Of all the widgets and long-forgotten apps on your phone the one with most mobile mindshare is your map app. We have become a mobile society, and in the 2010s, map apps personify our wanderlust. When we open our mobile map, we have intent, direction and purpose. It is vitamin “M”: the ultimate upper and highly addictive.
And map real estate is hot: Apple buys Locationary, Embark and HopStop; Google buys Waze; Bing is rumored to be in talks with FourSquare; Zillow, the map real estate tycoon, buys EasyStreet, and indoor mapping app company, Aisle411 raises a hefty seed round in the valley. As OEMs beef up their services, we are entering a new phase of map building. Location has always been a data grab. Now, the industry is starting to focus on monetising subway stops, street corners and highways across the world.
The principal challenge is that maps are a new and unique advertising paradigm, and the incumbent search business models, mostly designed for the web’s previous era as a stationary, desktop experience may need to be adjusted.
Galileo to Google
Google Maps, the grand daddy of digital mapping, was born in 2004 as a skunk works project by two Danish brothers in Australia.
First designed as a heavy client app, in 2004 the software came full circle as Lars Rasmussen and his brother were acquired by Google after making a web-based pitch. The same year, Google acquired Keyhole, Inc. and proceeded to use Keyhole’s mark-up language to launch Google Earth in 2005.
During the next five years, Google started to revolutionize digital maps. It is quite possibly the most exciting innovation effort by the company. Not since map mavericks Ptolomy, Copernicus and Galileo has mapping accelerated so profoundly. Within a few short years Google has redefined the way we see the world around us.
Google Maps rolled out road directions in North America in 2006 and their PC-based maps became the pre-GPS automotive assistant. However convenient and customizable, Google maps for the desktop were a print-on-demand version of London’s A-Z pocket maps. In many ways, a Google map printed out before a trip was no different from John Ogilby’s 1675 Britannia detailed strip maps that travels bought to find their way from Norfolk to Newmarket with inns, stables and other points-of-interest as well as clear directions and distances clearly marked. They balanced behind the horse on the coach seat as our laser-printed version would sit on our car dashboard.
But the small screen was the true game changer. The capacitive screen touch invented by Andrew Hsu, combined with the pinch-and-zoom mobile interface developed by Apple made complex map navigation simple, user friendly and, most importantly, mobile.
With multiscreen map adoption, Google Maps expanded. The company launched in Latin America and Asia, and started the subterranean mapping of subways in 2007. In 2008, a view from space; in 2009, a POV from the street and 3D rendering. And more. Google mapped canals and bike paths, endangered forests and the ocean floors, the moon and Mars and the ultimate conquest, Macy’s in-store experience.
This was phase one: Build a dominant innovative platform with simple APIs, establish market stickiness and trust by the point-A-to-point-B public.
Now add metadata
Google+ Local launched in 2012, allowing users to post reviews and images into pages hosted by third party sites. This year maps are becoming more customized, providing location-specific information on points-of-interest. While Google has maintained a focus on road navigation with its 2013 acquisition of the crowd sourcing road-warrior Waze software, the operative term on the new Google map is “explore.” Explore photos, recommendations, and restaurants.
Maps plus Google Glass makes the possibility of on-the-go exploration more immersive. Using the Google Mirror API developers can feed real-time GPS info and pre-rendered map images into the eye window of Glass wearers for “dexterous” driving, cycling or walking to the local mall. Glass becomes “a Segway for your head.” And taking maps to the edge of utility: Google Sky (which maps the stars based on your GPS location and vision angle) can be integration with Google Glass to show the outlines of constellations through a transparent filter to view the night sky.
And then at the end of this epic journey, Google announces local advertising. Google Maps now allows short sections of advertisements to be placed directly onto the map itself. Local advertising is one of Google’s core business and Google Maps ad purchases are made through the same Google AdWords auction that buyers are already very familiar.
For Google this is simply a terrestrial version of browser-based search. When a consumer enters “Starbucks” in her browser, she finds links to buy “Starbucks Instant Coffee Bundle” on Amazon.com. When a consumer enters Starbucks in Google Maps, she finds local Starbucks to get the real deal (or if Tim Hortons is bidding, an ad for a competitively located Timmy’s coffee store.) Both these use cases involve path to purchase. One is virtual, the other is proximal.
Google hopes Map-based ads will follow the same digital success that Google has had with its search-based ads. Instead of auctioning AdWords at point-of-search, Google auctions ads at point-of-navigation.
Ptolemy what? There has to be more than just that. We’re just not fully there yet.
Don’t forget the Big Apple
Apple recognized the value of maps and knew that they had a Trojan Horse lurking in their mobile operating system in Google Maps. Google’s map app had become the dominant phonetop service with the most unique visitors of any app in-market. When Apple launched and preloaded its own proprietary map app in August 2012, Google’s traffic dropped making Facebook the winning app for unique impressions as well as time spend.
(After a few geographical faux pas) Apple started to establish its own relationship with the map consumer. But Google Mappers are loyal. When Google launched its new map app for iOS 6 in December there was a 30 per cent rush of Apple folk upgrading to the new operating system (MoPub.com). Affinity to a map app had influenced these consumers’ mobile behaviour. Quite remarkable.
However, Apple is committed to build a map following. While the company no longer needed to pay licensing to Google, which was good, the key reason for ousting Google Maps was that maps had become a data pillar. By replacing Google, Apple had direct access to a wealth of consumer data and potential advertising revenue.
Yahoo! Maps, Bing Maps, Nokia Maps, and MapQuest all use the NAVTEQ electronic map feed (best known for its automotive navigation services), and like Apple now, they own their own consumer data layer, which is crucial for generating advertising and marketing revenue on maps.
Bing is the major map contender. In September, the company added 13 million square kilometers (316TB) of aircraft and satellite photography to its service. Microsoft’s large investment in Facebook in 2007 ($240 million) led to the 2013 decision adopt Bing as FaceBook’s mapping and search provider. To do this effectively, and compete with the market-leader, Google, Bing needs to beef up and differentiate its map offerings. Bing has already rolled out “Local Scout” which helps consumers find food and fun across all its screens. Rumors of a FourSquare acquisition (or possibly financing) may be part of this grand strategy.
(Microsoft acquisition of Nokia did not come with their HERE maps assets. Nokia’s HERE maps include road networks, traffic patterns and urban landscapes and as licensed by major properties such as Garmin, Oracle and Amazon.com. Will Nokia take the lead as the premier mapping and location services across different screens? Will they just sell off the asset to Apple after the Microsoft acquisition is complete?)
And the open-source mapping movement is also growing. Washington D.C.-based startup, MapBox, provides more custom navigation and interesting APIs built on top of Open Street Maps. Open is good and allows developers greater flexibility and affordability; Foursquare uses MapBox’s services to display its users’ check-in histories. However MapBox is not preloaded on your Android or Apple phone and while they have an iOS mapping SDK they have no Android footprint. MapBox will certainly play a roll as an embedded technology in sites all over the web; however, it is unlikely that they will be a standalone consumer utility on top of your phone and tablet.
With the proliferation of WiFi networks in retail, vendors such as Cisco drive mobile mapping solutions for shoppers that join the free network. The maps allows for hyper-local, custom mapping that includes restroom as well as promotional information on retail stores.
All of these digital map offerings are entering the mainstream at a time when advertisers are questioning consumer engagement on mobile, and trying to understand how best to follow their consumer in a contextual and relevant manner. Brands and retailers are re-evaluating the way we sell and, more importantly, engage across multiple screens. Their assumptions on path-to-purchase, built during the era of the desktop web, are no longer fully valid and reliable. The classic consumer narrative of home-to-store has changed and retailers and brand can no longer simply hire a Director of Shopper Insights and hope for the best.
Advertising and marketing is about providing a consistent message at aisle, and checkout, wherever the shopper finds the retailer. If the advertisers wants to get back in the game, possibly the most exciting place to be right now is on the map. When the consumer and shopper opens their map app when they have intent to meet someone, go somewhere or buy something. All this drives commerce. Maps provide unadulterated path-to-purchase.
Narrative: Going beyond advertising
So what is the new advertising paradigm for maps? Maps have layered functionality: terrain, roads, satellite, traffic, public transport and images. Then there is the exploration layer: recommendations and general points-of-interest. And now Google has provided an additional local advertising layer.
However, the adding an advertising layer may not prove to be effective in a map environment. There is more value to the exploration layer. Yes, maps help us move in a utilitarian fashion from Point-A to Point-B and that is why Waze and other transit acquisitions have been so important. But maps also have a very non-utilitarian function.
Maps help the consumer simply “explore” and is what will ultimately connect map users to brands and content owners. Maps tell stories because precisely they have a beginning and an end, and are defined by intent and clear purpose.
Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook already situate the user’s photos and comments at a latitude and longitude: a country, a city, a bar. However these social graphs are not map applications and location is an important but secondary metatag.
The opportunity is to build a new bespoke map layer for brands and content owners. Think map first.
Startups such as Findery and CityMaps have map based UGC (user-generated content) engines. Where is the content input engine for brands? How can brands visualize content and actively map this data across all their customers’ screens?
One company called Mapiary, based out of Singapore, is developing the tools to allow brands and retailers to layer rich navigation onto the map. How can Unilever’s Becel margarine be more relevant to power walkers globally? Or how can Heineken weave narrative into a city pub crawl? Diageo, can map a DJ tour for Smirnoff. The NYTimes can map their 36-Hour travel series in a rich contextual manner. This is new digital cartouche and as important as the underlying map.
Where is the new vision of brand advertising? After all the innovation that Lars Rasmussen (Google Maps) and John Hanke (Google Earth) brought to maps we surely need to go beyond paid search models and allow owned content to become a rich and valuable layer in the 2014 map.
BNN Interview on the “Battle to Monetize Maps” discussing the positioning of Apple, Google & Microsoft. http://t.co/M1Pa0Qcijd
Gary Schwartz is the CEO of Impact Mobile. Having been at the frontlines of the mobile industry for over a decade, Gary is the author of two books, “The Impulse Economy: Understanding Mobile Shoppers” and “Fast Shopper. Slow Store: A Guide to Courting and Capturing the Mobile Consumers,” both of which highlight the current state of the mobile commerce space and chronicle the significant impact that mobile is having on consumers, retailers and brands. Gary is also a chair emeritus for the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Mobile Entertainment Forum NA and global director of the Location Based Marketing Association.
Read more of Gary's posts at The Impulse Economy.