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Google Buys Waze? What's Up With That?

Man using smartphoneSuddenly, it seems like all I’m talking about is Google and Maps. Yesterday, while I was writing my epic explanation of why Google adding flight prices to Maps matters, Google was busy buying social mapping service Waze for somewhere around a billion bucks. So you can reduce their cash stockpile I touted yesterday to, ahem… only $49 billion. Somehow, I’m sure they’ll scrape by.

So, you’re saying, who cares? What does Google dropping the equivalent of its pocket change on a relatively small service matter to you?

I’m glad you asked.

First, you need to know that, according to some reports, Facebook and Apple were also in the running to snap up the social mapping service (Waze crowd-sources directions, traffic, speed traps, and the like from its users). Worse, from Apple’s point of view, is that Waze apparently provides at least some of the data powering Apple’s awful Maps product. So score one for Big G on getting deeper into Apple’s customers’ pants… pockets.

Second, it’s not like Google has a terrible map product. While a billion dollars isn’t a lot of money to Google, it’s still a billion frickin’ dollars. I don’t care who you are. No one signs a check with 9 zeroes to the left of the decimal without thinking they’re getting some value out of it (even if it helps poke a rival in the eye).

Third, keep in mind Google’s recent changes to Maps, both the addition of flight prices I mentioned earlier and their earlier update adding local restaurants and businesses that I covered a couple weeks back on the podcast.

Fourth, and finally, think about where Google’s revenue comes from. The company, despite its forays into mobile and social and commerce and all that, still makes almost all its money from advertising, largely on paid search. And as consumers shift their computer use towards mobile, the biggest threat to Google’s business isn’t Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, or Amazon (the other members of the AGFAM-ily). It’s that consumers will use alternative means to find the information that matters. Consumers now use sites like Yelp and Foursquare and TripAdvisor and Hipmunk and on and on and on (including, yes, the other members of the AGFAM group, too), to find what they need instead of just using Google.

Mobile, as I’ve said many times before, revolves more around the situation than the device. And key questions for your customers when finding themselves in a mobile situation include “Where am I?” and “What’s around here (that meets my needs)?”

What Waze has done over the last couple of years is married solid mapping with a committed community of folks willing to answer those two questions (something Google spends way more than a billion dollars to produce using employees and technology). In essence, Google didn’t buy a mapping firm. They bought (they hope), the next Yelp.

Of course, why that matters to you is pretty simple. If you’ve got a physical location, maps (and Maps), play an increasingly large role in driving customers to your front door, one that will only get larger in the coming weeks, months, and years.

Up until recently, search has been all about online, digital marketing, e-commerce. It was about bits, not atoms. Well, Google just gave you a billion reasons to think search is now about the physical world. They’ve given you a map. I’d recommend reading it.

Interested in learning more about the future of marketing in a multiscreen world? Register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here or use the form below to receive yours today.

And you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

Tim Peter

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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