Google continues to double down on visual search and navigation. Its latest move came last week with updates to its Live View visual navigation to help users identify and qualify local businesses. This follows soon after its Earth Cloud Anchors that will let users create digital content on physical places.
Both developments tell us something about what may well be the future of local search: augmented reality-enhanced visuals.
When we return to shopping in physical stores, will that look different? It’s hard to imagine there will be as much much merchandise handling as before. Will it be a “touchless” environment? And if so, which technologies will power the touchless future?
Let’s dive into a few candidates.
Apple surprised the local search world last month when it announced local business reviews in Maps. Similar to its other search-based efforts, Apple formerly relied on partners like Yelp for local listings and reviews. But now, as part of its broader data-driven Maps overhaul, it will phase in original content.
Much has been written about this within the local search publishing world and analyst corps, including my colleague Stephanie Miles’ article on how brands can prepare for Apple Maps reviews here on Street Fight. So in the interest of treading new ground, what less-discussed clues lie in Apple’s recent mapping moves that can triangulate its direction?
Consumer touchpoints continue to fragment and atomize, disrupting conventional approaches to media and tech. Drivers of this trend include devices from smart speakers to cars. Accordingly, as we roll into February, the Street Fight editorial team is thinking outside the box — that is, beyond the rectangles that frame our typical screen interfaces.
We will provide deep coverage of emerging technologies including voice search, visual search, augmented reality, and 5G. How are tech providers innovating with these modalities? How are users adopting them? And how are local marketers tackling the opportunity?
Blumenthal to Mihm: Obviously AI/ML vis-à-vis image recognition is going to play a huge role going forward in terms of discovery and conversion. But I would have to add that it is also critically important to Google as a way to engage the user in “immersive search” behaviors. That is, drawing the user deeper and deeper into Google so that they never feel the need or desire to go someplace else. This will further seal off the walled garden of local discovery search.
You can see this in the new search by photos feature where the user is led into a grid of visual business choices and ultimately served up the Local Finder via the View list link or, if they click on an image, a business profile. But to get to the phone number, the user had to totally commit to diving deeper into Google.
As Google and Apple lead the way, we are getting closer to ubiquitous visual mapping. If that happens, there will be significant implications for entities that currently use search and mapping for marketing or online presence. They’ll need to make sure they are optimized in this new format.
This could lead to an extension of SEO to cultivate presence in visual experiences. Just like in search, correct business location and details will need to be optimized to show up in the right places. You don’t want the AR overlay for your restaurant floating above the salon next door.
AR is emerging at a time when the physical retail world is undergoing significant transformation. Things like Amazon Go stores and the counteractive “retail as a service” movement have raised awareness and hunger for retail evolution. So AR’s retail shopping use cases fall on fertile soil.
But retail is just one way that AR intersects with local commerce. AR comes into play in another key local commerce category: home services. Innovators like Streem are bringing remote assistance to traditional service calls (think: busted pipe).
Augmented reality is making the leap from hyped technology of the future to driver of cutting-edge marketing techniques today. To document the state of the field and shine a light on those use cases, the IAB released its AR marketing playbook earlier this month.
In case you’re too busy to peruse the pdf, I’ll detail the major use cases outlined in the report.
Though visual search challengers such as Snapchat and Pinterest could shine in niche use cases such as fashion items, Google will rule as the best all-around utility for visual search. It has the deepest tech stack, and the substance (knowledge graph) to be useful beyond just a flashy novelty for identifying things visually.
The name of the game now is to get users to adopt it. Google Lens won’t be a silver bullet and will shine in a few areas where Google is directing users, such as pets and flowers. But it will really shine in product search, which happens to be where monetization will eventually come into the picture.
Use cases will materialize over time, but it’s already clear that visual search can carry lots of commercial intent. Point your phone at a store or restaurant to get business details. Point your phone at a pair of shoes on the street to find out prices, reviews, and purchase info. This proximity between the searcher and the subject indicates high intent, which means higher conversions and more money for Google. Moreover, visual search has the magic combination of frequency and utility, which could make it the first scalable AR use case: making the real world clickable.
Visual search and image recognition are capturing the attention of investors, retail insiders, and everyday consumers. To find out more about where visual search is heading, and what marketers can do to adapt their strategies with the latest trends in mind, we checked in with Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate, a social commerce company that turns images and videos into storefronts.
For brand marketers, addressing the expansion of local search into voice and visual contexts is really a matter of digging in and getting more involved with rich local context that appears to grow more expansive by the day. Google alone has introduced a vast array of opportunities for business to differentiate themselves from the competition, including photos, videos, 360° virtual tours, business descriptions, menus, Posts, reviews, and several other features.
While visual search isn’t exactly catching on like fire yet, its evolution is buttressed by powerful developments of late in the tech industry. Among these: smartphones are increasingly ubiquitous, more efficient, and we’re all more accustomed to using them; investment in AI from both big companies and startups is widespread, making machine vision more effective; and augmented reality (AR), a similar modality in which tech overlays graphics onto images captured via camera lens, is taking off. Below are a few ways visual search will play out in local and retail in 2019.
Walmart posted strong sales in Q3, suggesting that its determination to compete with Amazon by investing in cutting-edge, tech-driven approaches to retail is paying dividends. Read on for some of the top trends Walmart is capitalizing on.
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A new white paper from Street Fight examines how developer kits from Google and Apple have jumpstarted approaches to AR and visual search and sketches strategies for developers, marketers, and media companies hoping to tap into an exciting new trend.
Indoor mapping continues to be one of those “holy grail” topics in local. It picks up where GPS drops off, tracking consumers all the way to the cash register. The latest move comes from Google, with an approach that could leapfrog beacons by using the positioning capability already in your phone (or soon will be).