Location, location, location.
For as long as most can remember, these have been the first three rules of retail. But the times they are a-changin’.
Given the seismic shift in consumer behavior taking customers out of brick-and-mortar establishments and onto the web, this old business maxim needs to be re-applied to cyberspace.
In addition to traditional competition, off-line retail establishments are now fighting against the ubiquity of choice on the web. Even customers purchasing off-line are going online to figure out where to visit in person.
Survival of the fittest will depend on who is best able to blend an authentic off-line experience with a prominent online presence.
Enter the Google Business Photos service, available in the Louisville area since last October. The service is the latest extension of Google Earth, which was originally released in 2005.
Google Earth provided satellite imagery that allowed users to get a bird’s eye view of almost any place on the planet. From there, enterprising digital designers added three-dimensional models of individual buildings. Google Street View, which recreated sidewalk views using panoramic photography, was integrated into Google Earth in 2008.
Google Business Photos is the latest feature that now takes users off the sidewalks and into individual establishments – for a price. Unlike many Google services, this one is not free with prices determined by a combination of size and location.
Hesitant to walk into a dive bar you’ve never been to? Pull it up on Google Business Photos and see what it looks like before venturing in.
Wondering if a museum is worth the price of admission? Pull it up on Google Business Photos and take a quick tour before deciding to buy a ticket.
It’s a form of digital ice breaking.
Google Business Photos marketing collateral says, “Bring your business to life: create a 360-degree virtual tour…showcase the character and beauty of your business by allowing potential customers to walk around your business from the comfort of their home or mobile device.”
But the service provides more than just photos and a 360-degree tour.
“It’s not just a virtual tour,” said Chris Sardinas, founder and CEO of CS3Design, one of five Google Trusted Agencies around the U.S. approved to produce Google Business Photos. “It’s about increasing your online visibility. We’re not just going to go in there, film a video and wish you good luck.”
After producing the 360-degree virtual tour and a set of still photos covering the main points of interest within an establishment, the company then uploads them to each of the Google applications on the web: Google Search, Google+, Google Local, Google Maps and Google Places.
According to Sardinas, this increases search engine optimization by approximately 20 percent.
Sardinas is just the type of young entrepreneur we love to talk about here at Insider Louisville. Unfortunately for our fair city, his company is headquartered in Orlando. As a teenager growing up in South Florida, he became fascinated with Google Earth 3D modeling as a hobbyist and eventually became the single largest 3D model contributor to Google Earth.
Google noticed his work and invited him to participate in a worldwide 3D modeling competition. After finishing second, he knew he was on to something and realized he could make a career out of his hobby.
In 2007, CS3Design was born. By 2013, the company had a presence in 21 Florida cities, and Sardinas decided it was time to expand outside of the Sunshine State.
Not bad for a company run by a 24-year old CEO.
His first choice for out-of-state expansion? Louisville.
His mother’s family hails from the River City, and he knew it well as a result of numerous trips here during his childhood.
“I’ve spent a good portion of my life in Louisville, and have always appreciated the uniqueness of what this city has to offer. I’ve seen the city grow, both in size and in maturity, which parallels my own life; the ‘Ville will always have a special place in my heart,” Sardinas said.
With his decision made to target Louisville, his first order of business was to hire a local sales manager.
Eschewing traditional search methods, the millennial CEO placed an ad on craigslist to which Rob Davis replied. Davis is now the Louisville area sales manager for CS3Designs.
For Davis, the job sounded immediately appealing. “It was an opportunity to work with an agency affiliated with Google,” he said. “Plus, I felt that Louisville was ready to embrace this type of service and technology.”
While both Sardinas and Davis were confident Google Business Photos would be well received in Louisville, it’s risky entering new markets.
Uncertainty notwithstanding, their confidence in the market proved prophetic as the company’s revenue number came in at 400-percent above plan during its first full operating quarter.
Louisville-based businesses are clearly jumping on this bandwagon. “We give imagery to anything from mom-and-pop boutiques to national landmarks,” said Sardinas.
True to form, local organizations that have taken the Google Business Photos plunge include homegrown businesses and civic landmarks.
Eclipse Bank in St. Matthews was one of the early local adopters.
“Eclipse Bank decided to move ahead with Google Business Photos because we knew how valuable this program would be for our search engine optimization, and we were very impressed with the quality of CS3Designs previous work,” stated Kathy Reed, assistant vice president and marketing officer at the bank, in an email.
“(It) helps Eclipse stand out from the crowd because our building is distinctive. When clients view the inside of our building through Google Business Photos, they have the ability to see what sets us apart. From our koi pond to our video displays, we offer something that is not often found with our competitors,” she continued.
The Louisville Palace was another to sign on early.
“Incorporating modern marketing tools is an important tactic for all businesses in the 21st century,” Sydney O’Bryan, director of event sales at both The Louisville Palace and Mercury Ballroom, wrote in an email interview.
“While photos rarely do this city treasure justice, having a professional and interactive photo tour of the venue assists guests with seamless experience from both a desire to travel and destination standpoint.”
Offering the interactive tour of The Palace also helps boost Google search results on desktop, mobile, and Google Maps, she continued.
As consumer behavior patterns continue to shift, so must the businesses that serve them. Businesses executives who aren’t figuring out how to do that now are already falling behind the curve.
For more information on Google Business Photos, contact Louisville market Sales Manager Rob Davis at 502-821-2594 or visit the CS3Design page for a quote.