Using States to Your Business Map Advantage


When I was four years old, my Mom gave me a puzzle-map of the U.S.A. It was a frame with state puzzle pieces made of hard cardboard. There were 50 pieces, each piece showed the state name and several symbols that represented popular resources, a historical reference, or products associated with that state. Mass had a Pilgrim hat. Colorado showed a pickaxe. I put that puzzle together over and over. It was way before Sesame Street, so I had time on my hands.

By the time I got out of Junior High School knowing the name of every state by shape or location was easy for me. I realize today, after serving many business mapping software customers, that not all adults find identifying geographic areas, states or points, to be so easy. We’re not all map geeks, thankfully.

States can be helpful on a business map to get your started and to keep you organized. State map labels and boundaries can be crucial to understanding where your business data is located, where you are searching, or where you are drawing objects on the map.

State labels and boundaries are reference guides that orient your map viewers. But be aware, map labels should not necessarily be all turned on. If a digital map simply turned on all labels, like counties, states and zips, your map would be a chaotic mess of smashed up names. To resolve this conflict digital map makers embed default switches within the map data layers. The switches turn on the labels for certain items as the user zooms in. Often these switches take into consideration the size of the object, whether it is a point or an area, or what the actual data layer is. For instance, state names will tend to come up at the nationwide map view, while zip code map labels turn on at a more regional level.

States for Orientation
State boundaries alone, added to your map as a frame of reference, can add helpful orientation for your map audience. As we zoom in and out of a digital map our awareness of where we are can get confused. By turning on a state boundary layer and perhaps making the boundary line a little thicker, a map administrator can help their audience feel more familiar with the business map view.

At MBO, we are adding Census Tracts, MSA areas, and Zip 3 support to our mapping software map layer options. This means states, provinces and counties may be even more helpful in providing a meaningful frame of reference for demographic maps or market analysis maps. After all, how many of us take the dog for a walk around the Census Tract?

For example, a California marketing professional might conduct a study of prospecting activity in the New York City area – an area she is not familiar with. By including State boundaries in their Census-Tract-based demographic analysis of the NYC area the user will see how closely Staten Island Census tracts are located to Jew Jersey which could have an impact on analysis results as well as marketing initiatives.

States for Focus
Sometimes a map wants to be just one state. If your map illustrates a point about a particular state for an article or report than just turn on that one state; that is, if the web-based mapping software you use lets you. Let that target state alone be your area of focus and remove the superfluous other states from the reader’s field of view. Make it easy for your viewer to focus on your point. In a way, you are just stating the obvious.

States can be valuable as a demographic unit of measure. For instance, if you have a sales organization that needs to be split into regions, those regions might be groups of states with similar or dissimilar population profiles. Often a carefully considered USA wide demographic analysis by state will suggest regional sales territory mapping breakdowns. Try it as a starting point for sales territory creation.

States for Organization
Sometimes a map just focuses on groups of states, to the exclusion of all other states. Groups of states or provinces combine to organize regional territories that supplement organizational planning, demographic analysis, and other strategic business analysis. These high level map views serve as jumping off points for more detailed process maps. It’s your business, so make the states reflect your particular business patterns. In your business world, the Northeast may include every state from Ohio, Maryland all the way up to Maine or even Quebec. For others the Northeast may just mean pure New England. Make states work for you.

In the business-map business, counties, zip codes, MSA’s and Census Tracts are much sexier than boring old states and provinces. But don’t ignore those states. States have value too.

As we approached our thirties, my wife and I picked the state of Maine as a place to settle and raise a family. I can’t imagine living anywhere else now (except during the late winter), but I also can’t help but wonder if they’d placed a red lobster resource icon on the wooden puzzle piece that represented Iowa, I might have been tempted to try a plain-state home. I’m pretty sure on that old puzzle Iowa displayed a butter churn icon too.

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