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Geospatial data isn’t just for marketers, here’s why every business needs to have it

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When it comes to business intelligence — and knowing more about your customers and local market — data is key. In marketing and retail, the data you need to collect from surrounding sources is pretty straightforward. You need information about your customers — including preferences, purchase histories and activity — your competitors, your products and services, and even related market insights like how well similar products are performing. Location and geolocation data are also necessary to understand your local and surrounding areas.

Across all industries, retail and marketing included, geospatial data can be just as influential and vital to success. It’s less commonly discussed, and not completely understood by many. Unlike location data, it involves the spatial and logistical information about a particular position, region or area.

In business, geospatial data can be customer addresses, call center and store locations, utility lines, sales boundaries or even rival business locations. It’s more than just one of these channels on their own — it’s the entire collection of spatial information or data. Often, geospatial data corresponds with latitude and longitude to indicate exact coordinates.

Why is geospatial data so important?

It doesn’t matter whether you serve consumers or other businesses, you need socioeconomic information in order to deliver highly personalized and relevant products, goods or services. Trying to sell someone air conditioning or cooling units in a Northern region, for example, might be completely off the table. However, this is a more obvious example that doesn’t necessarily require geospatial data to figure out.

It can be used to discern local income and housing opportunities, to determine product and service performance for the area, and to learn more about the local populace, such as their average age or activities. This information is especially important in retail and marketing where you need to consider urban, suburban and rural environments.

Geospatial information contains spatial identifiers for a particular location or position. It can provide information on a house, structure, road, lake, city or anything on Earth. It is generally tied to a specific location for proper organization, but can sometimes be more widespread. Regional information on a particular state, for example, is broader but may be considered geospatial. So is data on a particular dwelling within said state.

Geospatial data can also be used to discern local environmental conditions. In the Southeast, where hurricanes are rampant, it might be a good idea for stores to continuously stock water, nonperishables and bug repellants. Stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s could learn enough to carry generators, portable power devices, safety tools and equipment, and the like.

Restaurants and service centers can see how much business to expect during a given season or period of time, resulting in better inventory control and customer experience. Chain restaurants and stores can use geospatial data to research and invest in properly in new markets — they can see exactly where a new store or location would be lucrative or not.

Other industries or areas of use include medical and health care, transportation, financial services, logistics and even customer service.

How can geospatial data be used?

One of the most pertinent ways in which geospatial data can be leveraged is through a technique called data visualization. With geospatial data, it’s called geographic visualization. It is nearly identical to nonspatial visualization in that the data is processed and organized in a more visually pleasing format. The exception is that geographic visualizations are organized by their locations in a geo-plane or on a map. The information may then be filtered, queried or presented in ways so as to deliver more meaningful insights about an area or location.

Let’s say you were collecting data about a particular store in a state where you do business. There are nearby stores, which would also factor into the visualization and may even appear on the data map. To focus on that particular store, you would include its service limitations. Then, you might include information about sales, customers, influence and even outside business — people shopping and visiting from outside its normal boundaries.

All this information would be parsed, spread out and displayed via a Google Maps-style chart or visualization, allowing full view of the service area and resulting information.

This example is pretty basic. A true visualization might include even more advanced data, such as nearby rivals or competitors, performance, environmental factors, financial and poverty indicators, and much more.

The future of geospatial data and its use in business

At the heart of geospatial data streams are the devices being used to collect this information. This includes IoT, remote sensors, mobile tracking, and even drones or surveillance hardware. As the technology advances and becomes more capable, the data collected becomes more accurate, precise and reliable. This is also true of the geospatial information collected.

Therefore, you could argue the future of geospatial data and its relevance is directly tied to modern technologies.

At the same time, service providers and organizations are undergoing research and development campaigns to find and deploy such technologies in better ways. GIS, or Geographic Information Systems data, is a hot topic right now, and it’s being leveraged in many ways. It is one and the same with geospatial information.

By expanding beyond the realm of marketing and really honing in on customers and competitors, geospatial data makes it easier to boost your company’s performance.

Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet, where he writes about the latest in technology and business. Be sure to follow Nathan on Twitter @nathansykestech.

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