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GIS/spatial analysis software: Don’t believe the hype! Simple solutions can deliver powerful results

by: Serendipity 2
Summary

Experienced marketers will no doubt be aware of the ways in which the geographical representation of data (customers, outlets, catchments, etc) through Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can help businesses detect trends and interpret patterns. But, as Caroline Johnson, Data and Insights Director at Serendipity 2, asks, what do marketers really need to know from GIS to drive business forward, and are we losing sight of that?

Body

Caroline comments “I read lots in the industry press about the rapid growth of GIS technology, but is that what end users are interested in; an increasingly complex and advanced technological solution? In the pursuit of ever more advanced functionality, I sometimes wonder whether the increasingly competitive nature of the GIS software industry has meant that we’ve lost sight of what customers actually want and whether the technology is at risk of out-pacing need.

 
 
If I look back at the kind of mapping output I produced as an analyst in the late 1990s, I’m staggered at how output has progressed from pixelated maps with little definition or context, to the slick and detailed maps which we see from most GIS systems today. Customers now expect maps and reports to be created in a matter of seconds, and many systems no longer disappoint. Better pictures and faster output obviously matters to all users, but marketers should question whether advanced functionality and innovative additions to the world of GIS such as GPS technology and 3D visualisation, will really benefit their business.”
 
 
There’s no doubt that there’s a growing demand for GIS technology as awareness increases, but if the rate of technological progression continues to out-pace real demand/user knowledge, GIS could soon be perceived as a specialized niche, available only to GIS specialists. As Caroline explains, “GIS should be an inclusive technology, catering as much for the new, inexperienced user as for the software expert. A newcomer to the GIS field is currently likely to be bewildered by the multitude of GIS software and vendors on the market. What the majority of new and less experienced users want, in my experience, are cost-effective tools that are fast, intuitive and ready to use. What they don’t tend to want, or need, are expensive systems containing a wealth of advanced functionality that is rarely used.”
 
 
The key solution seen in recent times is that users are increasingly adopting tailor-made and streamlined GIS solutions that are customized specifically to suit their business needs or current project and that sidestep the need to learn a full-blown GIS. They expect these systems to be able to combine various information sources together so that they reflect the true dynamics of their marketplace. These users aren’t interested in buying empty-shell, off-the-shelf products, or in systems that only contain data from a single source (such as the vendor of the software). They need the flexibility to combine their own data with any type of third party data from any source, and they need the ability to cross-analyse this at the touch of a button.
 
 
After all, “if you are a retailer, it’s just as important to know the daytime workplace population and nature of business activity in an area, as it is to understand the consumer geodemographics. And if you are a manufacturer or FMCG company, it’s vital to match your brand criteria to the underlying consumer geodemographics as well as identifying the best retailers in the right locations to distribute your products” states Caroline.
 
 
The retail industry provides a prime example of a sector successfully adapting and simplifying GIS software, traditionally applying it in areas such as geo-marketing, site selection and market analysis. Retailers quickly came to see how GIS could assist in their decision-making and understood how it provides answers to questions such as: Who are my best customers? Where are my competitors? What is my brand strategy? Why are sales so poor in this outlet? What products should I stock? How do I price my services? Where should we open new outlets? These questions haven’t changed much over the past 10 years. For today’s retailers, being able to visualize, qualify and predict the impact of various scenarios remains the overriding requirement.
 
 
In this context Serendipity2 (S2), a fully integrated direct marketing agency specialising in data driven marketing, is re-launching Segmentz; a pre-configured GIS tool that enables users to visualise, manipulate and report on their data without the need for GIS expertise. S2 listened to what customers were saying and have developed the software in such a way that it can be easily customised for a specific customer or project, whilst sticking to the initial concept of Segmentz as a fast and simple tool. “It’s been about redeveloping the software without over developing it” says Caroline.
 
 
A good example of a tailored solution is the bespoke version of Segmentz that S2 built recently for Coca-Cola Great Britain to aid in the launch of their new glacéau vitaminwater product. Coca-Cola needed to understand the relationships between the locations of existing stockists, other existing and prospect customer outlets, distribution points and target demographic hotspots. By building a bespoke version of Segmentz, pre-loaded with the pertinent Coca-Cola, S2 and third-party data variables (covering consumers, retail and workplace), S2 enabled the client to visualise, cross-analyse and create reports on these various data elements and pinpoint exactly the right outlets to target for the launch, down to a very localised level.
 
 
Market Execution Controller at Coca-Cola GB, Stewart Beale comments “We needed a software tool which had real intuitive appeal and was ready to use as none of the team was an experienced GIS user and timelines were such that we didn’t have time to invest in intensive training or setting up a system ourselves. Having a version of Segmentz built specifically for our purposes meant that we were able to devise and execute our launch strategy in record time”.
 
 
There are clearly a significant number of companies still out there for whom GIS technology remains an unexplored opportunity. And these aren’t just smaller companies either. There are plenty of potential users within very large companies for whom GIS is new. In their haste to enhance functionality, the major software vendors are creating an opportunity for smaller players catering for the less experienced user. The number of suppliers operating in this space is currently limited but is likely to grow over time, opening up GIS technology to a whole host of new users. The difference with this generation of new users is their enhanced level of expectation. They want speedy, flexible, ready and easy to use, competitively priced, tailored solutions, output of the highest quality, and no need for any existing GIS experience. It’s a tall order, but with the right software product you’ve got the makings of a very lucrative business.

Author Details

Serendipity 2

Serendipity 2

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