News

POV: Google Maps Uses Landmarks For Directions

Background:

Google Maps has started testing the use of landmarks like fast food restaurants with well-known brand signage to help make its navigation cues and direction commands sound more natural. The rollout of the landmark-infused directions is still in its trial phase and it is unknown whether Google will introduce this new tweak globally.

Details and Implications:

The idea of using brand signage in directional commands is to make it easier for people to navigate whilst they drive. Gone are the days of ‘In 400m, turn left’ and a worry about which left that is.

Known to be used by upwards of 1 billion people and counting, Google Maps is helping those users navigate through a more ‘human-like’ approach. The thinking behind the test is that users are more likely to spot and recognize well known landmarks and brand signage than they are street signs, which are often amongst many other signs in a cluttered roadside environment.

This makes quite a lot of sense as when humans give directions we often use well known landmarks, shops, restaurants or petrol stations etc to help direct as well as using distances and street names. Google told Engadget that it was testing this approach with some users to ‘improve guidance’. However, there is no mention of a global roll out plan, yet.

During the testing, some users heard phrases like ‘Turn right after the Burger King’ and saw on the app, under distance/street name-based directions ‘Pass by Burger King (on the right)’. There is no mention whether these fast food restaurants paid to be used in Google Maps’ directions, however, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that this could become a new advertising battleground for brands as it is a new way for brands to integrate themselves into a user’s personal space.

The addition of a human side to an automated service should be no surprise, it is exactly what the major tech platforms have been striving for with their digital assistants - Google Assistant, Alexa etc.

The test also realises some interesting possibilities for brands. Does this make intersection locations for physical retail more valuable because you are going to get a name check? How is Google going to decide which brands are the most visible ad the ones that are used? Will it change how you display your logo in order to ‘market’ yourself as a destination waypoint? Will the way your brand is verbalized make a difference?

Summary:

The Age of Assistance is here and Google Maps is the first major platform to take this approach, making automation as human as possible. Whether this trial will roll out globally or not will be interesting to watch but it is worth keeping an eye on this test this as the world of digital assistants and humans comes ever closer together.

Further Reading:

TechCrunch / Engadget / Mashable / CNET