Pokémon GO: The Secret Behind the Success
Jul 18, 2016
If you’re like me, you’ve been wondering about Pokémon GO’s atmospheric rise, and what we, as marketers, can learn from it.
There are millions of articles explaining the game and how it works, so let’s skip that part.
Every major business publication will state that the app is installed on over 5% of Android devices, is currently the top app in the Apple Store, has been downloaded more than Tinder, has more active users than Twitter, and that’s all with the game only being available in the US, Australia and a handful of other countries. This week the game will begin its release in Europe, so we’ll see these stats continue to climb.
You’ll also read how Pokémon GO is bringing augmented reality (AR) to the masses. To some extent, that’s true. But the AR aspect of the game getting the majority of press uses your phone’s camera to overlay small Pokémon characters in the world around you.
Personally, I think calling that AR is generous. You’re not able to interact with these characters – actually, you have the ability to turn off the AR aspect of the game in order to interact better with these characters.
There are a number of less sexy aspects of the games, whether intentional or not, that are actually why we’ve seen the game take off. Some of these on the surface seem counter-intuitive, giving us reason to rethink some of the ways we normally create and market products.
Turn your weaknesses into strengths
In general, video and mobile games have to overcome a stigma of being a time suck that has a hold on younger generations. They are pointed at as culprits for our sedentary lifestyle and rise in obesity and ADHD.
And yet, as a video or mobile game company, their success, revenue and profit is determined by how many people download their game, how engaged they can keep these people and ultimately how much time they can get you to pour into the game.
However, what if a video or mobile game actually forced you to move around? What if it actually rewarded you for walking long distances and exploring the world around you?
Pokémon GO actually does just this by forcing users to walk around in the real-world to take part in the game. Sitting on your couch to play is not possible. Instead of trying to hold you hostage, the game actually incentivizes you to explore the world around you.
Normally we would shy away from telling our users they can’t play no matter where they are. And actually forcing them to go to real-world locations would risk them being distracted and no longer engaging in the game.
However, data from Pokémon GO is telling us otherwise. With the success of wearables and a resurgence in health/fitness, it does not seem a stretch that the gamification of physical activity with an existing video game franchise wouldn’t be a success.
Too often we go head-to-head with our obstacles instead of embracing them. Consider negative associations with your product and ideate on how you might actually leverage them.
Play to more universal needs and behaviors
Often when we consider the needs of our target market, we think myopically about the actual use case for why someone would use or buy our product. Incorrectly, we work backwards from our own goals and apply them to our audience. We write statements like, ‘the user has XYZ problem and needs to understand how ACME Company’s offerings solve their problem.’
But when you take a more holistic and customer-centric view of your target market, you can see more universal needs and their associated behaviors.
Take for instance a more universal need to feel important and special. At times that could mean having a purpose and at others could mean possessing something that others don’t have.
And for Pokémon, it says it right in the tag line: “Try to collect them all.”
This has been at the core of the Pokémon franchise from the beginning. In Pokémon GO, and other Pokémon games for that matter, gameplay pulls at an instinctual need to hunt, gather and collect. You hunt for that rare, elusive character, work towards collecting them all and work with a team to control certain regions through head-to-head battles. That’s what gives the game the mass appeal we are seeing now.
Take a moment to broaden the view of your target market and what they need, not what you have to offer. What do they need from a physical or functional level? What do they need from their relationships with others? What do they need to enhance their sense of self-worth or enhance their personal identity?
Force your users to be engaged or let them go
In much of business, total number of contacts or users is often the focus. We fixate on the number of downloads or how many customers we have, yet we neglect to accurately measure what percentage of them are engaged. In marketing, prime examples are the number of email addresses in a database and social follower counts.
For things like mobile apps, our crutch to combat this is push notifications and reminders. In marketing, it’s emails and phone calls. We expend lots of time, money, brain power, and even entire departments to try to pull the unengaged back in, instead of focusing on the people who actually are engaged.
But Pokémon GO takes a different tactic. The game actually forces you to have the app open in order to see markers and characters around you.
You can not passively play. You must be engaged.
If you walk down the street without the app open, you will not be alerted to something you might have missed. You will just miss out.
And it is this fear of missing out (which I’m sure we are all tired of hearing as a phrase) that is contributing to Pokémon GO’s success. Users keep the app open, for 45 minutes at a time on average according to some statistics.
So take a minute to think about your users and your customers, how you engage them and where you put your resources. Do you have a balance of what you put towards gaining more and what you put towards taking care of your best ones?