How Spatial Analysis Works and Who Uses It
No, it’s not about finding out if there’s extraterrestrial life out there. Spatial analysis is actually a technique used in all sorts of fields, including business and marketing. But what is it exactly? And how does it work?
Let’s dive into spatial analysis, some examples of this discipline in action, and see how marketers can use it for their benefit.
What is spatial analysis?
Spatial analysis refers to a number of methods used to analyze data using some kind of geographic representation of a specific area — usually a map. It’s tough to pin down a more precise definition than this for two main reasons. First, spatial analysis is used in an extremely broad variety of fields — from epidemiology to urban planning — which means it can be done in many different ways. Second, it’s a discipline that suffers from certain inherent issues, from variations in how data is represented in the final analysis to problematic data. For example, U.S. census data has to protect individual privacy, meaning it isn’t 100% location-accurate.
But while these issues exist in the broader field of spatial analysis, it’s still a fantastic tool for marketers, business managers, and anyone else working on business strategy.
Let’s dive into the spatial analysis process.
The 3-step spatial analysis process
While the exact methods used for spatial analysis can vary depending on your field, these are the three essential steps that apply to all of them.
Step 1: Data collection
Before you can do any kind of spatial analysis, you need data to work from! If you need to go out and collect data yourself, this step can be pretty resource-intensive. Conversely, it can take just a few minutes if you’re using existing data — like U.S. census data or your own customer data.
Step 2: Data analysis and cleanup
Depending on the data you’re using, you may need to do some extensive cleanup before it’s ready for spatial analysis. If you’re exporting customer data as a CSV file from a CRM, for instance, it might need serious review before it’s compatible with whatever spatial analysis tool you’re using. But if you’re using an app that already has everything you need built into it — like smappen — then this step will be a breeze.
You might also need to code your data, meaning you’re adding some kind of value that will be analyzed and represented in your final data. For example, you might use U.S. census data that gives a rough estimate of a person’s socio-economic status, and create your own code representing this more accurately.
Step 3: Data presentation
This is where it all comes together! You have your data, you’ve cleaned it up, and now it’s time to actually map it out. Usually, you’ll want to use some kind of geographic information system (or GIS) to map your data to the geographical location you’re analyzing. The ArcGIS family of software has some of the most popular options for this, but they can be prohibitively expensive. An app like smappen has many of the same features you need for spatial analysis at a fraction of the price.
And there you have it! These three steps will cover most instances of spatial analysis.
4 examples of spatial analysis
Now that you know the basic process behind spatial analysis, let’s look at some of the fields where it gets used.
This field, which we’ve all become a bit too familiar with in recent years, studies the spread of diseases — when they go from just localized events to broader epidemics. Spatial analysis can be used to track the evolution of an epidemic, map out quarantine zones, and track the source of an outbreak.
Urban planners often use spatial analysis in their projects. They can use geographical data to plan deforestation initiatives, evaluate the spread of a contaminant in water lines, or chart population concentration in cities, for example.
For farmers and other agricultural specialists, spatial analysis is crucial for ensuring a high yield come harvest season. They can use this to monitor the health of their crops, track livestock, analyse soil health, and more.
Not surprising, right? After all, the root of the word “spatial” is “space,” and astronomers deal with a whole lot of it. Spatial analysis is crucial for studying the movements of galaxies and other celestial bodies throughout the universe.
If you thought historians only cared about dates, you’d be wrong. Spatial analysis can be used to glean all sorts of insights about our past, from how the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe to just how much territory the Romans conquered.
How spatial analysis is used by marketers
Spatial analysis isn’t just a great tool for scientists and urban planners; it’s great for marketers too! It helps them adjust their marketing strategy, plan location-based marketing tactics, and more. Here’s how.
This kind of marketing uses a prospect’s location to drive marketing efforts. That can mean everything from personalizing ads for specific locations to sending special offers when a prospect enters a competitor’s trade area. With spatial analysis, marketers can determine where these efforts would be most successful.
Location data is crucial for franchises. Without it, they might open a new location too close to an older one, accidentally cannibalizing their own business! With spatial analysis, businesses can better map their coverage area, pick locations that have a bigger addressable market, and more.
For brick-and-mortar businesses that rely heavily on local customers, it’s important to know as much as you can about them. With spatial analysis, marketers can use customer data to determine where their customers are, learn more about where they live and shop, and adjust their marketing efforts accordingly.
Give them some space
Spatial analysis is all about taking your data and representing it on some kind of map to draw some kind of conclusion from it. While it’s used in all sorts of fields, from astronomy to urban planning and epidemiology, marketers use spatial analysis to tailor their marketing campaigns and learn more about their customers. Although this practice can seem daunting on the surface, the right app can make this process much easier. And if you use smappen, you can get started for free right now!