USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

The Relationship Between GIS and Marketing

Location has always played an important role in marketing; however, the spatial component of marketing and advertising has grown even more critical in the digital age. As we become more discerning consumers and more adept researchers, advertising and promotion strategies will need to become more precise and more relevant to catch our attention, and effectively using GIS in marketing will be essential to ensuring the right people see the right messages.
Marketing and GIS
Where marketers used to consider location to determine the best regional newspaper to run a print ad or to find ideal billboard placements, today’s marketers are increasingly using GIS technology such as spatial visualization software, analytics and predictive models to leverage location. The overwhelming majority of marketing professionals attribute the use of location data in personalized marketing to creating positive customer experiences, and this likely only the beginning of marketers adopting spatial thinking.

However, the intersection of GIS and marketing also presents challenges, such as how to draw actionable insight from spatial data and analytics as well as how to ensure data quality while still making that data available to stakeholders throughout an organization. Businesses that successfully navigate these pitfalls are likely to gain a significant competitive edge as marketers’ use of GIS will create new opportunities for spatial applications, GIS professionals and spatial analytics to shape the way organizations interact with their customers.

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How Is GIS Used in Marketing?

As with most other disciplines, marketers have a potentially limitless number of applications for GIS, ranging from the early stages of market research all the way through executing and evaluating campaigns. Some examples of how GIS adds value in these cases include:

  • Customer segmentation based on location
  • Geographically targeted digital advertising
  • Location-based push notifications
  • Personalized recommendations for dining, fitness and other aspects of consumers’ lives

Research published in 2014 shows how GIS and marketing can be used together throughout the market planning and decision-making process and lead to new marketing strategies. In this study, researchers created consumption maps to show food, health expenses and other data to identify optimum locations for new supermarkets. Location data was also used alongside information collected from attitude and behavior surveys, which could help to inform marketing strategies for businesses operating in a specific area.

Certain companies have made GIS not just a part of one campaign, but a core element of their marketing and business. For example, Under Armour uses its fitness trackers and online fitness communities to gather huge amounts of data and makes purchase recommendations based on its fitness data.

Related content: Read more about GIS Big Data

USC GIST master’s students have also explored the numerous applications for GIS in marketing in their thesis projects. For example, M.S. in GIST student Jason Gonzalez developed his thesis on the visualization of email marketing campaigns to optimize performance. Another student, Amanda Gray, proposed a new approach for spatially defining market areas to better assess market share.

Considerations for the future of GIS in Marketing

Looking ahead, it is likely that geographic information science and technology will become even more deeply connected to marketing. One of the key opportunities likely to emerge as a result is continued growth for mobile GIS and spatial data visualization, both of which were already highlighted as some of the most important GIS trends in a 2017 GIS Professional survey.

As with other areas of marketing, the use of data and geographic information systems will depend on organizations’ ability to find talent with expertise in both the marketing and the technical aspects of GIS. This is already an issue for marketers, even when considering analytics that are broad in scope. In fact, less than half of organizations have processes in place to formally evaluate the quality and accuracy of their analytics today.

We previously discussed the trend of GIS application functionality becoming embedded with other types of software, and a similar trend toward applications sharing of GIS data has emerged. What makes this issue an especially critical one for GIS analytics is the potential degree of complexity involved in making use of spatial data in marketing. With that much data coming together and likely creating dependencies, any errors in accuracy or problems with low quality become amplified.

While solving these challenges is no small feat, there is increasingly opportunity for GIS professionals to be involved at all levels throughout their organizations. In marketing specifically, GIS will play a crucial role in ensuring that organizations can use spatial data, and that any insights derived from said data are both accurate and actionable.

About USC’s GIS Graduate Programs

The University of Southern California offers a comprehensive selection of online and residential GIS programs. This includes both GIS master’s degrees and GIS graduate certificates. Click on the programs below to learn about our leading geographic information science education.

GIS Master’s Degrees

GIS Graduate Certificates

*The application for the residential graduate certificates and online M.S. in Spatial Economics and Data Analysis (SEDA) program will open in early August.