Quora Question: What Marketing Lessons Can be Learned From Pokémon Go?

Pokemon Go Sydney Opera House
Pokémon Go players meet at Sydney Opera House in Australia, July 20. The game has become a worldwide craze but has caused controversy in sensitive locations. Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

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Answer from Jane Chin, president of the Medical Science Liaison Institute; founder of LinkedIn's Alternative Ph.D Careers group:

Pokemon GO has taken over the internet, and it seems, real life. Tweets about Pokemon GO worldwide have taken over tweets about the Brexit. BBC even made an infographic about the number of calories (or doughnuts) you can burn playing the game. News stories are littered with talk about how popular the game is, how “Pokemon zombies” are skulking around neighborhoods, and even offering innovative ways to increase business foot-traffic by becoming a Pokemon hot spot.

Pokemon GO is touted as the biggest mobile game in U.S. history, but the meteoric rise of Pokemon GO’s success is no accident. The game succeeds on strategic decisions around the gaming platform and modes of user engagement and rewards: marketing lessons that companies in any industry can heed.

Leveraging existing platforms and reducing adoption barriers

Pokemon GO leverages an existing platform (smartphones) and layers in the game as augmented reality (AR), versus opting for a sexier platform like virtual reality (VR) that would require a new device. The game uses an application that even people who don’t play games on their smartphones are familiar with: global positioning system (GPS), which eliminates another adoption barrier for new users.

Use what most everyone is already using, and introduce a layer of technology that won’t take them too far out of their comfort zone. This reduces adoption barriers especially during early launch, when gathering critical mass is essential for word-of-mouth or “buzz” marketing.

Revisiting childhoods while fulfilling an irresistible human urge

Pokemon GO may play into a generation that grew up watching Pokemon cartoons, but it would not have gotten as expansive a market as it did if it did not also tap into a powerful human urge for treasure hunting. Casting the Pokemon characters as treasure that people could hunt allowed Pokemon GO to capture a new market: people who may not care for Pokemon, but love geocaching.

Pokemon GO’s success depends on the combination of the cast/characters and an intrinsic human curiosity for discovery (especially of treasures). Movies have capitalized on this for ages, and Atari was the original game to capitalize on the power of Easter eggs (media).

Offering new psychological rewards over existing competitors

The geocaching and AR aspect of the game allow Pokemon GO to further tap into reward systems that other “marketing phenom” games like Angry Bird or Candy Crush Saga cannot: the euphoria of “Being at the Right Place at the Right Time” (increasing the feeling of being lucky), and inserting a fictional narrative into everyday life (increases the feeling of an enhanced reality experience).

These psychological rewards can make the game attractive to users who otherwise may not be drawn to the “collecting Pokemon” aspect of the game.

Capitalizing on perceived fringe benefits

One of the perceived benefits Pokemon GO has created is getting sedentary people up-and-moving. The interactive nature of the game can also be a way for people to interact with each other “in real life,” with the game as an interest-based conduit for such meet-and-greets. Each of these fringe benefits may be powerful marketing messages to capture new players.

Such fringe benefits may turn out to be more significant areas of marketing for augmented reality-based applications, as we tend to equate increased online screen time with a dangerous sedentary lifestyle and reduced “real life” social interactions.

Now, the real question is whether or when Pokemon GO gets its own movie.

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