Find Your Customers with GIS

Making money in business is easy: all you need do is sell people what they want, where they want it. Amazing how such a simple concept can be so tricky in the execution. But new technology and a GIS degree can help turn the difficult into the routine.

The problem for businesses is an old one. Everyone and everything are mixed together. As 19th century pioneer marketer John Wanamaker is credited with saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Buyers are mixed with people who will never do business with you. Some customers want blue sweaters, while others would only buy green.

What’s hip in LA is square in New York. To increase success, an organization must sort through the morass and target the right people with the right offers. That’s where geographic information systems, or GIS, come in. These analytic tools and methods are built around the broadly-defined concept of location. And when it comes to customers and their habits and buying trends, location is everything. That’s because location has always been an underlying factor in human decision making and thought. Our prehistoric ancestors would search for the best grounds for finding food and water. Hundreds of years ago, explorers and merchants set sail to find lands that would offer goods that would excite people back home.

Location has been important because it is a proxy for decisions and actions that aren’t really random, but which cluster together. Normal life experience shows you that neighborhoods are often collections of people with similar socioeconomic characteristics. For years, marketers have identified consumers by postal code as a rough way to address who might have the money for or interest in their goods and services. Stores locate themselves based on traffic patterns and population densities.

But all those attempts at analysis and discovery are crude compared to what GIS offers today. Instead of taking wild chances (“OK, Columbus, which way did you say we should go?”) or using a combination of rough estimate and crossed fingers, marketers can undertake sophisticated examinations of current business, market trends, and influencing factors. Here are just a few examples of what organizations can accomplish with GIS:

  • Create maps of customer locations and look for clusters, then see what they might have in common.
  • Identify regional variations in product mix popularity.
  • Combine third party economic data with your own. Look for factors that are predictors of customer interest in what you offer and find geographic concentrations that could warrant special promotions.
  • Use historic data to associate descriptions of consumers with interest in products and then map against shifting patterns of population.

Geographic information systems offer a competitive advantage in marketing and sales, which is why supplementing your education with GIS courses online can be such a career advantage.

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