Not too long ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance who owns six fitness clubs in San Francisco, and I happened to point out that the Google Maps featured on his website was counterproductive for marketing the locations of his gyms.
First, the map highlighted several "similar nearby" gyms. Secondly, it also featured a handful of less-than-flattering consumer reviews from third-party websites.
For those of us in the geo-mapping sector, this type of external content is a common challenge for businesses, entrepreneurs and marketers who rely on readily available online maps to promote and identify their locations.
Even though Google Maps are widely used, they can compromise the very foundations of effective location marketing by:
- siphoning customers and potential customers away to nearby competitors
- distracting website visitors with paid ads or links to URLs that can lure them to other competitors or services
- exposing website visitors to content, such as online consumer reviews, that is not "owned" by the business. It's a daunting phenomenon, given the high levels of trust that consumers place in other consumers' opinions and reviews.
As astute businesses and entrepreneurs know, and as a recent MapJam.com white paper points out, brand marketing success also relies heavily on location, location, location. But that advantage weakens if the business does not fully "own" the location via an online map.
Own the map, own the marketing funnel
Luckily, new digital mapping tools are enabling businesses and entrepreneurs to create, own and maintain the location and the content that they publish on their websites to inform and attract customers into their stores, businesses and locations.
Better yet, these new tools are built on robust platforms with easy-to-use interfaces that do not require extensive programming, coding or graphic design knowledge.
In the case of the San Francisco gym owner, six new website maps created at digital mapping platform MapJam.com replaced the original Google map. Website visitors who click on a specific map for each site now encounter only content, information, events and locational details provided by the business. Gone is information about similar nearby gyms or strangers' reviews. In effect, website visitors who click on the gym's maps (and 30 per cent of them do) are no longer distracted by information that carries the potential to lure them elsewhere.
"What businesses often don't think about is how an online mapping alternative can help brands and let them show the consumer the information brands want them to see," according to Troy Macfarland, marketing director for Fitness SF, the franchise that replaced its map as a way of fixing the leaky location marketing funnel.
Using an independent mapping platform, Macfarland says, "has changed the game by allowing our business to show our clients and website visitors the pictures and videos of our choosing, to customise events, and to use markers for things like 'where to park your car' and other special instructions about our locations. With MapJam powering our maps, we - not a third party - control the content that is appearing to our members and potential members."
Independent map-creation platforms provide key benefits for businesses eager to "own" their content, branding and reputations.
Built on the same drag-and-drop interfaces that now power many website-building or blog-hosting platforms, these new mapping tools also do not require graphic design skills, making it easy to create full-featured, content-rich, detailed maps in minutes.
And into these new maps, users can add addresses, URLs, detailed descriptions, images, videos, links to sound files and location markers for just about any spot on earth, whether it has a specific street address or not. Markers can denote nearby parking, public transportation, building entrances, landmarks, one-way-streets and other helpful amenities and services.
New mapping skills: create, embed and share in 5 minutes
Publishing and hosting a wholly owned online map is a much more streamlined and simple process: create, embed, and share. With a few clicks of the mouse, in fact, customised maps can be shared across various platforms and channels, including websites, blogs, text message, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others. Maps also can be updated in real time – an ideal feature for keeping all users informed of last-minute changes, new information or watch-outs.
Online maps can work to a marketer's or business's advantage only if they funnel customers to a specific location, not away from it. Current reliance on tried-and-true Google Maps for location marketing can cause the location marketing funnel to spring a few leaks.
But those leaks can be closed easily – and sidestepped altogether – if marketers look beyond Google Maps for digital mapping alternatives. With new easy-to-use digital mapping platforms, retailers can create customised, personalised maps easily, publish and update them in real time, and own the content that they deliver to website and mobile users.
Jack Gonzalez is Co-Founder of MapJam