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When I was 13 I had an after school job as a page at the public library. My job was to re-shelve the books returned by the patrons. After checking in with the librarian, I’d go load up my cart with books and head for the stacks.

I was a curious kid and as I pushed my cart up and down the aisles, I’d look at the book titles to see what people were reading. Often a book’s title would intrigue me and I’d stop to read a little bit.  While other pages may have quickly unloaded their carts, I would spend hours in the stacks, lost in a book. I think during a typical shift I’d read more that I actually re-shelved.

During the time I worked at the library I learned that the world is simply full of information and that you could learn just about anything if you know where to look and how to look at it.

To be successful in marketing it is important to know as much as possible about your target market. Big businesses have large research departments and teams of researchers to help them with their marketing. Since small business doesn’t have the same resources, we have to be much more ingenious.  That’s where the CIA comes in.

Learning about your target market is a lot like what the CIA does – gather intelligence. But the CIA does more than simply gather intelligence, they have think tanks to mull this stuff over and make sense of it so they can pass it along to the policymakers. The CIA breaks their process down into three steps and calls it the Intelligence Cycle. It works like this:

  1. Information. Raw information is gathered. This data can come from a variety of sources some of which may be reliable and some perhaps not as reliable.
  2. Intelligence. The raw data is reviewed, analyzed and interpreted.
  3. Finished intelligence. After the analysis and interpretation, this finished intelligence is then presented to those who will decide how to act on the intelligence.

There are three types of finished intelligence: basic, current and estimative. Basic intelligence is simply the essential background information of a topic or subject. Current intelligence looks at recent trends and developments and estimative intelligence looks to the future and how things are expected to develop.

The CIA publishes The World Factbook an online reference source that is updated every two weeks. This site holds economic, geographical, historical and demographical information about 226 countries. Access to this data can be useful as our marketing goes global but the CIA’s site contains useful data for the domestic marketer as well.

Looking at the demographic information of the United States, we see that as of July 2009, the population was 307,212,123. Big deal eh? But when you look at the age breakdown of the population, you see this:

0-14 years: 20.2% (male 31,639,127/female 30,305,704)
15-64 years: 67% (male 102,665,043/female 103,129,321)
65 years and over: 12.8% (male 16,901,232/female 22,571,696)
The median age of Americans is 36.7.

While the CIA would take a country’s basic facts like age of the population, then examine other factors like their economy, infrastructure, and education to determine potential socioeconomic and political issues, small business marketers can do the same to learn a lot about their target market.

So let’s look again at those age statistics for the United States.

The majority of the U.S. population (67%) is between the ages of 15 and 64 years old and the median age of Americans is 36.7.  That’s nice to know but what if you are targeting those in that median age group. Wouldn’t you want to know how many there are? To drill down to that, we can jump over to the site of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here we see that there are 20,994,000 Americans in that age group pretty evenly divided by gender (2008 figures). Digging deeper we can find out how much people in this age bracket earn, their level of education and whether or not they own their own homes. If we dig deep enough, we can even find out what they spend their money on, where they like to go on vacation and what they do for fun and recreation.

As we plug this raw data into the next step in the intelligence cycle, we can start to form a picture of our target market. With a clear picture of our target market, we can then start to put together a plan on how best to reach them with our products and services.

Examining current trends in our industry or behavior trends of our target market allows us yet another opportunity to find ways to interact with them.

I used to think that statistics were boring but now that I look at them with the eyes of a marketing sleuth, I find them fascinating.