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10.14.05 Issue #188  
“But Demographics Are Free! Right?”

Scott McDonald

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Occasionally the question is asked “Why should I pay for demographic information about potential patients in my area when data is free on the Internet?”

The source of demographic information is like everything else in life: you get what you pay for except when it’s free. That can REALLY cost you.

The primary sources for free demographic information are the U.S. Census Bureau, Chambers of Commerce, and published articles.

U.S. Census Bureau
Let’s face it: the Bureau is the original source of most information demographers use. The problem is that the information comes in a format that only an expert can interpret. Want to know how many Asian girls, 14 to 15 years of age, live in a single-family home in a given Census Tract? GREAT! Unfortunately, it can take more time than most of us have in a lifetime to boil down all the data and combine them into the variables we want to know from these factors.

For this reason, the natural alternative to the U.S. Census is to purchase data from a “data compiler.”  Their job is to gather relevant, site-specific data and package it in such a way that it has meaning to an end user.

Chambers of Commerce (and other Semi-Public Bodies Cities, Convention & Visitor’s Bureaus, and Planning Commissions)
In almost every case, the area that is being studied does not relate to the size and scope of a professional practice. Gearhart, Oregon may look like the picture of the perfect place to practice but it doesn’t take into account neighboring Seaside. On the other hand, the Oakland Chamber of Commerce data will reflect an area many times larger than a practice can reasonably cover.

While we wholly endorse joining a Chamber of Commerce, the data they present often comes with an agenda.  In most cases, they want to present as perfect a picture of their community as possible. That is why many chambers will “forget” to put ALL the data in their reports. This often includes Historical and Projected Growth, Unemployment, Home Vacancy, and Per Capita Income.

Published Articles
While we love the CBS Market Watch, Census Bureau News Releases, and Wall Street Journal (and I really mean it), articles tend to focus upon a single statistic or a series of trends to provide insights into a location. As an example, Market Watch published (Nov. 21, 2003) a great article on job growth in several regions. Idaho was one such market. They discussed specialty trades (plumbing and masonry) that were hiring in large numbers. What they don’t say is that this entire growth was found in Boise and Meridian. So what does this mean if you are in Idaho Falls?

What is missing in every case is a relevant connection to a specific site. Now, this is particularly important because some locations look great from the point of view of a map (i.e., Interstate highway connection, close proximity, desirable demographics) but physical and psychological barriers cannot be so easily overcome. That is why a site-specific report that will tell you about every practice area in the United States will be most useful.

Demographic information is invaluable in understanding a practice area for site selection, marketing, and practice development.

Scott McDonald is the former Marketing Manager for the California Dental Association, national lecturer and author and provides demographic marketing and site analysis recommendations for The McKenzie Company. For more information email or visit our website.

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