There’s a research product called a Primary Market Area or PMA. Most organizations have them, but many don’t know what do to with them.

First, let me say, a Primary Market Area report is just the area where most of your members or customers are coming from. Second, YMCAs did not invent Primary Market Areas. All industries have something similar.

  • To create a PMA, you upload the addresses of your customers into a software package that puts (geocodes) those addresses onto a map. Some of you old-timers like me may remember creating those maps with a block of Styrofoam, a box of pushpins and a Xeroxed membership list. Those were some fun times—all the staff around a conference table “geocoding” our members and program participants. Right.
  • The software connects the “pinpointed” addresses to demographic data usually drilled down to census blocks.  It’s not actual data about each “pinpoint” you see on the map, but based on what is known about the income, spending habits, property values, and other general facts we know about the people who live in the census tract.
  • You don’t have to do census tracts; you can do zip codes, counties, drive times or any other geographical area you choose. Traditionally we use where 80% of the members live as the PMA, but you can also choose your study area. You might rather have 50%, 75%, or even look at a specific mile radius or a drive time. We can also overlay it with population density, income or household-size maps.

Ironically, although the word “Primary” is part of the name, PMAs are secondary research; not primary research on your members.

Regardless of where you get your PMA, the demographic and psychographic data on the “pinpoints” is purchased from a data company that has taken census data and run analysis on it. We use the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) for our data. You could easily do your own PMAs if you want to invest in the software and a data subscription.I also get asked how often you should do a PMA, and the answer is, of course, “it depends.”  If your market and your membership base is fairly stable, annually may be enough. But if your Y membership is growing quickly (maybe you just opened or expanded) or if it’s declining, or if your community is undergoing major changes, you may need them quarterly or even more often.

What’s most important is what you do with your PMA. A PMA is used to help you see what areas of your market you are best penetrating. A PMA is a good tactical tool to help you see where your best future opportunities for attracting new members are. It can help you understand more about your communities and members.But there are lots of things that PMAs are not. They might help you figure out if there are enough rooftops in your area for a new location, but they are not appropriate to tell you if you should invest in that new location, what programs you should offer, or where that new program delivery center should be located. You need primary research for that—conversations with your community to find out what they value, what they will pay for your services and programs, and how their travel patterns impact your location selection. PMAs also won’t tell you if those rooftops are going to connect to your fundraising case or your volunteer opportunities.

In summary, PMAs are an inexpensive, but valuable research tool if you use them for what they're intended.

But if you’re trying to make strategic decisions about the future of your organization, you need more than a PMA. You need a market research professional and process that can help you gather and analyze the data you need to chart your course.

Looking for more insight into your members and your data? Drop us a line.

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