Take a walk with me on Google Street View

 H. Stanley Judd said that a good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. What if it showed you more? What if it gave you an almost-palpable experience? What if 52 Cassiobury Rd, E17 London, was no longer a memory address but something you could vividly visit, everyday, from your desk in Johannesburg South Africa?

These questions are so last season for the high brow intellects, geographers, photographers and web designers who got together and put the world on your laptop. Twenty seven cities and towns to be exact; where bad-attitude air hostesses and grouchy customs officials don’t matter, and the only visa you may need is the one in your wallet. Why? Because with all this new discovery on offer, you are no doubt going to want to spend!

Dr Julie Taylor from Google’s Communications and Public Affairs reveals why Google Street View is just so dam cool – and what this ultimately means for marketers. New opportunities abound within the relationship between Street View and both marketers and their brands! “Around 80% of the world’s information has a geographical component to it and nearly half of all searches are local in nature,” says Julie. “Whether searching for the perfect restaurant, checking out the best hotels or finding the nearest bank, millions of people around the world already get Google Maps to do the hard work for them.”

So the benefits are predominantly tourism driven? Wrong. Google Street View – although colossal for the tourism industry – puts prospects on the table for (just about) anyone with a physical address. “Local South African businesses and website owners can easily list themselves for free in Google Places (formerly known as Local Business Listings),” says Julie. “We want local businesses to make the most of this free technology to help promote themselves.”

This service is free and only goes to bolster connections, networking and awareness on a local and global scale. If you are “walking” down the street on Street View and pass a store like GAP for example, you have the opportunity to explore information about this outlet through the marker for that address. “The marker contains info about that particular business on the ‘Place Page’. Businesses both large and small can edit the Place Page with useful info about themselves, or specific promotions.”

Despite the visual splendour of what’s happening across the pond(s), you really can check out who has got shop – and what they do. A quick glance at 678, 7th Avenue, New York taught me that Gaiety Productions, Allmobile Video, Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding Banquet, New York Mammot Marquis, Kool Hair, Discovery Document Solutions – and more – are yours for the spending at. A similar search locally of 112 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, Johannesburg will tell you that LimelightSA agency, The Goodman Gallery, David Krutt Publishing and Professionals on Call are all a saunter away.  The proof is in the street view, there’s more than just tourist attractions for the taking here! You can promote your business by showing your building façade; link it to a website address, show nearby amenities, landmarks and other, lesser-known attractions.

As far as Google Street View enhancing the tourist experience goes; we all know that these visitors have to eat, play, fill up hire cars, readdress what they packed wardrobe-wise, and everything in between.  Plus, everything they buy has a tax built in. The point is, that the circular flow of human traffic can now have a better idea on where the closest grocery or clothing store is, foreign exchange bureau or all night club. Know more. Want more. See more. Spend more. When checking out your hotel, you can browse nearby restaurants and shops, find something you like and click through its icon to take you to their business listing; find out the name, address, hours, and even read reviews. “Embedding a Street View image on your website via the Google Maps / Street View API application also makes customers’ lives easier by showing them your shopfront, office or closest outlet, and how to get there,” says Julie. At this point, a location in Street View will show the top listings within the immediate area, but this coverage is expanding and will soon include more business and transit locations as well.

And? What about the conspiracy theorist that worries about identity theft or how the world might be after them? No concern necessary. The day you step out with spotty skin and dark circles under your eyes has no bearing on Google Street View – nor is it going to give your ex any more ammunition against you. A blurring technique is applied to all faces and number plates to protect the identity of Homo sapiens and their identity everywhere. You may not even feature at all; the images on Street View are of what was seen on the street at the time of capturing the imagery. Sure, this will date and need to be updated, but the experience is user driven rather than time driven. How would this affect a marketing billboard that might be referring to a specific promo or campaign? Luck of the draw for exposure, and just bad luck that the promo – even though out of date – is still being shown. Interestingly, there is the case of the KFC man’s face on a billboard outside the MEN Arena in Manchester that was blurred too. Tricky. But Street View is not here to leverage your marketing spend. It’s here to highlight how internet users look for information and how Street View can change this.

Whether you are marketing tourism or dreaming of worldwide voyages to destinations imagined, visual thrills are now material and a more tempting view of where you’ve always wanted to go might put you that much closer to actually making it happen. You know what Ralph Waldo Emerson says? “Knowledge comes by eyes always open and working hands; and there is no knowledge that is not power.” Take a walk with me on Google Street view.

Originally written for and published in the Journal of Marketing.

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