Marketing personas

Demographics are destiny. Data can help us prepare

In Short

To be relevant, Jewish Federations and the organized Jewish community writ large must be able to function in the technological world to meet consumer demand. That means we need data.

Throughout history, Jewish communities have had to adapt to survive. Today is no different. The modern world has become a technologically advanced consumer-driven society, where marketplace decision-makers must respond to consumers behavior and preferences. 

To be relevant, Jewish Federations and the organized Jewish community writ large must be able to function in the technological world to meet consumer demand. That means we need data.

Fortunately, our communities are data-rich. We are already using data to inform many of our decisions. We analyze trends in the annual campaign to help plan for next year. Many communities are working to measure programmatic impact. We talk and listen to community members and agency professionals to better understand what is working and what is not. Our challenge is overcoming fears of investing in new technology and working to change culture to harness the power of big data and follow where it leads. 

Let’s use community demographics as an example — it’s a big topic that for many communities feels too big (and expensive) to conquer. There are tough questions to answer. How are families with young children “doing Jewish?” If one parent is Jewish and another is something else, where are their children finding meaning and connection to Judaism as they grow to adulthood? If you are new to a community (Jews are, for sure, on the move), are you finding it hard to engage? How do first and second-generation American Jews identify? We can’t answer these questions without data. 

Last year we received the Pew study of Jewish Americans in 2020. This 12-section, 248-page report is full of national data that can be helpful in understanding our local communities. Not the kind of reading your book club would be interested in?  No worries. Jewish Federations already summarized the report to help you understand what this data means. For instance, a majority of American Jews feels connected to the Jewish people yet when asked about what is essential to being Jewish, being part of a Jewish community did not make the top five. What does that mean for how we define community and engage people in the modern world?  

Pew shows that Jews are moving away from the Northeast to South and West. For historically smaller Jewish communities in these areas of the country that are experiencing strong growth, how should we rethink community infrastructure? 

There are important signals in the data we should pay attention to. 15% of Jews under the age of 30 identify as something other than white. 10% identify as LGBTQ+. 21% have at least one immigrant parent. As we work to strengthen connections to community and increase engagement, we need to rethink what it means to create equitable spaces and opportunities. (Read more at https://www.jewishtogether.org/2020PewStudy.)

There is no one way to parse the implication of what the Pew numbers reveal. The Jewish Federations’ goal is to give communities the resources to make better sense of the data and draw their own conclusions. Our research team is digging deep into the Pew data to analyze different population cohorts. We are creating “marketing personas” — a representation of segments of your customer base built on what Pew and other data resources tell us about these individuals. If your community is thinking about investing in outreach to young families, these personas will help you better understand the marketplace.

But it doesn’t end with Pew. The Jewish Federations also have troves of data in the Berman Jewish DataBank, an archive of Jewish community studies — local and national — that is helping to document our changing demographics. The DataBank has always felt like a hidden treasure, a place where self-proclaimed data nerds can immerse themselves in academic community studies. Not everyone finds this data as awesome as we do, so the Jewish Federations’ impact and growth team is working to make the data in these studies more accessible and easily compared across communities. When we combine demographic trends around migration, antisemitic experiences and Jewish education with financial resource development and program investment data, new stories, trends and insights will emerge.

For those looking through the Berman Jewish DataBank and wishing they could have a large-scale demographic study in their community but are concerned about the cost, we hear you. The Jewish Federations want every community regardless of size, shape and location to have good community-based data. Next on the impact and growth agenda is a proof-of-concept to significantly reduce the cost of a market-based study while still collecting reliable local data. Even better, we are designing these studies so the data across communities can be easily benchmarked. 

This is an exciting time to be part of the organized Jewish community. We are boldly going where the private sector has been for years, but few philanthropies and community-based organizations have deigned to dream of. Just as supermarkets use big data to design attractive store displays to entice customers and Starbucks gathers user data along with holiday and weather data to understand purchasing trends, the Jewish Federations are working to help communities gather and use data to provide the products and services that our community members — our “customers” — want.  We are collaborating, testing and learning in ways we have never done before. Ways that will help us build flourishing Jewish communities for years to come. 

Jessica Mehlman is associate vice president, impact and planning for The Jewish Federations of North America.