Carrier Route Demographics
It is common for organizations that mail by carrier route to start asking questions such as "How can I mail to rich neighborhoods?" or "I'd like to avoid mailing to family developments - which carrier routes should I choose?". While these questions sound straightforward, the answers are very complex.
Traditionally, "demographics" are any attribute or set of attributes that can be applied to a group of people. For example, middle-age mothers who have significant disposable income. The US Census Bureau collects information on a wide scale every 10 years (and on a smaller scale the other 9 years) and releases tons of demographic data. This data is a great resource for educators, policy makers, and yes, marketers.
Unfortunately for most people, this data is associated with census geography, which is not easy to understand. Most people understand where a state or a county boundary is (both of which are census geographies). But those are usually too large an area to do meaningful analysis. The census bureau has also defined tracts and blockgroups, among others, to help narrow down demographics locally. But do you know where your blockgroup starts and stops? Do you even know what your blockgroup is?
Maps can often help visualize such trends but that doesn't help direct mailers. If you are doing a mailing, you want to qualify for the best postage rates by mailing to entire ZIP Codes or even better, by carrier route.
Census Bureau and the USPS Don't Line Up
Equating census demographics to postal geography is a huge challenge. They do not line up. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has no charter to collect or report on demographics by carrier route (or by ZIP Code for that matter). And the Census Bureau has no obligation to convert all of their data to postal geography. This problem is further complicated by the fact that postal geography (carrier routes and ZIP Codes) changes so frequently.
Businesses Fill the Gap
There are a few commercial organizations that have developed methods for relating postal geography to census geography (and hence, census demographics). The process is elaborate and starts with high-quality carrier route map information. While most companies have equal access to census geography and demographics, very few have access to up-to-date carrier route boundaries.
How To Find a Good Source of Carrier Route Demographics
If you need carrier route demographics, you should prepare yourself for asking some tough questions of your potential provider. For example:
1) How often do you update the carrier route map data? 2) What is your process for relating census and postal geography (they probably won't tell you exactly how, since they want to protect their intellectual process, but you should be able to get confidence that they aren't just making it up)? 3) Where does your demographic data come from (there are other companies that specialize in modeling current-year estimates of demographics)? 4) Do you just provide the data or do you provide accurate maps as well (if you in fact do need both)?