A good market researcher will always try to organize a report in such a way that the data tells a story. That’s the main difference between presenting a client with insights rather than just a data dump. One of the most powerful graphic tools at the researcher’s disposal when it comes to making data come alive is to use maps instead of charts or tables whenever appropriate.

Consider, for example, the two images below:

They both display the same data and take up roughly the same amount of space on a page, but notice how much more visually interesting, intuitive, and telling this geographic-based data is in map form. The table is easily glossed over by the reader. The map is something that somebody will stop and examine and the difference really pops. 

Geographic Information System (GIS) software is a mapping tool that has become more common in market research over the past 10 to 15 years. GIS applications like ESRI, Autodesk, MapInfo and Maptitude are probably best known for their uses in the public sector and academia, in fields like urban planning or geology, but it also has a great many business applications. GIS goes beyond simple mapmaking – it allows one to interact with the map and use the map itself as an analysis tool. There’s a great deal to be said about that last point; so much that it deserves a future post on its own. But suffice it to say that for market research in industries where geography matters a great deal – real estate, retail, and media just to name a few – GIS is an invaluable resource for both analysis and reporting. If you want to learn more about GIS and its capabilities, this website by industry leader ESRI is a great starting point.  

Even if you don’t have access to an advanced GIS system, there are still plenty of resources available for creating maps to enhance your report or presentation. A couple obvious sources are Google Maps and Mapquest. Both online applications allow you to create customized maps that you can import and then enhance in PowerPoint. (If you have a paper version of a map you’d like to use, you can simply scan it and make the same sorts of enhancements.) An example of how this might be used would be if you wanted to display traffic volumes for various points in a city. You can paste the base map into your presentation and use a text box and graphic tools to add in the traffic data in a matter of minutes.

Whichever method you use, or no matter how intricate or simple you are in the presentation, maps bring a very powerful visual storytelling element to any market research report.