Pokémon GO is an incredibly popular game very simple in nature (like all popular games!).
As this game has become HUGE and taken the world by surprise, and everyone’s wondering:
Why is this game so popular?
So at Y Media Labs we decided to closely analyze this game, and we came up with 14 business lessons that you can apply to your business to make it more successful.
We were wondering what makes this game more successful than any other current game.
Pokémon GO embodies many lessons of business acumen which many of us know or at least have heard of – it’s only unique in its ability to make use of a wide variety of best digital practices. Where many companies talk the talk, this game walks the walk.
Here’s a list of 14 inspirational things this game does well. How many of these best practices is your business implementing?
Jump to our staff picks:
- All the records broken by Pokémon GO
- Why Pokemon GO got more Tweets than Brexit and Euro 2016
- Building Brand Loyalty, done right
- The Psychology behind Pokémon GO
- How Pokémon GO is helping local business
- How much time is spent per day on Pokémon GO compared to other top apps
Brand life matters
Pokémon is a global franchise that rose to popularity back in the mid 1990s in America and across the world through its video games and animated TV show released by Nintendo. It then died out, only to be brought back to fame this month through its signature mobile game.
The lesson learned is quite simple:
Most companies are on a quest to constantly discover the best new thing, to invent a solution to a problem. In many ways we are constantly looking forward.
As we see from the sudden global popularity of this game, sometimes, a great way to “hit it big” is to simply look back and make use of characters, themes and brands that customers are already familiar with.
Jon McGinley a Marketing Senior Vice President writing for Mobivity has an excellent article on how the game manages to utilize nostalgia to create a highly personalized game. The argument is simple and has great merits.
Millennials grew up in the 1990s with games, cards, movies and other marketing paraphernalia tied to the magical world of Pokémons. The thrill of this game is that you can now actually interact directly with Pokémons, catch them, train them and take them with you wherever you go. As McGinley points us very eloquently:
“Many users who grew up playing and loving Pokémon, now have the opportunity to see it in an exciting, augmented reality setting.“
Never underestimate the power a familiar idea can have when trying to launch a new product. Or, as Trevor Wade writing for Lador argues, tapping into nostalgia while giving it a modern twist can really be a recipe for success.
There is a lot to be gained by helping people relive their favorite childhood memories.
The world revolves around the smartphone
Credits: Matthew Corley / Shutterstock
It is estimated that roughly 1 in 3 people in this world owns a smartphone. 87% of American adults own a smartphone. The smartphone and the keys are typically the two most important things we look for before leaving the house.
Any product that hopes to make it big must have a great mobile presence. And not just “any” mobile presence, but the darn good one. We check our phones an average of 110 times a day or 7 times an hour.
Niantic, the parent company of Pokemon Go, could have very well released another cloud based video game. Instead, they followed one of the most important trends of the decade: building the experience on a mobile device so that people can access and engage with the game, on the go, anywhere, everywhere. There's even talk of a Pokemon Go app that will be added on smartwatches very soon.
The game was launched on both Android and Apple platforms at the same time
As another writer pointed out, one of the great and unusual things about Pokemon Go is that it launched simultaneously on the two dominant mobile operating systems on the market today.
This is notable because it is not the norm. Typically, companies launch their products on iOS first, monitor its performance, iterate, then move on to the next platform. Instagram is a famous example of a company which didn’t launch an Android version until they purchased by Facebook, two years after launch.
The upside of this approach is that you reduce cost and complexity by developing on only one platform first and then when your app is commercially successful you expand it to Android as well. (For a full comparison of pros and cons of choosing between Android and iOS go here.) The downside of course is that only half of smartphone users will be able to enjoy your product.
By launching the game on both Android and iOS at the same time, Niantic cast a very wide net, opening up the game to the widest majority of smartphone users on the planet. Through risky, because they could never truly predict how well the application would perform until they released it to production, it has proven to be a great strategy for Pokemon Go.
Leverage smartphone built in functionalities to create an immersive and engaging experience
Credits: Syafiq Adnan / Shutterstock
Pokemon Go is the poster child of a native mobile application. It makes use of the smartphone’s camera, the GPS location tool, the mapping function and the social sharing built in extensions and built in plugs-ins.
Although many users have reported this immersive experience comes at the cost of smartphone battery live, and there are now countless of tips on how to stop the battery drain while playing Pokemon, the game has been designed off the bat to leverage most of the built in features a smartphone has to offer.
In fact, the game itself has very little functionality. It only comes to life through geocaching data coming in from various third party systems.
Leveraging smartphone built in functionalities is a great way to create a fantastic personalized experience using contextual data which can really drive up customer engagement with your product.
Encourage virality, don’t just pray for it
Camera function is one of the main calls to action on the augmented reality screen as seen on the screen. This encourages users to share their “live” Pokémon experiences on Facebook and other social media sites.
It is the dream of any business for their product to go viral. If it does, then opportunities are limitless.
But some products, like Pokémon GO, actually encourage it. A simple example is the ability to share images of your Pokémons directly on your social media in a quick and intuitive fashion.
Too often, adding social sharing capabilities is a “nice to have” for various products, or is hidden under a menu.
What we see from the Pokémon GO example is that thinking through when, where and how to present social sharing capabilities is a key factor in a digital product’s success. People sharing their experiences online on their social media accounts is free publicity, and you should always make use of it and encourage it like Pokémon GO does.
When done right, this strategy works! We have a great screenshot showing how the number of tweets about Pokemon Go in its launch week surpassed the number of Tweets about Brexit when the results of the referendum were published.
Within a few days of social media frenzy the game simply became popular in an organic fashion with incredibly limited advertising. Instead, the company took it to Twitter, Facebook and Youtube to promote its new game and, again, they did it without sponsored ads or marketing campaigns.
Encouraging social media "chatter" and referrals has proven to be an incredibly effective way to attract users to the game.
Focus on a product MVP and then execute on it
These instructions from the Niantic blog show the limited functionality Pokemon Go offers to the players.
Pokémon GO is probably one of the most bare-bones applications launched by a major company out there. And it’s that way by design.
The company could have certainly done a better job at creating a more complex, contextually relevant, visually pleasing mobile game. They could have done a better job at onboarding a player. But they didn’t. Instead, they created a minimum viable product which can be learned on the go.
This has led to many tutorial videos on how to play pokemon to go viral with hundreds of thousands of people turning to youtube to learn the basics of Pokemon Go. For 18 dollars you can even purchase a course on Udemy.com and become a Pokemon Go expert.
In a world where many business executives want to create an experience that is as close to perfection as possible, Pokemon Go shows us, once again, the power of shipping a product as quickly as possible and then iterate after launch.
Keep an eye on Augmented Reality and its applications
Pokemon Go is an example of augmented reality where the game juxtaposes little monsters over everyday objects.
You use your camera function to see the Pokemon sitting on top of your plate or your hand as this in this tweet that went viral...
But Pokémon is simply the most famous example of an augmented reality application. This is great news for both augmented and virtual reality companies because it is proving how these emerging technologies can create an engaging experience that delights users and sucks them in.
However you look at it, this blend of reality and virtual world will only continue to rise in popularity. Companies should not wait until this new trend becomes common practice before they
Start the brainstorming now. The mass adoption of Pokemon Go proves that customers are ready for the next step under the right circumstances.
Reward your customers
Rewarding customers and gamers has been a common practice for a long time in the gaming industry to encourage adoption and user engagement.
Pokémon GO is definitely not an innovator in this field. But it does feed into a trend to maximize customers’ satisfaction with a game by offering rewards. In the game, players receive incentives for catching a new Pokémon, leveling up or even walking enough in a given day.
Rewards keep playing come back to the game. It makes them engaged. It helps customers build brand loyalty.
And that is what makes rewarding such a powerful marketing and user engagement technique.
Make it simple. Users love semi-mindless games.
Pokemon does not require an awful lot of brain power as you can see from this simple iMore tutorial. You go on quests around your neighborhood finding, capturing, training Pokemons. It is simple to play.
It is a game you can explain to a 6-year-old in less than 2 minutes.
Simplicity is and always has been key to mass adoption. After all, most people do not want to spend much time learning a new game. When rules are hard to follow and remember, users get frustrated and abandon a game. People have short memories.
What makes Pokemon Go the success that it is today is that you can be up and running (literally and figuratively!) in 5 minutes. Less if you do not personalize your character.
Pokemon Go is the perfect example of a great user experience where the user does not have to think in order to interact with this game. And the more you play, the more you are hooked to it.
It is the very definition of the number one principle in creating any digital experience: the simpler the product, the more likely you are to become successful.
Omni-channel really works when done right
Pokémon GO is a classic example of an omni-channel product. It is by its nature a digital game which requires a smartphone in order to play. But it connects the virtual and the physical world. People walk around in the real world moving from one PokéStop to another, from one store to another and so on.
This makes the game a direct bridge between the two worlds. As we are already seeing, millions of people are walking around every single day as they’re trying to get hold of a new digital monster. And this already has clear business applications as small business can pay Niantic to turn their location into a PokéStop for a short period of time, thus attracting foot traffic which could then turn into a sale.
One pizza joint in Long Island has reported 75% increase in daily sales after it paid to become a Pokéstop.
The point is simple: this new augmented reality manages to place ads in a context that is actually relevant to users. And it does so in an unobtrusive way. Imagine when the game will actually be able to store and make use of people’s habits and preferences, and provide them with options that are actually relevant to them. This is the holy grail: not just attracting users to random businesses (which has also proven effective!) but using it as a medium to serve relevant purchasing options to them.
Pokemon is a great example of an omni-channel experience that is done right: one which is not intrusive to the player yet effective at the same time from an advertising perspective.
Pokemon Go successfully taps into daily micro-moments
As I mentioned above, we check and do things on our smartphones more than 100 times a day. Typically, that happens for only 2-3 minutes before we return to our daily tasks/ chores.
What makes Pokémon GO so amazing is that you can simply access the game during these micro moments. You can walk your dog (something you had to do anyway) while playing the game. You can simply play it on the way to and from work. Or as we see above you can even play it while at work. You can play the game for 2 minutes or two hours straight.
The power of this game lies in its flexibility of commitment. This flexibility is clearly shown when we look at how often and for how long Pokémon players access the game on a daily basis. People who play Pokémon GO already spend more time on the game than on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram every day.
Personalized content and flexibility is key
For all its simplicity, Pokémon GO provide lots of flexibility to its users. You can choose to customize your avatar how you see fit. You can name your Pokémons. You can join a team or keep playing on your own.
These are small but critical aspects of the game. They provide the user with the ability to create their own personalized experience within the game, to show and exhibit their taste, personality and mood. These flexibilities allow the user to become invested in the game and customize something they can be proud of.
As a business, the importance of both personalized content and flexible configurations that users can make cannot be overstated: the more you allow the user to carve their own path, the more likely it is they will keep coming back to you.
A game for the fitness conscious is bound to produce an active engagement
As we all know, the game requires you to actively walk around to find Pokémons. You can’t simply sit on your sofa and play Pokémon GO. As such, one of the great benefits of this game is that it combines the pleasure of playing the game with the need for physical activity.
As Gizmodo puts it, the great thing about this game is that you accidentally get to exercise. This is no small matter.
A big part of the appeal of Pokémon GO is that it’s a double deal: at the end of the day you have fun and you exercise. The fun is what you were looking for but the physical exercise is a great additional bonus.
Just look how much you should walk to hatch Pokémon eggs (image adapted from BBC):
Bonus lesson: if you can turn your brand into a verb, do it
People are already talking about Pokémon not as a thing but as an action. You’re not playing Pokémon. You’re Pokémoning.
It is very similar to other brands that are no longer just a thing, they are an action, a recurring act which has become embedded in everyday life.
I google something versus searching for something online; I uber to a location versus taking a car from point A to point B, I zerox a page versus making a copy of it. Bubble wrap, taser, photoshop, rollerblade – all of these examples are both labels for companies or services and verbs themselves.
When developing a brand, having a label which can be turned into a verb is an incredibly powerful strategy because the user no longer looks at it as a company but as an everyday event. Having products which become an action means the user will only associate a specific action with your brand. Pokemon is clearly on the way to win this distinction.
Pokémon GO has taken the world by surprise but its recipe for success is by no means proprietary.
As we saw in this article most of these 14 business lessons are not new. They are just expertly intertwined in a product which delights and engages users of all different ages by creating a blended experience between the physical and virtual reality. A simple but powerful product.
How many of these strategies is your company leveraging today?