How Do Your Customers Find You?

Location Services‘Location, location, location…’ For years this has been the mantra of business experts highlighting the importance of the physical location of a business in drawing customers. The basic reasoning underlining

this truth remains valid, businesses serving their customers physically must ensure that they pick the best location possible to attract and retain customers. However, the rise of technology such as: the almost total adoption of mobile phones, the evolution of smartphones, and advances in location technology (e.g. GPS) mean there are new location dynamics businesses can and should master.

Traditional methods of locating businesses consisted of information gained through formal advertising, word of mouth, or business directories such as the yellow pages.  Modern technologies, implemented using such innovations as Google Maps and Foursquare now allow businesses an easier and more direct method of advertising to inform customers of their presence and also to direct customers to their physical establishments. These modern technologies can effectively digitize the traditional signboard or yellow pages and make any organization’s information and especially its location widely accessible at the public’s fingertips.

So which kind of organization should be taking advantage of these new technologies? I would suggest every kind, but here are three prominent industries that should act in this area.

A. The Hospitality Industry

The hospitality industry (encompassing hotels, restaurants, etc.) is one that most definitely can and should make use of location services to advertise their locations to the public. This would serve as a benefit to both the businesses and the public. It is vital for any restaurant or hotel to advertise its location to draw customers, particularly if it’s not already in a very busy area such as on Oxford Street. Location services would allow these businesses to advertise their location cheaply and far more directly to potential customers. On the consumer side it would make searching for such establishments much easier. No longer would they have to rely on friends advice or phone calls just to find and get directions to a good restaurant, bar, pub or hotel. Interactive locations services also allow users in a community to rate and recommend specific hospitality services for the good of others.

B. Banking & Mobile Money Services

Which of us has not suffered the frustration of being in a strange part of town or a new city and having to urgently find a bank branch or ATM? Currently this would involve asking questions of locals in the area about the location of such banking services. This problem is rendered completely unnecessary by modern technology. Banking services may make the location of their bank branches and ATMs available to the general public online or offline using pre-existing or self-produced mobile applications. The same goes for the various mobile money services in the country. These services depend on consumers being able to quickly and easily locate the mobile money vendors closest to them. The worker traveling in his car need not resort to using his eyes and looking around for a mobile money sign if that information were available through the mobile phone.

C. Medical Services

Considering that the vast majority of health care facilities do not engage in much significant marketing activity it can be extremely difficult and frustrating for people in an unfamiliar area to quickly find the closest healthcare facility in an emergency. There have been many cases in this country of people dying as they are rushed to one of the major hospitals when they could have been saved by treatment at a medical facility much closer to them but unknown. Little else then needs to be said about the necessity of implementing location services for medical facilities. Anyone should be able to quickly and easily access information about the health care facilities closest to them in the event of an emergency.

There we have 3 examples to show the necessity for implementing location-based services, but how exactly can this be done. Is it truly possible and/or practical? Here are three ways:

1. Web Presence & Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Perhaps the simplest, easiest, thing organizations could do for now is ensure they have a web presence and engage in relevant search engine optimization to ensure they can be quickly and easily located in web searches. Setting up a website is now relatively quick and inexpensive as initiatives like Google’s ‘Africa get Your Business Online’ show. Once that is done, businesses should also invest in proven search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. This will ensure that your organization’s website comes up quickly and top (or near the top) of any web search. It’s indicative of the lack of this that the first page of a Google search result for ‘restaurant in Accra’ only brings up the direct website of ONE local restaurant (Frankie’s). The other options in the list were local or foreign tourism blogs.

2. Google Places (Google Maps)/ Bing Maps

Google Places is a web and mobile application available on ordinary PCs and smartphones. It allows organizations to freely list their business establishment and location on Google Maps. For users of smartphones or those on the net this allows them to quickly search and find the location of listed businesses anywhere in Ghana or the world at large. Users may also publicly rate and read/write reviews of those businesses online. Bing Maps is a competing service from Microsoft which offers the same capabilities as Google’s, feel free to explore the options.  It is encouraging that a few early adopter businesses in Ghana have taken advantage of this to list their business places on Google Maps. It can only be hoped that more local businesses will follow and take advantage of this free opportunity.

3. Purpose Built Applications

As mentioned earlier, it is perfectly possible for independent software developers or those working for organizations to develop location service applications for their business or the business community at large. This may be a preferable option for banks and mobile money services as they could create new applications or modify existing applications to deliver location specific information to users. A great opportunity here is the free availability of both the Google Maps API and the Bing Maps API, which software developers can integrate into their particular services to take advantage of the established Google Maps infrastructure. Kudos must be given to those developers already active in this field, for example the BizCentral Android application developed by Ghanaian Sci-Fi Web Technologies, a service which provides an online and offline accessible business directory.

As smartphone use continues to grow, location services are only going to gain in importance. Consumers around the world and in Ghana are increasingly demanding and using location services such as Foursquare. The availability of these technologies makes some of the problems that we endure in Ghana completely unnecessary. It would be best for organizations conscious of the mantra ‘Location, location, location…’ to be aware of and take advantage of this new dimension of an old adage.

-Terence Adjei-Otchwemah
DreamOval Limited
Executive, Product Marketing and Media Relations

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terence.adjei@dreamoval.com
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And on Twitter @DreamOval_Ltd & @TerenceAdjei

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