Is Your Map Communicating Effectively?

I regularly talk with customers about how to effectively apply online mapping software to their business. This week the customers included a major metropolitan area police department, a large medical device distributor, a citrus retailer, and a few independent sales reps – to name just a few. They all were creating business maps to communicate something to an audience. Business maps tell a story.

The fact that a map can tell an effective story makes it an excellent tool for sales and marketing applications. Sometimes the story is directed at your customer, like a retail store finder or a map that describes product availability. But the story could also be directed inward, like a wall map used to show your call center where all your customers are located, or where all of your outside sales people start their day. That same wall map approach could be used to share a resource message like where all the fire stations are located or where the search team looked for the lost hiker last night. All of these business map applications communicate information.

That’s why it is so critical to understand how well your map communicates your message. This means avoiding map clutter, not doubling up or tripling up on messages in the same map.

Map Clutter
It’s not unusual for first time map users to get excited about the new tool they recently discovered. They import every spreadsheet imaginable onto one map. They might symbolize and color code points with over twenty five classification combinations. Sure, this can be done on a web map but your audience won’t understand what you are saying. It’s too much. It is what we in the biz refer to as map clutter.

Having worked for a cartographer for 12 years, I’ve watched trained paper map experts create maps for a living. Professional maps include only the specific map layers that support the map intent. So, a road network is used to support a travel map, a satellite layer is used to support a forestry map. You don’t throw in a few extra layers because it looks cool.
Data points on a professional map may be in the thousands, but they will be organized into a few classifications that display clearly and succinctly in a map legend or key.

An example of a cluttered map would be a map that tries to classify each customer as opposed to each type of customer. Associating a symbol with more than 5 or 6 points creates map clutter ruining your business map intent and confusing your audience.
Cluttered Map





The Map Message
Your map is communicating a message. Usually it is “Hey! Look where our customers are located.” But it could also be, “If you’re in trouble, here are the key resources you can count on.” That last message is important for hurricane response efforts along the southern coast of the USA during hurricane season. Along the hurricane coast, circulated or posted maps needed to clearly identify where shelters are located so people can get there quickly. This means you don’t want your map to show too many messages – like shelters, police stations, and hospitals as well as amusement parks, rest areas, and recreational hiking areas. Keep it simple.

Fortunately a good mapping application lets the user build multiple maps. You can build one map for sales programs, one map for revenue tracking, and another for vendor management in support of a project. You don’t need to communicate everything in one map. In point of fact, you won’t communicate much of anything if you include too much data.

There are many ways to use maps to communicate with your audience. Take your time, think it through, run it by test users, and create a simple map that communicates effectively. – America’s fastest growing business mapping software. Let a map help you learn about your business.

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