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Mail Smarter- A Lesson in GIS Mapping


Posted by Brian Berg Google+

This week we conclude our BB Direct blog series “Mail Smarter”.  Over the past two weeks, this series has allowed marketers an in-depth look at the consumer mailing list selection process and has aimed to enabled marketers with a full toolbox of information on demographic and lifestyle selections.  This week we take a look at using GIS mapping technology in your consumer mailing list selection.

Demographic and lifestyle database analysis is useful in understanding purchasing characteristics for different market segments.  While demographics can be collected and analyzed without the use of geographic information systems, GIS often aids and enhances the analysis.  

Demographic data for a trade area are often reported as single values for each demographic category. For example, the trade area income is reported as one value, even though income can vary across the trade area.  GIS, however, can display demographic values in finer detail by geographic unit (zip code, census block group, etc.).  Mapping these variations may reveal valuable, visual information that can be used to show the attractiveness of a specific area for targeting your consumer mailing list campaign.

Effective demographic mapping requires an understanding of some basic cartographic concepts. Perhaps the most important concept is an understanding of the problems associated with demographic densities.  By nature, downtown population density is usually higher than a similar-sized area on a community’s fringe.  Moreover, many business owners would view the large concentration of customers as a competitive advantage over a non-downtown location.  However, a map showing the number of people in each geographic unit (e.g. census block group) does not always show this relationship.

One major problem with this type of mapping is that the sizes of census block groups differ.  While the U.S. Census Bureau tries to control the number of households in each block group, it is not always possible to make the units the same size.  Problems associated with geographical barriers (rivers, mountains, etc.), the nature of population distribution (sparse or concentrated), and household size can cause wide variations in geographic sizes and population numbers in census block groups.

As a result, census block groups covering large geographic areas tend to dominate the viewer’s eye on a map.  Additionally, there may be many more block groups with smaller populations located in a smaller area.  However, their small size and small population values can become obscured on a map. Consequently, the larger number and grouping of these smaller block groups need to be addressed.  GIS can tackle this problem by creating a map that accurately depicts population density.

As we close out our “Mail Smarter” series we encourage marketers to contact our data experts with any questions about your consumer mailing list selection.  Each business caters to a unique audience and through specific demographic, lifestyle and GIS mapping technologies, our data team can put you in reach of your ideal target audience no matter their makeup.