Mapping Market Reach

Troy Lambert


Businesses want to know as much information as they can about their customers, and one of the key pieces of information is location. Where do their customers live, and where do they hang out? How much time do they spend there? How far do they venture from home for restaurants, stores, and the other things they need? Do they shop online out or convenience or necessity?

Recently when viewing a map of school districts and demographics, a group of GIS users noticed something distinct. School districts are geographically defined, but colleges don’t work the same way. However, although anyone can attend any college, most of the time college students choose a college close to them or at least in the same state. The list of colleges students consider attending is relatively short: once elite colleges and a few major state schools are crossed off, they overwhelmingly name schools within their region.

Even with major universities offering online classes, the majority of online students are from the area, and take classes online as much for the flexibility as anything else. Take Regis College for example, once a women’s only private school in Massachusetts on the verge of bankruptcy in 2002. To save themselves, school opened their doors to men and expanded their programs to have a broader reach, including offering a fully online nursing degree program.

The college now has 1,954 undergraduate and graduate students from twenty-six states and eleven countries. About 81 % are women. Those numbers are a little deceptive though. Even when counting online students, only 11% are out of state and international students make up less than 2% of those enrolled. The majority of the students at Regis College including those taking classes online are local.

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What can we learn from this example?  Since Regis is a small college, they face some marketing challenges other businesses can learn from, and mapping can help display them and even help organizations to overcome them.


When you think of Notre Dame you may think of football, academics, or an elite Catholic university. That is because they have national brand recognition. Regis College has no such advantage, and is often confused with Regis University, located in Colorado. What’s the difference?

Exposure: Regis college gets some regional press and occasional national attention for a joint nursing program they run with organizations in Haiti. The geographic reach of this exposure contrasts in direct relationship to the name recognition for both schools.

How do you know what that exposure is? Social mapping is one way, as there is a difference between potential reach and actual reach. If a website or news outlet has 5,000 unique visitors per day, how many will actually view and read an article about Regis College and how many of those are from outside their geographic area?

Social mapping of follows, likes, shares, retweets, messages and other interactions reveal the effectiveness of any kind of publicity.

Goals: Not everyone has the same goals for their publicity campaigns. Some brands would rather saturate a local or regional market rather than have a more scattered and shallow influence on a nationwide scale.

This depends a great deal on the product or service they are selling. Can it be purchased or used online? If not, the user may need to be local for the brand to have any real influence on them. Distant followers are simply numbers, but don’t make any real difference.

Many retail stores ask for your zip code at checkout now. This helps them map where customers are coming from, and what their reach is within that zip code. This informs marketers not only of where they are reaching customers but where they are not reaching them as well. This offers them the option of altering marketing efforts to reach those areas or increasing campaigns in areas they already have influence to deepen customer loyalty.

Responsiveness: The Starbucks app can be set to open automatically when the customer is in the vicinity of a store. Many apps and websites in addition to being optimized for mobile are also location responsive, and can display different home pages for different regions or automatically display in the language of the individual accessing it.

This is a part of location and relationship marketing: knowing where your customer is and who they are, so web and app content can be customized to their needs and buying habits.

So what does mapping have to do with these things? As location marketing gets bigger, and more people share their locations through social media, fitness apps, and more, businesses turn to maps to display this data in an understandable way.

Target Mapping

Where and who are the targets of a marketing campaign? Mapping them shows how realistic goals are, and where they might be missing the mark. The more specific demographic included in this target, the better. Is this ad targeted to dog lovers who are aged 18-26? How many of them are in the geographic area you are trying to reach and on the social media network or are exposed to the advertising medium you are using?

Mapping out demographic and socioeconomic data can help target marketing. Map Source: MapEd
Mapping out demographic and socioeconomic data can help target marketing. Map Source: MapEd

Result Mapping

What percentage of those targeted responded to your marketing efforts, and how much did that cost per response? How many responses did you get from those outside the demographic or area you targeted? Are those related to this marketing campaign or did they respond organically as a result of some other efforts?

Overlapping this map with the target map is extremely revealing, and lets businesses determine ROI and how effective their targeting was.

Social mapping and mapping organic and paid marketing reach helps businesses visualize and shape their marketing efforts and tailor the exposure they go after to meet their goals.

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About the author
Troy Lambert
Troy Lambert is an author and editor who began using GIS for historical research at a museum He prides himself on thinking of new ways GIS can be used to tackle issues or approach them in a different way. He lives and works in Boise, Idaho with his fiance, 13 year old son, and two very bright dogs.