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Google is now using stickers to take over the world

7 December 2009

google bar codeGoogle has just mailed out window stickers to 190,000 businesses that contain 2-dimensional bar codes (or “QR” code), which when scanned by a mobile phone will call up the business’s local directory page on – you guessed it – Google.  There are over 1 million businesses that have filled out their Google local listings, but the company has mailed these stickers to the 20% that are most searched for on the web. (Source article from TechCrunch, image from Gizmodo article.)

Great distribution model

What struck me first was the efficiency of Google’s sales/distribution model.  First, it is all automated. Use the data you have to print and send the stickers.  No advertising, no salespeople, no personal phone calls, just print and mail.  High volume, low cost.  Second, it provides something of value for nothing. Using your local listing doesn’t cost the business anything.  That is a pretty compelling value proposition. Finally, it provides an actionable and easy next step. Pull the sticker off, and put it on your window.  Fill out your Google local listings page.  No directions required.

Those three elements – automated, high value proposition, easy next step – set up a highly effective sales strategy.  But in thinking about this I also started to appreciate even more the longer term implications of Google’s ability to combine their data, their business model, and future advancements in mobile technology.

The future of targeted mobile ads

One of the most talked about fictional future technologies from the movie Minority Report was the ability of stores to scan the eyes of people passing in front of their stores to identify them – and then provide an instant targeted promotion based on their past purchases.  (“John, here’s a sweater to match that pair of pants you bought here last week.”)  While we may never get to the eye-scanning part of that future, we are in the early stages of receiving targeted promotions from stores as we pass them buy using our GPS-enabled phones.

Why the stickers?  Google needs to engage these businesses by getting them to use – and update – their Google local directory pages.   The stickers are about getting these businesses engaged. Once they get the business data about what the business sells, they can offer for-profit services to marry that information with a user’s data about what stores they frequent and what they want to buy (from their GPS movements, Foursquare posts, search habits, Amazon wish lists, product reviews, etc. etc.).  Then… well, then Google really controls marketing.  I realize there are lots of privacy concerns here, and my point isn’t to say that this is either terrible or terrific – I think it simply reality.  Think about this:

  1. I drive the same route to work every day. Between credit card purchases of gas, the published addresses of my work and home, turnpike EZ pass receipts, and restaurant takeout activity, Google (et. all) could pretty much figure out where and when I drive.
  2. I drink coffee (a lot). We buy K-cups for our Keurig machine from Costco, Target, and Amazon. With credit cards, and by searching for promotions on Google.

What if on some random Tuesday I get in my car and have a message from the Dunkin Donuts – which I drive by everyday but never stop at – with a coupon for a free coffee and donut, today only?  What if the local Sunoco can figure out that I drive by everyday but usually buy gas from their competitor across the street, so they send me a lucrative one-day-only coupon for half off my fill-up?  This is the future of mobile advertising.

Will anyone else be a player?

It is interesting to think about how much information is available online now about me, and it will only grow over time.  Google is better than anyone at crawling through that data to figure out what I buy and what I will probably buy in the future.  What does this mean for local review sites like Yelp?  If Google can crawl through every review on the web, how would an intermediary like Yelp or Zagat continue to add value?

Consider the last sentence of the TechCrunch article:

Maybe they should put the PlaceRank on the sticker. A high PlaceRank could become a badge of honor, like a high Zagat’s score.

Google knows how many people search for a business, know how many people link to the business’s website, can probably figure out how many people go there via GPS, and can crawl through every online review ever written.  Maybe they will replace Zagat, Yelp, and every other intermediary.

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