Need Help Selling GIS to Your Company?

An enterprise Geographic Information System (GIS) is a weighty investment. Aside from the server and client install hassle, the capital investment to get the job done can seem daunting.

So what can you do with this investment? What magic can you conjure to see a return on it?

1. Marketing: Who Is My Customer? How Do I Know?
While ‘personas’ are the shiny new thing in the world of user experience, marketing has for a long time been switched on to walking in customers’ shoes.

But a lot of it is guesswork, pseudo-science and, well, woo-woo. Data-driven personas are far more valuable: They remove a lot of the guesswork, and all of the inherent bias of the person building it—which might negatively affect the accuracy of the persona.

ZIP lookup is an easy way to understand data-driven, location-centric marketing strategy. Type in any zip code and it tells you who you’re marketing to. Enter 94043—the Mountain View, Calif. Home of the Googleplex—and it tells you 38% are enterprising professionals, 14% are trendsetters and 10% are “laptops and lattes.”

But what does that actually mean? Click on any of these segments and a detailed breakdown appears, including marital status, housing situation, education, purchasing likes/dislikes and entertainment habits.

Combine this with all those customer zip codes you’ve acquired over the years from lead-generation—newsletter subscriptions, competitions, promotions, etc.—and you’ve got a powerful tool that tells you which buttons to press to maximize your marketing ROI.

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2. Logistics: Expecting The Unexpected
It’s not just marketing that gets all the love. In some ways the benefits of a mapping system for logistics are more tangible.

Just-in-time delivery is a fantastic model that works for most—until something unexpected happens. Con-way Freight, a $5.5 billion freight transportation and logistics service used GIS to enhance their lean operations to great effect. The company streamlined its business by GIS analysis of a mix of data sources including traffic, weather, and delivery inwards—as well as targets met on delivery outwards.

Multiple marginal gains—such as rerouting around rush-hour traffic jams or avoiding parents dropping off children at school—resulted in improved morale and worker satisfaction, plus the obvious outcome of an enhanced delivery timescale.

You don’t have to be a business that’s purely focused on freight to understand the value of having this data at your fingertips. For businesses trying to co-ordinate deliveries in and out of warehouses, taking the edge off the unexpected looks attractive.

Pulling in meteorological data could prevent deliveries being stuck in snow drifts. Analyzing live and historic traffic data can help avoid a two-hour tailback on the Interstate. Knowing where there’s a demonstration or march can prevent an entire day lost to unexpected and unplanned rerouting.

3. Sales: Doing A Better Job Than Competitors
Sometimes, selling things to businesses or individuals requires a little more data than you might think.

Starbucks beautifully demonstrates the art of understanding external forces. It can predict, with great accuracy, the success or otherwise of selling something as simple as a cup of coffee.

Using GIS to map such events—for example the LGBT Pride march route across San Francisco—means Starbucks can visualize not only where they might need more staff and products to sell, but also which neighborhoods are likely to be quieter. This allows them to make smart decisions about where to find those extra staff.

If a company puts that much effort into predicting sales for a $4 cup of coffee, how much effort are you putting into gathering pertinent data that affects the sales of your $1,000 laptop, gas grill, or pair of shoes? From the big game to weather events—understanding not only footfall, but also what affects fluctuations in that footfall, can be the key to optimizing sales, adding more marginal gains, and so gaining an edge over competitors.

Data-Driven Decisions = Smart Business
There’s no use in having databases brimming with interesting data if you’ve no way of picking through it.

Not all data can be geo-coded, and not all data should be. But it’s pointless asking people to give you their information before subscribing to a newsletter, unless you analyze it. Set the data free, give it wings, and let it fly over a map or two.

Where it settles will shape your business decisions, give you multiple marginal gains over your competitors, and hone your business insights so they actually tell a story everyone in the company can easily understand.

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