Regional Distribution of the US Population

Marketers are increasingly learning that there are important regional differences in the United States and that for many products the shotgun approach of a single national advertising campaign is less effective than more precisely targeted regional strategies.

Population is not distributed evenly across the United States but instead is concentrated in certain states and regions, with the states east of the Mississippi River accounting for the great bulk of the population.

Although current population data are important, one should not lose sight of the fact that population shifts are occurring that could dramatically alter the present picture. Certain areas of the United States have gained population rapidly, while others have gained slowly, and still others lost population. One of the most important shifts in population evident is the generally southwest ward movement toward the Sunbelt, the lower are of warm. Between 1988 and 1995 this group of states in the south and west is expected to account for more than 80 percent of the nation’s population increase.

The growing popularity of the Sunbelt is a result of many people’s searching for a better quality of life. Escape from the colder weather and higher expenses in northern cities are two of the key motivations driving industry and individuals alike to relocate in this region. By the year 2030, the population of the south for example, should exceed that of the northwest and Midwest combined.

It is important to understand regional trends in population, since this understanding may be helpful in segmentation and marketing strategy decisions. For example, it has been demonstrated that personality differences exist among the people in the different geographic regions of the United States, and these may be associated with differences in the demand for many products. Even the design and character of some products varies across the different regions of the country. An obvious example is the differing architecture of housing across the country.

Many such differences result from climate, religion, social customs and other factors. Consequently, gathering demographic data by region can lead to a useful understanding of sales patterns.

National brands are spending less, proportionately on national media and more on regional television, radio and newspapers. This new marketing approach emphasizes local color, appeals to regional tastes, problems and styles uses local celebrities for testimonials, ties in with local events and sometimes offers a regionalized product. For example, SC Johnson & Son, maker of Raid bug killers, was concerned that its market share had flattened. It began to study the regional bug killer market to understand better when and where different bugs would be crawling, flying, biting, and stinging. The company developed a regional promotion program that led to market share increases in sixteen of eighteen regions and of 5 percent in the US insecticide market.

Other studies have found large variations in consumer behavior among the different geographical regions.

Perhaps the most provocative view of the differences between regions has been offered by Joel Garreau in his Book The Nine Nations of North America. Garreau’s thesis is that we should forget the artificial political boundaries between countries, regions, states and provinces in North America and concern instead with cultural boundaries. His anthropological research incorporates demographic characteristics, interviews and personal observations to yield differences in cultural value patterns between the various areas. Areas are known as vernacular regions because they are self-identified places – those perceived to exist by their inhabitants and other members of the general population. They are composites of the mental maps of the population. The significance is that inhabitants share cultural traits and symbols that distinguish them from other areas, including building styles, religious and political practices, speech patterns, food, dress, music, and other traditions of all sorts.

Although one research study claims a relationship between the nation concept and values another study of these nine geographical areas found that the consumer values did not support this theory. In contrast, the values were more closely related to those of the Bureau of Census regions, thus implying that segmentation of North America is not optimal. Another researcher attempted to map the regions empirically using demographic, marketing and political variables, which led to a picture with both similarities to and differences from Garreau’s view. Thus, more research is needed.

How can a marketing manager use such a concept of regional variation in values held by consumers? First it should be recognized that consumers may purchase various products and services based in part on the value fulfillment obtainment from their ownership or use of them. Thus, some may buy a personal computer because they value a sense of accomplishment and like a challenge. Second, understanding that values of various regions may differ and knowing which values tend to predominate in a given region may give a clue to development of successful marketing strategies. For example, an advertising campaign for a brand of personal computer stressing how its features help users accomplish their goals may be most effective in the east, less effective in the south, and still less effective in the west south central. Similarly, an appeal to security (such as how a brand of personal computer can be used to control a home security system) may be more successful in certain parts of the south than in the west. Marketers may also offer a product or service with a vernacular name to inexpensively and effectively raise its visibility.