What Marketers Can Learn From Pokemon Go

It’s been available for download for little over a month, but already Niantic’s Pokemon GO is rewriting the rulebook for mobile gaming.

It took the game just 13 hours to top the highest-grossing app chart in the US after being released, which has helped to skyrocket Nintendo’s market value by more than $9 billion. Not bad for a game that fuses real-world exercise with the repetitive strain inducing capture of small, virtual creatures.

You more than likely know a few people in your office who play Pokemon GO - you might even play it yourself (I do - 1800cp Lapras is my main man, if you’re asking). But other than ‘fruit makes Pokemon docile!’, what else can we learn from Pokemon GO?

1. There Is a Market for Everything

Do you think Pokemon GO is original? Yes? Well think again. Before Niantic launched Pokemon GO, they initially released the location-based AR game, Ingress, back in 2012. Described by its creator, John Hanke, as a ‘cult hit’, Ingress has amassed a respectable 15 million worldwide downloads over the past four years. Pokemon GO has amassed over 75 million downloads and $200m revenue in little over 4 weeks.

The thing is, the games are actually very similar, with Pokemon GO’s Pokestop and Gym locations actually based on the pre-existing Ingress game map. The only major difference is the branding and marketing.

You may have created an incredible product or provide an unbeatable service, but are you selling to the right audience? Sure, Ingress is aimed at a sci-fi crowd whereas Pokemon GO is a bit more mainstream, but it just goes to show the power of smart marketing. Who would have thought we’d be all playing Pokemon again 20 years after it was released?

2. Success Takes Time

It’s very rare for someone or something to become an overnight success like Pokemon GO has. However, the game itself rewards patience and the very best Pokemon take serious time to get hold of.

A great example would be the Pokemon, Magikarp - an utterly useless Pokemon by itself, but one that evolves into the almighty Gyarados, one of the strongest pocket monsters around. The catch? You need 400 candies (the in-game levelling ‘currency’) just to evolve Magikarp into Gyarados - and to get that many candies takes a while.

Likewise, when hatching Pokemon, you’re going to get a better battler from a rarer 10km egg than you are in the much more common 2km egg.

Pokemon GO, like life itself, rewards those who are patient and invest time in something. Richard Branson spent years developing and growing Virgin. Elon Musk taught himself rocket science by taking the time to read innumerable textbooks.

If you’re expecting to become successful overnight - think again. You’ve got to put in the graft to get that Gyarados-like career, otherwise you’ll just stay a Magikarp forever.

3. Nothing Lasts Forever

Sweet! You’ve just bossed the gym down the road and proudly installed your 2500cp Dragonite. Now you can sit back and relax. It’s late in the evening, so you might as well go to bed and check in the next morning, right?

But when you log in the next day, to your horror, you find that while you slept, Dragonite was knocked out and a rival team has taken over the gym you spent all those hours capturing in the first place.

Damn. Well that’s it right? Might as well delete the app, right? Wrong!

This is an important lesson for entrepreneurs to learn, especially in the disposable digital age that we live in. You have to remember that absolutely nothing lasts forever - and that is not a bad thing. It’s certainly nothing to beat yourself up about because setbacks are an opportunity to learn and develop.

Do you think Tom from Myspace sulked when Facebook came along? No! He accepted that his time was up and sold up for a whole ton of cash. Now he spends his days travelling and taking photographs.

Whatever you’re doing now, the world will change and your market will change, new technologies will come along and within 5 years it’ll be a totally different environment. What does this mean for you? It means nothing lasts forever and you’ve always got to be ready to adapt.

4. A Bigger Risk Can Mean a Bigger Reward

Do you simply flick your finger up the screen to catch Pidgey, or do you spin a curveball right into the centre of the Pokemon and nail a ‘Great’ capture?

While much harder to achieve, let alone master, throwing curveballs and achieving ‘Nice’, ‘Good’ or ‘Great’ captures of Pokemon not only increase the likelihood of catching that Pokemon, but will also give you more XP than a normal capture. But it’s a risk because these bonus XP-gifting techniques are much harder to get right than a normal flick-throw.

A great real-world example of this mantra is Snapchat, who turned down a $3 billion buyout from Facebook in 2013. Now, that is crazy money to turn down and definitely a risk for those in charge, because who knew how long Snapchat’s longevity would last or whether another big money bid would be forthcoming. Today, Snapchat is valued at $15 billion. That’s a valuation growth of 400% in 18 months, all because they took the risk of turning down the first mega-money offer that came their way and forged their own future.

Don’t be afraid to gamble on throwing a curveball in real world situations in order to get a ‘Great’ result.

5. Don't Forget About Your Customers

Despite being an overwhelming success, Pokemon GO has not been without its scandals. First there were issues with servers, which prevented users from logging in. Then there were widespread bugs that prevented people from tracking Pokemon in the game, which gave rise to third party tracking sites. However, Niantic, who for some reason disliked these third parties from helping out budding Pokemon Masters, then decided to completely remove the tracking feature entirely.

This resulted in almost universal fury from those playing the game as it rendered one of the most attractive elements completely useless - namely, being able to track and trace Pokemon that the game flagged as nearby. Without a system in place, users had no idea of where to start looking for the Pikachu that was supposedly nearby.

Niantic paid a heavy price for this with many users demanding refunds for in-app purchases as well as a concerted effort to ruin the game’s reputation in the iOS app store (it currently sits around 2 stars…). This is because Niantic forgot about what their users wanted - a virtual Pokemon Journey in which they could track and capture battling monsters. Without a track feature the game was one of chance and no longer fun.

So if you take away anything from this article, make it this: Your customers are the lifeblood of your company. If you piss them off (even unintentionally) then you will pay the price for it. Global companies like Nintendo have enough of a reputation to salvage such errors, but smaller businesses might not be able to. Always be aware of the impact any changes you want to make may have on your customer-base.

P.S. (One for Luck!) Exercise Is Good for the Head and the Heart

Pokemon GO forces users to walk and explore to find new creatures, which is a great way of getting people outside and up off the couch.

But even without playing Pokemon GO, going for a walk is a great opportunity to get away from your desk, stretch your legs and clear your head. It might even make you more productive when you come back!

So, whether you’re playing Pokemon GO or not, we can all learn a few important life lessons from the little Japanese Pocket Monsters - and if you’ve don’t agree with the above then, in the words of Team Rocket, ‘prepare for trouble..!’

What does your business need?

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