The Power of Zip Codes in Radius Maps

Perhaps the most popular request we field, from Map Business Online prospective customers, is the request for radius maps. It’s no wonder Pythagoras discovered his geometric theorems early on, because the world was impatiently waiting to conduct marketing and sales analysis based on varying radii from a central point.

And that is all a radius map is – a line drawn from a central point that becomes the radius of a circle against a map back ground.

Why A Circle?
Well, I suppose no one really knows why a circle is such a popular map object. Perhaps it’s because the mind seeks the symmetry a perfect circle provides. Or maybe it’s because our natural world is full of circles – the sun, the full moon, rings in a pond where a rock has dropped, or a Massachusetts highway rotary (they always make an impression.) But I think circles work well because they offer a multi directional, equidistant area for a data search. A radius search works quite well for place of business analysis unless your retail store is located at the end of a pier built off of a peninsula. If this is the case, a rectangle may be a more appropriate shape for market analysis.

Zip Codes in a Circle
Everybody wants to find zip codes within a radius.In many cases, a business map user will query their customer, prospect or competitor data using radius maps, but quite often they want to query zip codes. Zip codes are nice to query because they easily correlate Census demographic data to your business analysis – and this is the case with our business mapping software. I think zip code maps are also an area measure many of us can relate to locally. We are generally familiar with the zip codes around where we work or live. Therefore measuring data in terms of those well understood districts can add a personal and perhaps visual component to digital analysis – and thus a local zip code may serve as a reasonable baseline for comparison of non familiar areas.

At any rate, it is not unusual for a retail chain, a restaurant, a real estate company, a health care org, or a nonprofit, to wonder how many customers, patients, or properties they have within a circle of zip codes. By including population totals or other demographic measures of the same area, the analysis is enhanced.

Keep in mind, there is a difference between the exact amount of data points within a circle’s area and the amount of data points within that circle’s zip codes. The zip code query will contain all the zips touched by the circle line. The actual area of the collected zip codes will therefore extend beyond the circle area. So, for example, population counts will tend to reflect the zip code area, not the exact circle area.

“Like a circle in a circle, like a wheel within a wheel.”
Further circular interest comes from customers interested in concentric circle analysis. Here, a marketing or sales analysis might start at one radius, say ten miles, and then extend out to twenty-five miles, and then perhaps fifty miles. Concentric circles can help describe the rate of change in customer retention as a function of distance from a store or point-of-reference. In some cases a drive time polygon, where radius distance is replaced by the time it takes to drive in any direction on the map road network, can be very helpful as well. A concentric circle or drive time analysis might answer the question, “For the Thomas Crown Affair pizza delivery company, what is the total population I can serve within a 10 to 25 mile radius or a 15 minute delivery drive time?”

I’ve seen concentric circle analysis also used for event planning where organizations desire to match potential attendee proximities with facility capabilities. Overlapping circles denote areas of audience overlap that might recommend possible shifts in a marketing effort. Thus a marketing direct mail/email campaign can be segmented by radius search results and help fill an event to capacity without overflow.

I’ve also seen concentric circles used to excess where maps look more like Spirograph art than business mapping objects intended for analysis. Always seek to keep your map relatively clean. Too much data, too much analysis, may indicate you require another approach.

So, as you consider web mapping product, review the map tools’ radius search capabilities. That map view showing a circle of zip codes just may be of interest to your boss.

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