THE BLOG
11/19/2015 10:10 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Ways Businesses Use Maps to Their Benefit

2015-11-12-1447339286-7746153-BenLang.jpegBen Lang is the co-founder of Mapme, which allows users to build smart and beautiful maps without any coding required.

Nowadays, we live in an open-sourced society where the customer base no longer waits to be told information -- they have access to all of it. Because customers expect to fend for themselves, they can use maps to search for what they want to find. Using map technologies, businesses can step up to facilitate this dynamic. That's why more and more apps and websites rely on maps to display information in the customer's search-oriented lingo.

As the owner of a map building business, I've come to discover that maps show the world in a visual way that enables users to find what they need. No matter who's researching locations or events, there's no better way to see location-based information than through a map.

Here are five companies who rely heavily on maps to meet their customer needs. 

1. Uber: Marketplace Meets Map

These days, it's all about bringing your product to your customer's turf once you've done all you can to find him.

Once upon a time, mapless or mapped in, riders wanted cabs, and cab drivers wanted riders, but their meeting ground was the luck of the draw. 

Uber uses map technology as the springboard for their whole business model. The technology is integrated on both sides, so driver can meet rider and vice versa. Uber brings the service to the customer -- all on the customer's terms. Just as Uber brings its service to the customer from the very GPS coordinates he stands on, the customer builds the experience from A-Z: car type, service level (driver rankings), timing, method of payment, etc. Fully in the know, riders can be reassured of the reliable service: confirmed arrival, waiting period, etc. -- all thanks to the map.

2. Grant Thornton: Maps as Branding Tools and Conversation Starters

Making clients happy means showing them how much you value your own employees and colleagues -- where your company values lie.

Accounting firm Grant Thornton published a map on the annual International Women's Day in order to leverage the female identity and accomplishments for their brand awareness goals. The report illustrates the percentage of women who reached senior management positions at their company per geographic region. Women reaching senior positions isn't only a matter of gender -- it's a matter of social equality and how it develops in each part of the globe. With this map's publication, Grant Thornton enters a realm external to its own expertise, connecting to its client base and to the world at large from a new avenue of conversation. They're utilizing visual data as a tool to enrich their relationships with both customers and their employees alike.

3. Morgan Stanley: Where America Shops with Geomarketing

Maps allow companies to plan out locations, gauge competition, understand product demand and more.

In their annual retail atlas, Morgan Stanley breaks down their tabulated data of 119 American retailers among the 50 states. They devise several retail categories: shoe stores, groceries, department stores, discount chains -- and visualize which retail chains dominate the market of each state based on how many store locations exist per state. 

For example, southeastern states seem to have lots of Cato Corporations, while Ross Stores, Inc. are more common in western states. From seeing how retail chains cluster in different regions of the country, companies can gauge whether they are gradually spreading out towards other regions (or vice versa).

Aside from growth, retail chains have a lot to consider from geographic metrics of their customer base, such as which products are appropriate for different climates, and which communities gravitate to certain product types. Just as mass shipments of down winter coats won't sell out at a California Gap store, there won't be a significantly high demand for beach towel inventory in Maine during wintertime. By communicating with companies in a visual language, Morgan Stanley addresses and provides information that is crucial to every company's knowledge base.

4. Nintendo Wii Virtual Reality Maps: Taking Customers "Where they Want to Go"

Maps can give customers the feeling that they can leave their ordinary life behind and indulge in their personal curiosities. Some Nintendo Wii customers use the super-advanced game console, particularly the Wii U GamePad controller as an excuse to hibernate with their TV set for hours on end -- and Nintendo can easily accommodate them. But what about the more curious, adventurous customer?

Google's WiiStreet lets players access Google Street View, with a 360-degree panoramic view of all location types across the globe. They can see streets, mountains, fields and more. Mountain climbers can get a glimpse of their next trek, while tourists can picture what it will be like to stroll along their vacation village. Globetrotter or not, people can explore for the sake of exploring, becoming immersed in the very spot you see on the screen.

By setting their customer's top and most fundamental interests as the baseline for their product line, Nintendo and Google strive to incorporate both tools and the entertainment necessary to meet their target's interest.

5. Nike: Motivating Customers with Maps

Some companies use maps as a way to heighten the customer's relationship to the product. Nike, for example, motivates customers to use their product in a way that enhances and benefits Nike's business goals, while also helping make customers feel good about exercising. The Nike+ Running App is based on a GPS infrastructure, locating the runner and tracking his running route. The GPS element also lets the runner pair up with friends in the area, creating a joint running experience. The app tracks and measures the runner's distance, pace and time -- comparing it to previous performance and to friends' progress. When running with Nike, the runner is guided to the places he wants in the most personalized way possible. 

The list of companies that use maps in their market strategy is endless. In a mobile-oriented universe, more and more businesses seem to be devising methods to attract customers through mobile phone utility. Adding the element of navigation to the customer experience is a promising way to establish a mobile niche and gain exposure in creative ways.