research (August 2016): Marketing & Consumer Information

Celia Ross

Marketing & Consumer Information

Business questions often involve a search for data on consumer behavior and demographics along with marketing and advertising trends.  These queries can snowball quickly, especially if detailed information is sought on specific ages, incomes, geographies, or products.  Understanding who buys how much of what (and where or when or why) requires data unlikely to be found readily in free or inexpensive resources, if at all accessible.  Below are some resources that will help focus a quest for consumer data and company marketing or advertising practices.

Euromonitor: Passport should be noted once again because of its excellent global demographic data on consumers and consumer products.  eMarketer should also be consulted for its worldwide coverage of consumers’ online habits and specifically for its specialty industry Digital Atlas section described earlier.  Statista, also highlighted above for its industry data, provides a wealth of consumer information, from social media habits to wine consumption.

The Mintel database focuses on consumer-based industries such as food, beverages, apparel, beauty and personal care, retail, or travel, among others.  Reports can be searched by sector as well as themes (e.g., Healthy Lifestyles, or Premium and Luxury Goods), or browsed by demographic focus (mothers, millennials, affluent consumers, teens).  Many reports, produced annually and available for individual sale, focus on narrow topics (“Consumer Attitudes towards Debt,” “Snacking Motivations and Attitudes”); each study provides statistics and cites primary and secondary sources.  This UK-based resource is strongest on European countries and the United States, and international geographic coverage varies with subscription level.

The MRI database from GfK (formerly, GfK Mediamark Research and Intelligence) provides information reported by a sample of US consumers on demographics, lifestyles, product and brand usage, and advertising media preferences.  The online version available to libraries is dated (information usually is two or three years old), but it is one of the few relatively affordable products that provides product- and brand-level sales data.  Similar in scope and coverage is Simmons OneView from Experian, a new online portal providing survey data on demographic, psychographic (i.e., interests, attitudes, and opinions), and media use characteristics of people’s use of products, brands, and services.  As with MRI, academic access to the surveys is generally embargoed by at least two years.

Standard Rate and Data Service’s SRDS Online Databases (now owned by Kantar Media) provide information and analysis on all kinds of media products, including consumer magazines, business publications, television and radio stations, and newspapers.  Market-area maps and advertising rates, circulation data, and profile information on specific audiences are among the suite of subscriber options, and when used creatively, they provide insights into target markets.  SRDS Local Market Audience Analyst (replacing their print-only Lifestyle Market Analyst) cross-tabulates demographic attributes against each group’s likelihood to participate in a variety of activities or lifestyles, such as traveling for business, exercising, hunting, owning a dog, or riding a bike to work.  Survey-based data are broken out by geographic area (e.g., what people in Spokane like to do) and by fine-grained demographic attributes (e.g., what women ages 22–35 do compared to men ages 36–45).

Researchers look for consumer and market data for all kinds of reasons, notably to assess business viability, create sales leads, compile marketing mailing lists, analyze population trends, or find potential sponsors and donors.  A database with mapping and reporting capabilities can be especially useful.  ReferenceUSA should be mentioned again in this regard because of two specialty modules: U.S. Consumers/Lifestyles with over 260 million consumers, and U.S. New Movers/Homeowners, which identifies three hundred thousand consumers through address-change notifications and utility bills compiled weekly, among other records.  Consumers can be screened by age and income or religion, political party, years in home, language spoken, and lifestyle characteristics (e.g., hobbies, charitable donations, bargain seeking, pet ownership).  Some levels of data detail consumers’ names and addresses, while those considered sensitive are masked.

SimplyMap from Geographic Research is another mapping and reporting site whose report-wizard and data-filtering tools make it easy to create ranked lists of areas, tables comparing locations, and cross-tabulations.  Users can search across demographic, business, and marketing data culled from Census Bureau sources or aggregators’ resources such as MRI or Simmons OneView, described above.  Helpful tutorial videos walk users through the different types of SimplyMap reports (and librarian-authored tutorials can be readily found in a Google search, as detailed in the final section of this essay).

Another database for finding people and businesses is BusinessDecision (designed for public libraries) or its BusinessDecision Academic version.  This reporting and mapping database combines extensive consumer-household, market-segmentation, and demographic data with GIS mapping technology.  Another comparable one is EsriBusiness Analyst from a major publisher and innovative software designer in the world of geographic information systems (GIS).  The resource offers detailed data about consumer spending and demographics along with powerful shopping center and business location analyses; readers may recall the Sourcebook of County Demographics (CH, Apr’91, 28-4292) and Sourcebook of ZIP Code Demographics (CH, Apr’91, 28-4292a), both longtime print standards acquired by Esri.

Users of the DemographicsNow: Business & People database from Gale Cengage Learning can easily search for information about households and obtain a demographic profile for the entire United States or a particular geographic or market area.  One can click on a map to create custom geographic reports or use the EZ Report section, which offers options for identifying prospective business sites by industry and geography, comparing multiple markets, or identifying market demand.

Social Explorer, distributed by Oxford University Press, is a subscriber database (with some free content) that provides access to the entire set of US Censuses back to 1790, including a diversity of data ranging from the US Census American Community Survey, religious congregation membership data, and carbon emissions data.  While much of this information is available elsewhere freely online, Social Explorer provides a clean, easy-to-navigate interface and additional exporting and formatting tools.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) reflects how satisfied people are with their experiences as consumers with industries and products ranging from apparel, banks, and cigarettes to household appliances or pet food.  ACSI measures economic sectors (including energy utilities, transportation, retail, and public administration/government), industries (among them, e-commerce, airlines, hospitals, and breweries), and more than two hundred individual companies and federal or local government agencies, scoring them based on independently developed criteria for measuring customer satisfaction.  Newer data sets, for instance, report website satisfaction and preferences for smartphone brands or hotel chains.  Historical data are available for many industries, some going back twenty years to the time the index was established by researchers from the University of Michigan, the American Society for Quality, and the CFI Group.

AdAge Datacenter from the publishers of Advertising Age provides all kinds of key advertising and marketing information: lists of leading national and global advertisers, biggest-spending megabrands, and synthesized marketing and advertising data on a number of topics, including total ad spending by the top hundred advertisers, the largest media companies by revenue, and the top agency brands of the year.  Advertising Age subscribers must purchase a separate subscription for access to this content.

The REDBOOKS database, long the standard print resource for advertiser and brand information, is now available online to academic subscribers through LexisNexis.  Full subscriptions include access to its Advertiser Profile component (covering over fifteen thousand companies that spend over $200,000 annually on advertising, listing accounts, corporate family information, competitors, brands, and industry codes), and the Agency Profile section (with information on more than ten thousand US and international advertising agencies, their market specialization areas, top-level clients, social media, and news).

The company website offers some free reports and news coverage on consumer behavior, media and entertainment, and other categories.  The Top Ten & Trends section lists top books, music, video games, Twitter-rated social media (TV series, specials, sports events), alcohol, health and beauty products, beverages, and snacks.  Most data are compiled weekly, and only the current (no archival) lists are available.  Licensed access to two separate Nielsen Datasets (Consumer Panel Data and Retail Scanner Data) is available to academic users through a partnership between the University of Chicago and Nielsen.

Finally, MIT Libraries maintains a useful Marketing subject pathfinder highlighting resources on advertising, branding, consumer behavior, demographics, and more.  Although access to online resources is authenticated only for MIT users, it still helps others get oriented to what is available in this complex arena of business research.