If you haven’t heard of Pokemon Go by now, you haven’t been outside recently. If you’re anywhere with people, you’ve probably seen a sizable portion of those people heads down, buried in their phones, hunting for animated creatures in the augmented reality-based mobile game and high-fiving each other when they capture one (myself included). On the surface, it’s a fun mobile game whose popularity is as intriguing as it is entertaining, but the superficial fun of the app has led to some real results — Nintendo’s valuation has increased by an estimated $7.5 billion thanks to the game.
So how is it that this seemingly niche mobile game skyrocketed to such astounding popularity after only a few days? 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:
1. Good branding can sell just about anything. Pokemon Go is actually loosely based on a system that already existed for another location-based mobile game, Ingress. Have you ever heard of Ingress? Possibly, but it didn’t achieve breakout success because its brand never became well-recognized. Pokemon, on the other hand, is a brand that’s been consistently developing itself for more than 20 years. Its character design, game quality, and tone as a video game series (and anime) has become so powerful, its presence alone helped sell the game to multiple generations of Pokemon fans. The game itself is good, but without the branding, it never would have taken off.
2. Timing is really important. Pokemon launched just after the start of summer, when kids are out of school, festivals are kicking up, and people are looking for any excuse to go outside and walk around. Can you imagine what it would be like if the game launched in the dead of winter? During a blizzard? The launch date is no coincidence. It’s also good timing in a broader perspective; Pokemon is 20 years old now, and fans who were children when the series first launched are now 20-something adults with significant buying power.
3. Social proof is everything these days. Thanks to our immediately connected, highly communicative, social media-integrated world, social proof is everything in the modern era. We won’t buy a product unless someone else has reviewed it first. We won’t notice a business unless we hear someone else talking about it. With Pokemon Go, social proof is visible — when you see people having fun with the same mobile game almost everywhere you turn, it’s almost impossible not to want to get involved.
4. A sense of identity leads to loyalty. There are a handful of identity factors that make Pokemon Go such an addictive hit, all of which give users a sense of belonging and loyalty. The first is a layer of nostalgia; 20-somethings all over the country grew up with Pokemon, and this is a way for them to hearken back to the original feelings they had playing the game in the late 1990s. When the first Pokemon game came out in 1996, I was 10 years old. I’m now 30, and myself along with many other millennials get warm and fuzzy feelings from Pokemon because it reminds us of a phenomenon that swept our generation and continues to do so today. The second is a division of loyalty; in the game, you must choose between three rival factions, and being able to identify with one faction’s victories and defeats is a brilliant way to get people more invested, similar to the way sports fans become so invested in their teams.
5. You don’t need a weighty ad campaign. How many ads did you see for Pokemon Go leading up to its launch? Probably none. Compare that to a blockbuster movie like Dawn of Justice or Civil War, both of which crammed advertising down our throats to get us into theaters. Pokemon Go didn’t invest much into advertising because it didn’t need it — either the ad executives in charge knew that the success of the app would be dependent on the marketing and viral factors I’ve listed here, or they truly didn’t expect the app to be a breakout hit. My guess is the former, but the bottom line here is that you don’t need a huge advertising budget to be an effective marketer. You just have to connect with people.
6. It’s important to reward ongoing investment. If you want to increase customer loyalty, you need to reward your users for continuing to invest in your product. In Pokemon Go, players get bonuses and incentives for leveling up, taking on gyms, catching new Pokemon, and even walking — the thrill of finding a rare Pokemon or winning an intense battle is enough to keep users grinding for more, even through some of the less active parts of the game. There are definite rewards for continued investment, and that’s what keeps users playing — sometimes at the expense of their productivity.
7. Low learning curves lead to higher adoption rates. Another component of Pokemon Go’s success is its low learning curve; despite having no formal tutorial or instructions, it’s pretty easy to pick up the basics of the app. You can dig deep into researching the mechanics of the game, but all you really need to do to have fun is walk around, your phone occasionally, and stay alert for phone vibrations (which indicate a Pokemon has appeared). Well-designed websites, eCommerce platforms, apps, and products are ones that welcome new users with open arms and make it extremely easy for people to get involved, which is a lesson you can learn from breakout social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat, too.
Put these lessons to good use in your own company or organization, and you’ll inevitably see an increase in both customer acquisition and retention. You have to start with a good product — for example, even with these marketing advantages, if Pokemon Go was a train wreck of a game, it wouldn’t have caught on — but beyond that, these supportive measures can help turn any solid foundation into a true breakout hit.