3 Lessons Companies Can Learn From the Pokémon Phenomenon
Every once in a while, there’s a product that successfully delivers on several fronts: user experience, adoption, monetization and growth potential. It’s rare to achieve all four. But Pokémon Go has entered that special category. The mobile app that sends players on an augmented reality adventure in real locations around their homes, offices and neighborhoods has been downloaded 15 million times since it was released last week. Now what?
I’m as enthralled with the game as everyone else. Except my motivation is from a product and advertising perspective. Pokémon Go effectively uses all aspects of the device it is built on (mobile), has achieved an unprecedented adoption rate, gone viral in mainstream media, surpassed Twitter’s U.S. user base and found an effective monetization model (fastest-ever game to get to the top of mobile revenue charts, all in just seven days). It provides the first real showcase for a technology that has threatened to break through for a few years - augmented reality. And with today’s announcement that Niantic, the game developer behind the Nintendo game, will allow a unique form of in-app advertising in Pokémon Go, the opportunity for marketers is rife. Here are a few takeaways from the hit game that businesses should think about in the context of mobile, consumer engagement and getting a great product to market fast.
Lesson 1. Mobile done right is great.
Pokémon Go is an illustration of the power mobile can have if its features are harnessed smartly. Nintendo has gone from being phenomenally late to mobile to nailing all that is good about it. They built a product that delivers a unique experience by tapping into the unique capabilities of mobile -- location, camera, hi-res graphics. The app was not perfect. It has had multiple glitches (Gmail security concerns on iOS, scalability challenges), but was strong enough to catch the attention of millions of users. This app concept was validated by a previous app built by Niantic, Ingress, and is likely built on the Ingress engine. It’s a pretty cool illustration of lean product development, testing ideas quickly and iterating to a product that is truly powerful.
Lesson 2. The real and virtual worlds can be blended seamlessly.
Pokémon Go is the first solid example of a technology concept promising to break through for nearly a decade -- augmented reality. Despite the hype, augmented reality never hit its stride. In the realm of mobile, it’s an area typically fraught with issues related to processing power and development fragmentation. Still, it’s a market -- along with its companion virtual reality -- expected to reach $120 billion by 2020, according to Digi-Capital.
Where Pokémon Go succeeded is in not just seamlessly blending the real world with the imaginary or the overlay of graphics through the camera, but by enabling true real-world actions and interactions. Strangers playing the game get off their couches, talk to each other and congregate for Pokémon catching sprees. It’s an impressive example of driving very specific human behaviors through a well-gamified product. And they have built an open-ended product. This gives brands and businesses a “platform” to build their experiences on top of, much like a well-built tech platform puts tremendous power in the hands of developers (think iOS/Google and the App Store). A lot of the early beneficiaries of this have been brick-and mortar stores—people discovering a really cool bakery in their neighborhood because it is a Poke Stop, store owners laying out “Lures” for players and driving foot traffic and brands tweeting about the existence of Pokémon near their store. Nintendo has taken the logical next step and integrated advertising in the app experience by way of retailers and restaurants becoming sponsored locations, instead of annoying banner or pop up ads.
Lesson 3. Advertising should blend with and enhance the user experience.
The ultimate goal for a brand is to be able to drive purchase of their product. The ongoing quest for marketers is to deliver an ad experience that is relevant, valuable and actionable by the user. The workflow for online advertising goes like this: serve ad, customer clicks, buys product online / in-store and action is attributed to served ad. It’s vital to deliver the ad at the right time and in the right place.
Pokémon Go illustrates an elegant way to simplify this flow by literally walking consumers to the door steps of physical locations while keeping them engaged in their quest for monsters. There is an incredible array of things Nintendo can now do with this app -- from a pure user experience standpoint and from the advertising/monetization angle. Think dynamic allocation of sponsored locations based on real-time data such as weather, deals from nearby stores and more. And we haven’t even touched the rich data set and all the ways that it can be leveraged.
The best part for marketers: advertising is fitting seamlessly into consumers’ lives and adding value instead of interrupting their tasks. It’s experiential marketing at its finest.
Will Pokémon Go endure? Yes, as long as Nintendo keeps a strong product-thinking lens that puts superior game quality and user experience front and center. The shortsighted approach is to push augmented reality into everything we do, inserting advertising content at every possible turn. There will be countless mobile app copycats who will attempt to do just that.
The responsible way to look at the Pokémon Go phenomenon is as an illustration of a smartly designed platform connecting multiple pieces of technology to create a monetizable product that offers a powerful user experience. There are lessons to be taken from the game’s success and applied throughout the mobile marketing ecosystem, and smart marketers will do just that.