Several weeks ago, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that 72% of Americans completed the 2010 Census by mail. After the mail phase, the Census Bureau moves on to a door-to-door phase in which they visit every U.S. household that did not return a form.

To encourage participation, the Census Bureau has undertaken a massive publicity and advertising campaign. This campaign raises issues such as Congressional representation, the allocation of social services, and having an accurate understanding of the ethnic and racial makeup of the nation; all of which hinge on everyone participating in the Census. Most people understand how accurate Census data helps government at all levels do its work.

One aspect of the Census that is, perhaps, less understood by the average person is its importance to market research firms like RMS. When organizations want to understand the markets in which they do business, or explore new markets, they rely heavily on demographic data that is either taken directly from the Census, or provided by a third-party vendor such as Claritas or Experian that makes projections and estimates using Census data.

Examples of the importance of Census data or information derived from Census data to market researchers are numerous. A retailer trying to decide between two locations for a new store (e.g., Syracuse vs. Rochester) will rely heavily on income data and the analysis of how the population demographics of the two potential markets match their target customers. Real estate developers examine the shifting population distribution patterns within cities, counties, and/or regions when deciding where to purchase land and build. Advertising agencies and marketing departments carefully study the changing composition of the population to figure out new messages to pitch their products, and even what kinds of new products are likely to be in demand in the future.

So, in addition to determining the political representation of your region and state, the money provided to maintain services like police and firefighting, and so forth, the Census also has a profound impact on the stores that open up in your town, the products that are distributed to your area, and the ways marketers try to sell them to you.

If you’re curious to see the participation rate for your community, the Census Bureau has provided this fun, interactive tool – click here.