In the era of Big Data, your zip code is a window into what you can afford to buy, but it also reveals how you spend time—and, in essence, who you are.
That's according to software company Esri, which mapped zip codes across the United States and linked them to one of 67 profiles of American market segments. Here's how Esri describes the "top tier" profile of people who live in 90210 (Beverly Hills), for example:
We've achieved our corporate career goals and can now either consult or operate our own businesses. We're married couples with older children or without children. Every home maintenance chore in our lavish homes is handled by a variety of contracted services. We can indulge ourselves in personal services at upscale salons, spas, and fitness centers, and shop at high-end retailers for anything we desire. We travel frequently, sparing no expense in taking luxury vacations or visiting our second homes in the US and overseas. Evenings and weekends are filled with opera, classical music concerts, charity dinners, and shopping. We support the arts and other charities, read to expand our knowledge, and depend on the Internet, radio, and newspapers for information. Spending time with family and a small circle of close friends is a priority.
The level of detail is striking and—from what I could tell based on cross-referencing some of my own last several zip codes of residence—pretty accurate, too. Anyone can plug a zip code into Esri's database, which makes for an addicting game of "guess my identity." The database is also a way to see how neighborhoods gradually change from one zip code to the next. (Palo Alto's 94301, for instance, has a significantly higher percentage of "top tier" residents compared with nearby 94303.)
But more than that, the database is a fascinating glimpse into how marketers see the world, and how data profiles can link populations in distant cities—or not. Though cities like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, might be compared culturally, their marketing profiles are fairly distinct. And while the majority of consumers in Beverly Hills share a profile with those on Philadelphia's Main Line, for example, they don't match up with the profile for residents of similarly expensive zip codes on Manhattan's Upper East Side.