Data Sources, Part 1: Consumer Level

How many consumer-data sources are out there? Do you know where to get a list of people who may want to buy your product or service? Do you know where to learn what type of people might buy your product or service?

A recent event caused me to wonder about these questions. It’s rare something this synchronistic happens to me, so I’ll share the story:

I was at a lunch last week with some clients when one mentioned a front-page article on ACNielsen’s Homescan data in The Wall Street Journal. As we talked, I pulled a report out of my briefcase containing a number of graphs and charts. I’d produced those graphs and charts for the report using data that just happened to be from ACNielsen’s Homescan panel.

These marketing folks were very interested in that data. Which made me wonder: How much do people know about this and other available data sources?

Today’s column outlines commercially available household-level data sources. In part two, I’ll touch on business data sources, email lists, list brokers, and my favorite “free” data source.

We the People

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 288 million people live in this country in about 111 million households. Some of them want to buy your product or service. How do you contact them?

Every marketer should know the different sources for available data. These resources contain aggregate information about your market, can supply you with a list of names and the home addresses of potential customers, or both. Aggregate information is useful for understanding overall information about your target market. Household-level information is helpful if you have household-level data (e.g., specific response data) to work with or if you need a list of households to target.

Many of these sources allow you to use “selects” to pick specific subsets of names from the databases, based on any available variables. They also allow you to score their lists using a predictive model to cherry-pick the absolute best prospects. You can obtain a list of any size, from hundreds to millions.

Aggregate Household Information

The WSJ article discussed ACNielsen’s Homescan panel data, only one source of aggregate household information. These data focus on consumer packaged goods (CPG) purchasing habits of U.S. households.

As the article mentioned, the panel consists of approximately 90,000 households ACNielsen has recruited into the program. Households are given a scanner unit that’s used to record what CPG products the household purchases.

ACNielsen doesn’t offer lists of names as a product or service. Instead, it provides detailed buying-pattern information. It includes demographics, product volume, and other useful data. Overall, a good source of consumer purchase information.

For online measurement, ACNielsen acquired NetRatings. The new entity, Nielsen//NetRatings, provides information about Web sites: frequency of visits, amount of use, and what types of households use them.

A more recent product, dubbed Homescan Online, combines the NetRatings information with Homescan-type data. The result is information about how CPG brands interact with consumers online.

All the above information is helpful if you must aggregate information about a target market. These sources won’t provide specific household-level information. Other companies do.

Individual Household Information

Acxiom Corp. claims to possess information on 111 million U.S. households, covering 170 million people. As the first figure matches the U.S. Census estimate of the current number of U.S. households, I suspect either Acxiom’s numbers are off or the government’s are. If I had to bet, I wouldn’t discount the accuracy of Acxiom’s data.

Acxiom provides many services. Chief among them is the household data service. Provide Axciom with your customer list, and it’ll return the file with a wealth of information about each customer appended. Variables such as household income, length of residency, education levels, neighborhood ethnicity, and more are available.

Using the same type of information in a different manner, Acxiom can provide you with a list of names and addresses matching “good prospect” demographic information (income, education levels, etc.). It can limit prospects to a geographic region, including proximity to a given location (e.g., a retail store).

Experian also deals in household data. The company is known for its financial information. It claims to have data on 110 million households, covering 215 million people. It offers some tailored applications, including products targeted at the auto and financial sectors. For those who wonder where the TRW consumer credit scores went, Experian’s got them.

If you’re looking for household credit information, Equifax is another well-known source.

Take Your Pick

There are other sources of consumer-level data. Depending on your target market and industry, one of these data sources might be valuable to you. Certainly, the people I lunched with last week were very interested in Homescan’s data.

If you’re marketing in a B2B industry, stay tuned for part two.

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