How to build a powerful proximity map in 5 easy steps

Liam Costello by Liam Costello on February 15, 2024  |  9 minute read
Drivetime analysis of Los Angeles
What is a proximity map
Video transcript for What is a proximity map

A proximity map displays the area around a point using circles to represent distances.

So, they're perfect for market analysis, campaigns, site selection, or supply chain management.

So here I want to create a radius map, I want to see what 20 miles and 50 miles looks like around a point I've chosen, and now I want to see what the drive time looks like for 30 minutes and 60 minutes.

Understanding geography is critical for businesses. Knowing where your customers, partners, and competitors are located allows you to optimize your operations, target the right markets, and gain a competitive edge. This is where proximity maps come in handy.

Proximity maps visualize the landscape around key locations, highlighting spatial relationships and opportunities. With detailed proximity data, businesses can identify customer hot spots, find gaps in coverage, scout potential sites, enhance logistics, benchmark competitors, and more.

Proximity map with separate 25 and 50 mile radiuses

25-mile radius

50-mile radius

In this guide, we’ll explore proximity maps and how to use them. You’ll learn what they are, what makes them so useful for business analysis, and how to easily create your own customized proximity map using mapping software. Let’s get started.

What is a proximity map?

A proximity map illustrates the area surrounding a central point or points. Known also as a buffer map or radius map, it shows concentric circles radiating outwards from target locations. The circles depict precise distances, with data and features contained within each incremental buffer zone.

Proximity maps harness the power of geography to unlock spatial insights. Instead of poring over spreadsheets or placing mental pins on static maps, users can now dynamically map locations in relation to other key map elements.

By overlaying circles of various sizes on a map, you can visually analyze the density, distribution, and proximity factor of key information as it relates to fixed sites or locations. Customizable parameters allow you to filter data, set specific distances, and only display relevant metrics within each circular boundary.

What sets proximity maps apart is this radial view showing the terrain and tangible elements contained within predefined areas. Whether it’s 5 miles, 50 miles, or 500 miles from a center point, proximity mapping lets you see what’s happening around venues, offices, distribution hubs, or any geospatial reference point.

What are proximity maps used For?

Proximity maps have use cases across virtually every industry for diverse purposes like market planning, site selection, territory management, supply chain management, and demographic segmentation.

Any process that deals with the "where" can benefit from proximity mapping. Pinpointing not just where target markets, materials, or assets currently reside but also the spatial relationship to planned locations spotlights optimization opportunities. Let’s look at some applications that provide actionable business insights.

1. Market analysis

Proximity maps offer expansive views of target buyer density, consumer behaviors, demographic trends, and gaps in coverage down to the neighborhood level. Brands can identify untapped pockets of demand and tailor outreach while also monitoring the impact of factors like new competitive openings. This level of market intelligence guides effective targeting amid shifting consumer patterns.

Regional heatmap in San Francisco

2. Site selection

Launching new locations requires balancing opportunity with competition. Evaluating the proximity between a new location and target customers, as well as competitors, is therefore crucial. Proximity mapping visually defines trade areas for existing sites while revealing where market demand exceeds supply.

Proximity nearest neighbor map

Proximity maps enable scenario modeling of "what if" analyses to reduce risk. Site selectors can additionally model overlapping coverage from planned additions against current stores, projecting sales transferability and cannibalization risk. This insight steers opening decisions and territory modeling.

3. Targeted marketing

Understanding existing customers' proximity to locations also fuels sharper local marketing. A proximity map of loyalty members would spotlight highly engaged neighborhoods as well as nearby areas holding potential.

Marketers can hyper-target campaigns to acquire similar consumer segments within a defined radius. Tactics may range from direct mail and local events to enhanced deals for neighboring households.


30-minute drivetime

60-minute drivetime

4. Logistics and supply chain management

Streamlining logistics hinges on mapping relationships between operating facilities, transit routes, suppliers, and receivers. Proximity analysis determines the closest, least costly routing options for supply chain movements.

Transportation planners can run comparisons of estimated drive times, mileage, and associated costs across potential routes. The visual intelligence better optimizes freight, fleet operations, and yard management.

5. Competitive analysis

Keeping pace with rivals depends on accurately mapping their spheres of influence. Displaying competitor sites in relation to a brand's own web reveals prime locations for new units and areas at risk for share shift. Proximity maps help managers evaluate brand penetration across locales while informing local share-building strategies.

How to make a proximity map

Creating proximity maps with eSpatial's powerful mapping software is a straightforward process. The following steps will guide you through defining your objective, using the radius tool to plot buffers, setting the appropriate parameters, and analyzing your results to gain spatial insights.

1. Define your objective

Like any effective business tool, proximity maps should serve specific intelligence needs. Start by framing the key questions or decisions the map aims to inform, whether exploring new market entry opportunities or projecting sales transfer from a pending store closure.

Defined objectives clarify the points requiring analysis like existing locations, competitor sites, demographic trends, natural features, and other spatial elements that influence your focus.

2. Choose a mapping software

Turning disparate location data into a dynamic visual map requires mapping and analytics software. Cloud-based mapping solutions often serve as a centralized proximity data management platform, enabling access from anywhere while providing a hub for importing, analyzing, and visualizing blended data.

The software's radius mapping functionality transforms raw latitude-longitude coordinates into understandable 360-degree views of proximity relationships. You can define precise drive time and distance parameters using proximity control (meaning the ability to set exact radii distances, drive times, and data filters).

This enables customized analysis of density, gaps, and competitive factors within user-defined map boundaries. At a glance, users gain perspective on concentrations, gaps, overlaps, and more within the established parameters.

3. Use the radius tool

Initiate analysis by selecting point locations pertinent to the objective, say existing store sites slated to close or proposed target sites for new store openings. The radius tool maps circular buffer zones of different distances around each site.

Most radius mapping tools allow users to:

  • Adjust radius size from 1 mile up to 150-mile+ regional buffers
  • Set unique radii of different mileages for distinct locations
  • Model variable overlaps in coverage through multi-location proximity to destination method analysis
  • Apply filters limiting displayed data

Besides distance, savvy proximity analysis also factors in drive time. Actual travel routes seldom resemble perfect circles. Drive time lassos account for road infrastructure and other impediments that alter access from theoretical proximity location mileage.

4. Set parameters

Proximity analysis delivers the most relevant insights when key parameters align with the intended use case. Retail site selectors, for example, care mostly about 5 and 10-mile radius pulls as those drive times typically define existing store trade areas. Parameters might include:

  • Buffer distances/drive times
  • Included datasets – Customer density counts, competitor sites by brand, household income levels
  • Basemap – Roads to show true drive time, imagery to display surrounding landscape
  • Visual settings like color-coded buffers, transparency, boundaries

Consider all variables influencing decisions or likely to shift over time — from products carried to traffic flows — to ensure mapping the right data inputs.

5. Analyze the results

Proximity mapping serves to distill and display complex data blended across enterprise sources and external public data sets into dynamic visual intelligence.

The real value comes from properly analyzing and interpreting the map. For instance, seemingly minor proximity place differences illustrated in overlaying 5-mile versus 20-mile buffers significantly alter surrounding demographic and competitive forces.

Common analytical tasks enabled through proximity mapping include:

  • Hot spot analysis – Identifying clusters, high-density areas, and spatial proximity networking between locations
  • Threshold analysis – Isolating areas meeting defined population, income, or competitor density criteria
  • Line densification – Tracking changes along routes over time
  • Boundary planning – Model territory alignment scenarios
  • What-if analysis – Projecting impact of new sites based on existing site patterns

An in-depth proximity map serves as both an analysis tool and a presentation mechanism. Transforming location intelligence into compelling data visualization supports clearer operational decision-making and stakeholder reporting.

Mapping Solutions for Businesses from eSpatial

As a data-driven business, getting the most from your location information is critical to outmaneuvering rivals. Proximity mapping provides that competitive edge by revealing relationships, trends, and insights hidden within disparate data.

eSpatial's powerful mapping software makes it easy to collect, manage, and visualize geospatial data from across the enterprise, integrated with trusted public and proprietary data sets. Purpose-built mapping tools require no coding or special GIS skills to generate proximity and radial analysis at enterprise speed and scale.

Maximize the power of proximity mapping with eSpatial, an intuitive territory mapping software and territory management software for visualizing key data by location. Get started with a 14-day free trial today to experience the game-changing power of proximity maps!

Liam Costello Written by

Liam Costello

Liam is an eSpatial account manager and mapping expert. He specializes in helping businesses solve problems and increase sales through mapping visualization, territory management, route optimization and more. Liam holds a Master's Degree in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing.

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