Syracuse, NY has enjoyed a long history as one of the nation’s top test markets. The metropolitan area’s use by marketers as proving ground of eventual product success or failure has been well documented for decades. Products both famous and obscure, ranging from ice cream to alcoholic beverages to baby carrots have been tested in Syracuse before the determination was made to go national with them.

Syracuse’s long-term success as a test market is largely due to some market characteristics that also happen to be some of the key traits of an ideal test market. These include:

1. Similarity to the eventual desired market

It goes without saying that a test market should have similar demographic and consumer purchasing habits to the wider area where a product or service will ultimately be marketed. Some criteria where it might be important for a test market to mirror the intended larger market include age distribution, home ownership,  blue-collar/white-collar mix, educational attainment, racial/ethnic composition, just to name a few.

The Syracuse metropolitan area has a demographic composition that largely mirrors the United States as a whole. As recently as 2004, Acxiom Corp. published a “Mirror on America” study that ranked the top 150 test markets in terms of how well they conformed to national norms in key criteria. Out of the list of 150 test markets, Syracuse ranked 5th. The top five were:

  1. Albany, NY
  2. Rochester, NY
  3. Greensboro, NC
  4. Birmingham, AL
  5. Syracuse, NY 

It’s interesting to note that Albany and Rochester, the top two test markets, are Syracuse’s neighbors to the east and west along the New York State Thruway corridor. In many ways that matter to marketers, Syracuse and Upstate New York in general are truly a microcosm of America.

2. Geographic isolation

Some metropolitan areas are tightly packed among others (e.g., Baltimore is sandwiched between Washington and Philadelphia) while others are a great distance from the next population center (e.g., Phoenix, AZ). The latter type of market is desirable for test market purposes because, as with any type of research, it’s important to try to isolate variables as much as possible. If people are regularly exposed to advertising in one media market but do a significant amount of shopping in another, they are poor test subjects. People who live in isolated population pockets are more likely to be exposed to marketing messages and make their purchases within that market. That makes it easier for researchers to isolate the effect of, for example, a TV commercial on sales.

Even though Syracuse is located in the relatively densely populated Northeast, and in a state that many outsiders assume is synonymous with New York City, it is actually an island of urban and suburban development in a fairly rural region of Upstate New York isolated in part by significant natural boundaries such as the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Ontario. Syracuse is about a 90 minute drive away from Rochester, two hours from Albany and over four hours away from New York City. The nearest television markets — Watertown, Utica, and Binghamton — are all at least an hour away and have small reaches beyond their core cities.      

3. Affordable advertising media

Larger cities don’t normally make the best test markets because, among other things, it can be very expensive to advertise in them. The costs to run television or newspaper ads in New York City or Los Angeles are much higher than in a mid-sized market like Syracuse. The main purpose of the test market is to determine the likelihood of success while expending minimal costs. For that reason alone, smaller, more affordable media markets make much more sense to test marketers.

The same factors that make Syracuse a great test market also make it a great place to conduct market research. The area is a natural venue for focus groups. Survey research tied to advertising recall goes hand-in-hand with traditional test market techniques.

Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is proud to call the Syracuse area home. We like to think that the market’s importance in national marketing efforts has something to do with our continued success as a marketing and marketing research consulting agency.