Geek looking at data

Why Marketers Should Support The 2016 Census

Published May 2, 2016, 07:24 AM by Jan Kestle

Beginning this week, Canadians are being asked to complete the 2016 Census. And there is good news for businesses, consumers and citizens alike.

As you’ll recall for the 2011 Census, the mandatory long-form census was replaced by a voluntary survey. This move resulted in a non-response bias that meant a lot of small-area data for 2011 could not be released—including data on income, education, labour force activity and special populations like immigrants and aboriginal peoples. The loss of the long-form census was a significant blow to policy makers, researchers, data scientists and marketing professionals.

But today we can breathe a sigh of relief because the mandatory long-form census is back, and the complexity of the Canadian population will once again be documented in a comprehensive and statistically sound way. Support for the restoration of a “proper” census came from all corners of Canadian society and has reinforced the fact that the Census of Canada is a national treasure to be protected and supported.

In this era of Big Data, some people wonder why we need the census. There are many reasons, but here are my top five for marketers:

#1 – Key metrics like market share and untapped potential use census-based data to benchmark an organization’s users against total population.

#2 – Census-derived demographics are used to weight surveys to make them applicable to the general population—and more actionable.

#3 – Segments derived from small-area census data are used by marketers to link disparate data sources together—connecting demographics to lifestyle and media preferences and thereby helping marketers get the right message to the right people using their preferred media.

#4 – Census data for neighbourhoods can help harness unstructured data from digital and social media. This allows marketers to link internal offline data to online sources-–getting closer to a single view of the customer.

#5 – Using census-derived data to leverage existing surveys and administrative databases results in businesses asking consumers fewer questions. Businesses don’t have to collect data if it already exists in another form—and consumers benefit.

Because of these and many other reasons, I urge you to fill out the Census—whether you get the short or long form. Please encourage your colleagues, friends and family members to be counted as well. The Census is essential to the fundamental operation of the country—from planning the provision of social services to managing economic growth.

And for businesses, a good census is important as well. We live in a time when busy consumers expect brands to know and connect with them. Good data from the 2016 Census will help us all be better marketers.


Jan Kestle is President and Founder of Environics Analytics, as well as a member of the National Statistics Council.

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