If you haven't heard of Pokémon GO by now, you've probably been holed up inside for the last month. If you had gone outside, you'd likely have seen a sizable portion of people with their heads down, buried in their phones, searching like crazy for "Pokemon". And while it may look to some like the world has gone mad, there's actually quite a bit more to it.
Pokemon GO, is an AR (augmented reality) game from Nintendo that has become one of the most played apps of the year, recently passing 100 million downloads in it's first month. And in addition to giving people a new on-screen entertainment option, the game's also responsible for a range of surprising new types of connections and human interactions, the full impact of which could actually be quite profound.
So how is it that this seemingly niche mobile game skyrocketed to such astounding popularity after only one month? Most of it boils down to a handful of clever marketing principles, all of which can help you in the promotion of your own company and products.
Let's take a look at a couple of lessons that any business can take away from this new craze.
1. Overnight success doesn't happen overnight
This should be obvious, but often when something like this becomes a success seemingly overnight, most people forget that it's actually the culmination of a bunch of small steps, rather than one big one that got it there. While it may seem like Pokemon GO just "happened", that thinking also skips past all the time, energy and money that Niantic (the game's creator) has put into this game's journey. Pokemon GO is the result of lessons learned from a previously developed, similar game (which I'll cover a bit later), the improvement of augmented reality, the 20-year brand value of Pokemon, and many, many other factors.
Such is also often the case when companies want to achieve better rankings through search engine optimization (SEO). It's almost never possible for a new site to just appear at the top of the search results for a popular keyword or phrase, yet it's common to hear companies put this as their goal for their first month of SEO.
The takeaway here is that there's no magic formula for success. Just like how Pokemon GO became so popular, a successful SEO campaign is more about doing a lot of small things, the right way, than just pushing a magic button. You need to have good content, proper site architecture, good tagging, link building, and social media sharing to get onto the first page of search engines.
It takes a solid strategy, the ability to implement, and patience. But, as we see with Pokemon GO, it can all be worth it in the end.
2. Timing is everything
Pokémon GO was released on July 6th, which is the middle of summer (in the northern hemisphere), when most school-aged children (the game's core audience) are on break from school. Not only do these kids have more time, but summer means more daylight hours for them and adults alike to walk around playing the game.
While there's no way to know if Pokémon GO would have had the same impact if it had been released at another point in the year, it seems reasonable to imagine that less free time would equate to less time spent on the game. When you think about the fact that the game involves a need for users to spend time outside, had it launched during a time of year when it was cold or wet, there's a higher chance the launch wouldn't have had the same success.
The lesson here is that creating content isn't the only aspect you should be concerned about. How does your content fit in with what's going on more broadly? Are you thinking about how your audience gets content currently and fitting in with that?
This is where having data on your audience is important as launch timing, promotion, and target demographics all play a part in whether your efforts will be successful.
3. Virtual reality & other new technologies are coming
It always takes a while for the general public to catch up to the technology available. For years, many in the gaming industry have been wondering when virtual reality was going to catch on - and with all the money being spent on research into these new technologies, it is only a matter of time before it becomes the norm. The question, of course, is how this will look. Pokemon GO has now given us a glimpse into what that VR future is going to be.
The combination of interacting in real life with an added virtual reality aspect, often called augmented reality, is what makes Pokémon GO so addictive. It's also an exciting time as we see that this being part of the broader trend toward the new era of the Internet of Things (IoT). It takes the fantastical of the digital world and interweaves it into our daily lives. Instead of having to lock yourself to a desktop or TV to interact with the game, the world becomes the screen through which the game interacts with you.
Pokemon GO underlines something we already know about audiences - that they want interactive content that they can see and touch in their world. The marketer who's able to create content that that transforms something ordinary into the extraordinary will be the ones that will rise to the top.
4. Old ideas can still have new success
While Pokémon GO the app is new, Pokemon, as a brand, is 20 years old. And while it has become incredibly popular in it's new form, the original card game was also a raging success in it's own right.
What should marketers learn from this? That just because you already got good numbers with a piece of content doesn't mean that you can go back to that well once more.
This doesn't mean that you just republish or reshare everything that resonated, but take a page from Pokemon GO's book and offer a fresh new take on it. This could mean updating it with the latest information, putting it into context for the current environment, or simply giving it a new design (like taking an article and turning it into a video?).
Go back through your old content and look at what worked and what didn't. Think about how you can take a piece that was successful for you then and re-introduce it for today's audience. For Pokemon GO, it involved taking a game that millions of people loved playing on their Gameboys in the early 2000s and turning it into a game for smartphones in 2016.
Regardless of how you do it, odds are that changing something that was successful for you once before will be easier than creating something completely new.
5. A brand name still means something
It'd be easy to say that Pokemon Go has been so successful due to it's technical innovation. But that would be misleading. The fact is, Niantic actually created and released a game very similar to Pokemon Go back in 2013: Ingress.
At it's core, Ingress is an augmented-reality, multi-player game, where players capture 'portals' at places on the map. Sounds pretty familiar, right? What's even more telling to the topic at hand is that many people think Ingress is superior to Pokemon GO in many ways.
So why didn't Ingress achieve the same success?
Because the brand of Pokemon has been around for 20 years. The name alone brings along a certain level of market presence and nostalgia. And that tells us one very important thing, especially for those who are looking to break into a new market: you can be every bit as good, or even better, than your competition and you could still lose out because you haven't spent time on your brand.
Even if you don't know what a "Pokemon" is, there are a number of interesting learning points that you can take from the success of Pokemon GO. We're at the beginning of a new era in marketing, where mobile technology is converging with real life interaction, creating new and still to be discovered implications for the way companies interact with audiences.
The rise of Internet of Things, virtual reality, and augmented reality is already blurring the lines between "online" and real life, and this provides considerable opportunities for people who are innovative and creative to take advantage.