Pokémon Go’s Impact on Marketing and Business

Michael Bergbauer - July 22, 2016

Earlier this month, Niantic Inc. (formerly an internal startup at Google) launched Pokémon Go – a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality mobile game – sparking a cultural phenomenon on a global scale. Since its release, the app has been smashing records and logging unprecedented usage metrics. To name just a few:

With all this attention, it’s no wonder that businesses are incorporating Pokémon Go into their marketing efforts. To understand the marketing potential behind the app, it helps if you know the basics of how Pokémon Go works.

Pokémon Go utilizes Google Maps API and the device’s GPS to track the player’s movement relative to the real world. To play, users explore their neighborhoods and cities in search of three things:

  • PokéStops – visiting these replenishes a player’s in-game items. Their real world corollary are public art pieces, parks, and similar gathering areas.
  • Pokémon Gyms – players battle Pokémon here for prizes and glory! Similar to PokéStops, gyms in the real world are represented by monuments, museums, and other areas of cultural significance.
  • Pokémon – players gotta catch ‘em all, and they can appear anywhere while players explore.

In regards to marketing, McDonald’s is perhaps the most high-profile example as the game’s first corporate sponsor. As part of the collaboration, about 2,500 McDonald’s locations in Japan will become PokéStops and around 400 locations will become Pokémon gyms for a limited time – potentially drawing in the foot traffic of thousands of players (all working up their appetites searching for Pokémon).

Other businesses are following suit – especially ones at or near the PokéStops where players tend to congregate. Anecdotally, I’ve seen several of the following examples:

  • Free gifts or discounts when players show the app at checkout
  • Store signage and social media posts advertising proximity to PokéStops, gyms, and rare Pokémon found on the premises
  • Businesses setting up “Lure Modules” (a $.99 in-app purchase that causes Pokémon to appear more frequently near a PokéStop for 30 minutes) on a schedule to draw in players after peak hours
  • Ecommerce and email marketing for products that players would be specifically interested in, such as external batteries, fitness gear, travel gear, and even data plans

Pokémon Go marketing trends are becoming so widespread, Yelp created a new search filter to show users businesses that have PokéStops nearby. Meanwhile, Placed, a location analytics firm, used opt-in user data to compile a list of businesses that are the most likely to succeed from collaborating with Pokémon Go, ala McDonald’s. Chances are, Pokémon Go appeals to at least some part for your target audience. Since the app’s popularity continues to grow, it’s worth considering how you can leverage it to engage with your customers.

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