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Four Ways to Use SIC and NAICS Codes to Boost Marketing Effectiveness

by Mimi Miles  |  
March 31, 2017

For over 60 years, the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system has served as a widely accepted structure for the analysis of businesses participating in the US economy. Marketers have long looked to the SIC system and its successor—the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)—to simplify the processes behind identifying, segmenting, and targeting potential customers and prospects.

But what if you don't have a lot of marketing experience in an industry? Perhaps you are just starting out and need to quickly understand the makeup of your potential customers and prospects, and profile them.

Understanding SIC and NAICS can seem like a daunting task, but having a cursory comprehension of these systems can help you support various marketing activities.

SIC and NAICS Simplified

According to the SIC system, an industry consists of a group of establishments primarily engaged in producing or handling the same product or group of products, or rendering the same services.

The US Census Bureau assigns one code to each establishment based on its primary activity (generally the activity that generates the most revenue). Classification codes are typically derived from information that business establishments provide on surveys, census forms, and administrative records.

SIC is a four-digit, top-down code: The first two digits of the code sequence define the major industry sector, and the second two digits further refine the sub-classification of that sector.

NAICS is a newer, six-digit version of SIC, first put used in 1997. Though NAICS has largely replaced SIC, some areas of government and business still use SIC codes, so it is important to understand both classification systems.

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Mimi Miles is director of Marketing for AXIOS HR, provider of human resources services and HR outsourcing. She has 20+ years' experience in concepting, branding, and promoting products and services.

LinkedIn: Mimi Miles

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  • by Jeana Fri Mar 31, 2017 via web

    Hi Mimi, thanks for this article. Can I suggest a few modifications?

    There is a confusing typo in the first paragraph of the article: "Marketers have long looked to the SIC system and its predecessor—the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)—to simplify the processes behind identifying, segmenting, and targeting potential customers and prospects."

    NAICS is the modernized update to SIC – the “successor” not the predecessor.

    Also, the statement that “SIC and NAICS classification systems were developed in an era of relatively little technology” isn’t true. NAICS was developed in response to changes in the economy, many of which are technology-driven.

  • by Vahe, MarketingProfs Fri Mar 31, 2017 via web

    Hi, Jeana. Thanks for the clarifications! We've modified those sections of the article accordingly.

  • by Neil Mahoney Fri Mar 31, 2017 via web

    SIC codes??? Everything old is new again.

  • by Jillian Baker Fri Mar 31, 2017 via web

    GREAT information. NAICS & SIC Codes are vital for Market Segmentation.

    A few resources you didn't mention. allows you to identify the EXACT NAICS, SIC Codes & Descriptions for ANY US Company ( only offers for companies who share theirs with them in the creation of a profile on the site...) can append NAICS & SIC Codes to your entire customer database, along with company size information and a ton of other valuable firmographics for better targeting, and can also help you get a targeted list by NAICS/SIC with that information. And of course, they also offer the NAICS search engine, the NAICS/SIC Crosswalks, and Drilldown tables for both.

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