Map Business Online Blog

Read about business mapping and how it can help your business succeed.

Color Coding and Symbolizing Your Data in Map Business Online

Business mapping software offers a geographic background for your business data. How do you choose which data visualization tools to use? Let’s start with Symbology for this blog post.

Remember, you are importing your business data as a spreadsheet with each address component listed in columns (address, city, state, zip). You can include any number of data columns that reflect your business. People often import these data columns for map display: sales results, product offerings, customer classifications, coverage areas, territories, and many other business related data records. Most users simply map Excel data.

In my digital map world, working first for www.DeLorme.com and then for http://www.MapBusinessOnline.com, I got used to calling visualization tools symbology. Symbology could be dots or map flags located on the map by address or zip code and reflecting your business data. Symbology could also refer to imported symbols that you choose. Symbology can be symbols of variable size, and color. Sometimes you can add text or numbers to your symbols. Symbology can also be a heat map representation of your business data. Think of the whole data mapping process as symbology.

The options are many. There is no perfect symbology for your particular business data. You should consider the options and match them to your audience.

Knowing Your Map Audience
Map audiences are dependent upon the task at hand. You may be sharing maps with a sales team to show territories. Or you could be creating a revenue map for the executive team and your finance department. Another popular mapping audience is your customer, who might be interested in your coverage areas or how often your sales people visit. Understanding your map audience helps you decide what symbology approach to use.

The Boss vs. the People
In general I find that executive audiences want to see everything on one map but they also require clarity. These two requirements can be difficult to reconcile. Executives are pressed for time and used to solving problems fast. So be prepared for your boss to ask for more and more layers of data on your map. Push back. Explain that map clutter can ruin the effectiveness of you business map. Explain that you can easily build two maps – one for tax planning and one for sales accountability, as random examples. Suggest that he take a “chill-pill.” Well, maybe hold back on that suggestion.

Executives and accounting people like to see money. So try to choose symbols that allow values and dollar signs to be shown. Consider totaling sales by county, state or territory and displaying those numbers in an uncluttered way. Chart and graph symbols work well too, especially if you have two or three years’ worth of sales data to compare.

Sales people and business managers often like to view densities of data. They like to look at the map and quickly see where most of the action is. I find smaller black dots work well to display concentrated sales activity by area in a simple way. You can tweak the symbols sizes and colors to try different looks, but this density view can be a good starting map data layer. For example, where all the hospitals are located across the USA.

Another density view is the heat map. A heat map makes your map look a bit like a severe weather map. And that’s good because it wakes up the audience with splashes of bright colors that show hot spots or densities in your business data. Those hot spots could represent sales, donors, epidemics, deaths, births, or any number of imported data points.

Territory Accountability
Territory maps communicate progress against goals. To further that communication overlay a heat map layer to indicate where the over achievers and the under achievers are doing all their achieving. You could also try color coding by circle symbology. These expandable circles can be colored, oversized and undersized, while also displaying numeric values from your data columns, like sales data totals. In this fashion you can over emphasize success in large green colors and highlight low sales in ominous dark gray tones with Lord of the Rings,’Bilbo’s lost again’ music cued to play.

Grow Your Own
I mentioned earlier that you can import your own symbols. This can be helpful for marketing projects. Import a client logo and show those points on key map locations. Import-able symbols are usually just small Jpeg files you can grab online. Avoid logos with lots of border space. They tend to present too large on the map. Find ones that focus on the logo itself.

Color Coding Data Points
Color coding map symbols based on a column of your business data is possibly the most powerful way to view your business data. It lets you describe your data based on categories that your business defines. Typical examples of these categories are customer types, prospect types, clinician skill sets, patient statuses, product focus, or the retail chain of distribution – i.e. distributor, reseller, and outlet.

Warning: I recommend not trying to symbolize too many data types. For example, trying to assign a symbol for each of 45 sales people will lead to map clutter. Use data label options for that kind of identification.

When color coding symbols simply select your data and then select the column within your spreadsheet that you want to color by (your categories). Next choose a range of colors to assign – do you have three types of records? Choose three colors. Remember, too many colors may confuse your audience. Always defer to the KISS rule (Keep It Simple Stupid.)

Next tweak the colors and symbol sizes as required. Then view your color code scheme. You can always go back and redo it. It’s way easier the second time around.

The Map Legend
Your color coding key is displayed in the map legend. That’s where your audience will look to understand what your colors represent. The map legend is fully editable. You can rewrite data layer names and line titles in the legend as required. This is another opportunity for you to tailor you message for your audience. Keep it simple and clear and your map will be more appreciated.

Armed with your digital map symbology tools you can now experiment with different map views that inform your particular business community. And use the word symbology around the office a lot. You’re in the map geek elite now.

Let a map help you learn about your business.

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It’s Complicated – Thoughts on Complex Mapping with Business Mapping Software


Sometimes the business mapping answers you want are found through complex operations. You may desire to find out all of the locations that do not have any associated data points within a fifty mile radius. Or you may want to conduct calculations across various columns in your data and show the results in another column.

Using business mapping software may or may not provide the answers you seek, but there are usually tools you can apply to the problem. Including your original spreadsheet data. Tools like market analysis maps can make business mapping software more than a tool to just plot locations on a map.

Because mapping software often enables totaling of numeric values by geographic segment – by territory, zip code, state, or county – you can usually expect to show sales totals or value totals by geographic segment. Taken a step further, you can add category count columns to your Excel data and allow the mapping application to total those records on the map as well.

Spreadsheet Manipulation
For example, if you have three categories in your data – say small, medium, and large accounts – add a column for Small Count, Medium Count, and Large Count in your spreadsheet. Populate those columns accordingly – put the value of 1, wherever you have a small account, and so on. Import the adjusted data and color code as dots: Small – Blue, Medium – Red, and Large – Blue. Using this amended dataset, you can compare multiple data layers and get results that show how many of each account category exist within X radius of a series of brick and mortar locations.
Taken a step further, you can query the resulting dataset counts using a Filter tool to establish which brick and mortar locations have zero small, medium, and large accounts located within a designated radius.

For many of you, this may be way too much work. But for a company that has many records, and needs to answer a basic question, perhaps related to a major marketing activity, this could be a great way to get the answer without hiring NASA consultants to ponder the issue and develop a result at $150.00 per rocket scientist, per hour.

So the lesson here is don’t run from complexity. Take it one step at a time. Leverage your spreadsheet software. Call or email for help. And consider the problem in a quiet place, before the kids wake up in the morning and with Facebook turned off. With a little bit of thinking, and experimenting you just might get the answer your seek.

And if your business mapping application doesn’t have the capabilities to solve your complex queries, it may be time to consider GIS software. Geographic Information Software companies like www.esri.com offer tools that can take into consideration complex data structures when answering large questions about big business, environmental resource challenges, and social/political trends.

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How Can Business Mapping Software Help Plan Business Expansion?

Congratulations! Your business is going well and you are seriously considering expanding. How can business mapping software help?

Usually business expansion means catering to more customers or moving into new markets. Often these new markets are defined geographically. Perhaps you currently sell very successfully to everyone in the Mount Washington Valley and you’d like to expand to several new areas like Portland, ME or Concord, NH. Here are some suggestions on how to use business mapping software to help analyze your expansion plan.

Know Your Competition
Pretty much everyone competes with another company. It’s a good idea to compile a spreadsheet of your competitor’s stores, warehouses, and branch locations complete with name, full address, and whatever else you feel is pertinent data. Then map Excel data you’ve compiled. You may be able to figure how many users or customers they have by Googling creatively or comparing Facebook likes to other competitor Facebook likes. Get creative. Sometimes you can buy competitor data through business listing companies, but it is fairly easy to use a Google search to compile your own competitive spreadsheet.

Next, import your competitors into your business mapping software for some visual expansion analysis. Look at where they do business. Perhaps you should also analyze zip code, city limit, or county map layers applying population demographics? Chances are good this data confirms what you thought – that your competitor has stores located where the people are. If you think you can compete, then you should have stores there too.

Your Customer Lists
Have you got a list of potential customers from the proposed area? Customer mapping is a very popular feature in business analysis. It is likely that you do, or you can purchase a prospect customer list that meets your typical customer profile. Import these lists and view the records on a map. Draw circles around your competitor’s store locations at various radii. Adjust your location symbols smaller so that they nicely display customer densities as you view the areas. Or perhaps use heat map views to expose densities of customers. Consider locating stores near high densities of customers.

Perhaps you are aware that complementary stores or businesses tend to draw your optimum type of customer. Compile and import those store locations. Find the highest density of those complimentary store locations and consider real estate within 1 mile of those addresses. Draw concentric circles around those stores and look at the overlapping areas. These overlap areas may reveal excellent spots for a branch location. Compare these overlaps to customer densities and think about locations.

Possible Locations
Check out real estate listings for commercial buildings in these target areas. Again, compile a spreadsheet with pertinent data – like annual costs or asking prices. Import these locations into the map. See how they fit into your analysis.

Once you’ve located some possible expansion site locations use your map application’s drive time analysis tool to consider the 15 minute, 30 minute and 60 minute drive time polygons around those locations. Can you get traffic information about these areas? Perhaps locating a store where peak traffic occurs is a good idea – or a bad idea. What about searching the zip codes within your drive time polygons? Can you answer the question, what is the highest income zip code within a 60 minute drive time of possible locations? Would Census Tract maps and demographic data help you make some decisions? If you are selling cars or furniture, this could be a critical question. If you are selling office supplies, maybe not so much.

High growth new housing areas could also be a consideration depending on your market, but I remember stores, newly place in 2007 around rapidly growing Austin, TX, that quickly folded as empty houses and condos, projected to sell in the hot real estate market, failed to sell in the tanking economy. Stores were there, but no customers. Consider importing some housing data for your target areas to get a sense of where houses are selling.

Business mapping applications provide a variety of ways for you to perceive your expansion plans. I’ve noted a few of them above. Your business will include particular location-based data points that will inform your expansion plans if placed on a map. Here are some example ideas of additional maps views that could help a business analysis:

• Property data from real estate industry sources
• Mobile CNA home locations, assisted living centers, and emergency rooms for medical businesses
• Shopping mall locations for the retail business
• Bus stops impacting taxi businesses
• Coffee Internet cafe related to electronic accessory sales outlets
• Businesses over five stories in height for elevator repair services
• Population by zip codes within 120 minutes drive of a potential baseball stadium
• Sex offender home locations within 1 mile of a proposed day care center

Use your imagination to create your business expansion map to help assure your future business planning drives a successful result.

Www.MapBusinessOnline.com America’s fastest growing business mapping software.

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A Healthy Way to Apply Business Mapping Tools

Here’s a business idea that’s going to make someone a lot of money – fast-healthy-food. You can send me a royalty check if you make a go of it. Ever been pressed for time in the city and you have to eat something but you don’t want to spend both the 2500 calories and the $8.49 at MacDonald’s? Anyway, if you were starting up a healthy fast food restaurant with a drive through, you might use a business mapping software the way Jenny does below.

Healthy Jenny had an idea for a business. She believes a drive-through, fast-food vegan restaurant chain is a winner. She planned to call the chain Healthy Jenny’s. Jenny used her business mapping application to conduct market analysis for her business plan. She looked at business locations, the competitive environment, and her future customer market area.

First Jenny needed to decide where to place her stores. Market research indicated her vegan/vegetarian food offering will compete nicely where ever Denny’s restaurants are located and especially if there are hospitals nearby. So Jenny created an address list of all Denny’s locations in the New England region and imported them into her map application. She placed a circle radius of 5 miles around each Denny’s as target areas for competitive drive-through locations and hospitals.
Jenny also found a list of Starbucks in the same region and placed those on the map, figuring that her customers would also be Starbucks customers. Wherever a Starbucks fell within the 5 miles circle she knew she had a good candidate area for a Healthy Jenny’s location.

Next, Jenny created drive time areas around each proposed store location. She figured her clientèle would likely drive up to 30 minutes for a vegan veggie wrap with her tangy special sauce. After creating drive time polygons of 30 minutes she converted those polygons into zip code areas for a quick demographic analysis. Jenny believed her demographic sweet spot was 25 to 35 year-old professionals whose households make more than $65,000 per year. This data would show under household income by zip code using Census data. She was able to view her drive-time zip code areas with these demographics associated and color code her key market areas.

Armed with this information Jenny was able to choose the location for her first two stores. Next up a trip to the bank with her business plan, a couple of critical large-format map print-outs, and a sample veggie wrap with her special tangy sauce.

Healthy Jenny’s was taking shape at last. Now, how do I get her to open up shop in Cornish, ME? Guess I better call Denny’s.

Www.MapBusinessOnline.com America’s fastest growing business mapping software.

Let a map help you learn about your business.

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