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7 billion Earthlings: How demographics affect the companies we cover

As you’ve probably heard, by some accounts the Earth’s population hit 7 billion this week.  Others scientists think it’s already happened, or won’t happen for months, or something in between.

Seven Billion people

Photo by Flickr user Scott Ableman

To philosophers, that’s 7 billion souls; to politicians and rulers, they’re prospective voters or subjects.  And to businesses, those thousands of millions of Earthlings are the engine that drives commerce:  Consumers!

I thought the milestone would be a nice prompt for taking a look at how demographics play a role in the planning, strategizing and marketing of the businesses and industries you cover.

After all, scoping out future and potential demand among both existing and prospective customer bases is a critical part of planning for capacity, staff, raw materials purchasing, facilities — you name it — in just about every line of business from grocery stores to smartphone makers to airlines to health care systems to real estate. Tourism, insurance, pharmaceuticals — all will be affected by what this International Monetary Fund report calls a “dramatic aging of many countries’ populations.”

On a less long-term plane, marketing, advertising and product development efforts are guided by demographics — it’s no accident that American Demographics (once a stand-alone publication) is a unit of Advertising Age.  It’s a little trove of information and story nuggets no matter what industries you cover.

Emerging markets are another angle; it’s no surprise that the New York Times chose fast-growing India for the images with its cover story on the 7-billion milestone.

NYTimes population photos

The NYTimes.com Lens blog focused on the United Nations Population Fund estimate that the world’s population has reached seven billion.

Are the companies you cover finding new talent, new clients or new competition from burgeoning overseas markets?  What about ingredients, materials, information, technology or knowledge?  Even in the United States, markets are shifting as census figures show a rise in Hispanic  and Muslim  consumers and business owners, for example, as I discussed in those s previous blog posts.  Here’s a Smithsonian take on “The Changing Demographics of America,” too.  And of course the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a great Demographics portal.

Taking a look at careers in social sciences, demographics, statistics and related fields could be an interesting short take on the topic, too.  What new related fields has technology helped spawn or facilitate, like interactive mapping and other graphics-heavy delivery of information?  Is demographic consulting a line of business that’s on the upswing?

Don’t forget to tap local colleges and universities for leads on how companies are using people data; it’s not uncommon for business schools and other entities to conduct research on behalf of for-profit firms.  Portland State University’s College of Urban and Public Affairs offers a master’s degree with a concentration in applied demography; UC-Berkeley’s Department of Demography alumni directory (amusingly divvied up by “cohort”) is good reading just for a view of the various institutes, programs, journals and other entities out there are devoted to demography; great interview sources should you need them.


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