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Deciphering Pokemon Go’s Lessons for Marketers


The global gaming phenomenon provides a master class in the appeal of augmented reality. Here’s how businesses can put those lessons to work.

The global gaming phenomenon provides a master class in the appeal of augmented reality. Here’s how businesses can put those lessons to work.

Pokémon Go is irresistible fun. With an astonishing 100 million downloads, the app has players all over the globe crowding into real-world gathering spots in their quest for the game’s virtual creatures.

For digital marketers, the phenomenon is serious business.  

Watch this video on "How big is the business opportunity for Pokemon Go?

Nintendo’s Pokémon Go is energizing augmented reality (AR) as a marketing platform. As the app familiarizes consumers with the layering of digital information over the physical world, it has also been a surprising win for brick-and-mortar businesses, which after years of e-commerce-led decline are gaining game-driven traffic. 

How big a win? Retailers are launching thematic specials for players visiting PokeGyms and PokeStops. In Queens, New York, a pizza shop owner increased conversion 75% by buying $10 worth of in-app “lures”. Worldwide brands are rushing to partner with Nintendo, with McDonalds Japan the first to market on Pokémon Go.

The takeaways for marketers are complex. True, Pokémon Go proves that consumers find creative digital experiences worth leaving home for. But its developers have also built an intricate, winning business. 

By deciphering its elements, consumer-facing businesses can gain insight into how AR can help attract customers in new ways.

Position wisely among your target customers. 

The 20-year-old Nintendo brand invoked nostalgia among young earners and offered a welcome break from their hectic lifestyles. Appealing to various age groups is often challenging for marketers. But if there’s anything Pokémon has demonstrated, it’s that with proper customer profiling and promotional offers aligned with the right customer base, marketers can generate high levels of interest. 

Create an alternative currency.

The Pokémon Go app is free, but it’s earning millions for Nintendo and Niantic Labs (the AR software company that developed the game) through micro transactions of in-app purchases. Pokémon creates the perception among users that they are spending virtual money. Businesses can similarly use alternative currency to tie their rewards programs and promotions to spending. For example, soda drinkers might earn 100 cola bubbles every time they purchase beverages from vending machines and then be eligible to redeem them for a discount on subsequent purchases.

Align with a worthy cause. 

It may be an afterthought for some customers, but a product or service’s alignment with positive benefits can allay consumers’ guilt regarding the money or time they are spending. Adding to Pokémon Go’s cachet is the perception of positive health benefits that result from the prodigious amounts of walking required to find and catch Pokémon and other collectibles such as eggs. Marketers should take note and create a subtle feel-good factor for their own customer base. For example, they might donate a portion of the proceeds of purchases towards a sustainability cause or to a charitable organization.

Access to data and partnerships is a must.

AR requires enormous data, most of which organizations will not have on hand. Customer data is just the beginning. GPS coordinates, image data and image processing are all essential for AR. Pokémon Go, for example, accesses mapping data through its partnership with Google. PokéStops and PokeGyms tie to physical locations from Niantic’s Field Trip database of public art and attractions, or Ingress player submissions. Because AR’s success depends on the precision of layering digital data over real-world objects and locations, businesses will likely have to access data from multiple sources. Sophisticated, yes, but the data also creates new marketing opportunities, such as daily specials offered to customers who point their smartphone cameras at the physical location of retailers or restaurants. 

Develop a social angle.

Interestingly, Pokémon Go has not leveraged social platforms such as Facebook. Instead, it created its own points of social interactions. The app’s cross-generational appeal has found families playing the game together, and PokeGyms and PokeStops have morphed into opportunities to meet like-minded people. For marketers, this is an example of doing social in an unconventional way. Retailers and restaurants can similarly leverage their apps or partner apps to promote their physical locations for social interaction. For example, there’s no need to wait for game day to attract sports fans. Pokémon Go proves that if promotions have creative appeal, consumers will respond. Marketers can start slowly, offering promotions on a small scale, such as a daylong digital treasure hunt for surprise gifts every hour.

Inspire team spirit. 

Sports fans collectively spend millions of dollars to associate with their teams, and they go to great lengths to support their team. Pokémon Go promotes similar spirit by grouping players into virtual teams; when teams battle, players are further motivated to spend to advance their teams. Marketers can embed some of the same sociological aspects in their campaigns to generate enthusiasm by, say, assigning top members of their loyalty programs to virtual teams that compete against each other for redeemable rewards. 

Gamify mobile apps. 

The game aspect of Pokémon Go is arguably the least important reason for its success. The overriding reason is its developers’ understanding of psychology and fun. Surprisingly players have traveled extensively to catch Pokémon. The takeaway for marketers is how business can benefit by invoking innate human psychology to compete against peers in a fun environment. Aside from selling, your app needs to make customers feel accomplished and even provide opportunities to be silly and joyful. Gamifying customer experience and making it fun can make all the difference.

Be creative in combining technology. 

There are many aspects of Pokémon Go that aren’t new. AR has been around for a while, and so have games based on physical locations. Even the brand isn’t new. What’s innovative is the way Pokémon Go packages together its technology elements. At the heart of its success is its use of partner data, seamless digital connections with the physical world, and a subtle appeal to our sense of adventure, competition and fun. 

To win in the long run with AR, marketers need to offer a unique, innovative and immersive experience that consumers find worth stepping out for. 

To learn more about AR’s business implications, please read our three-part series on 1, 2 and 3.

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