Luring Success with Pokémon GO

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Pokémon GO has perfectly illustrated that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, even in business. Keeping your finger on the pulse of current trends while tapping into modern technology is a great business strategy that can result in enormous commercial success. Gaming enthusiast and researcher, Zera Day, shares her insider experience, explaining how and why the game achieved its success, and what lessons SMEs can learn from it.

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Pokémon GO released in the middle of the year and, in little under a week, was trending worldwide, even with a staggered release date for each country. Despite only being officially released in South Africa in October, Pokémon GO was unofficially available for download on most Smart Phones. To anyone under forty, the game played on the nostalgia of the Pokémon craze in the nineties, while capitalising on contemporary culture by combining elements of enhanced reality gaming. All of this was wrapped up neatly in a game that, for all intents and purposes, wasn’t all that impressive. Even the underlying technology relied on a game and narrative that was built years before it by the self-same company.

The addictive nature of the game produced an app that not only made more money than any other app in the entire world in a single week – but continued to trend for months afterwards. Not bad for a game that at no point requires you to spend real world money to actually find or catch the critters for which it is so famous. Its success can partly be attributed to the “freemium” model on which the app is built, meaning that the base product (app) is free, but has optional in-game purchases.

Although this is not a unique model, the inherent design of Pokémon GO made one particular item in the game store much more lucrative (and interesting) than any other – the lure.

Most of the game requires you to actually get out and walk, finding Pokémon in your neighbourhood or local areas, whereas the lure could be set to a specific location and draw the critters to you. But the real genius with this particular item is that the lure is not specific to a person but rather to a place, and when set it applies to everyone in the general area.

For many businesses, especially restaurants, this was amazing. By setting lures up at a nearby Pokéstop (points of interest where players could grab items), which were often set to local businesses and landmarks anyway, restaurants and businesses could encourage foot traffic and prolonged stays from many a fan of Pokémon GO.

At the height of the Pokémon GO craze, many businesses were gaining massive amounts of traction (and business) from Pokémon GO fans through the clever use of these lures. As they lasted at least thirty minutes, many fans would come for the Pokémon, and stay for whatever those businesses offered. The small cost of the lures was completely offset by the amount of business gained throughout the day from fans looking for their favourite creature, and buying something while they did so.

It is not all good news, however. I would not go out and buy a bunch of lures on the app right now. While the game continues to be among the most top grossing apps on the app store, the number of players has diminished significantly. Thus luring customers with a place to catch their favourite critter is no longer quite as viable. One also requires a Pokéstop to be on or near your business. Some businesses, again mostly restaurants and coffee shops, are still benefiting, but they do so during peak hours, enticing those particular customers to come to their business instead of competitors. The Pokémon GO craze has, unfortunately, passed.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to take away from the whole event though – if anything, the way many small businesses benefited during the craze is a lesson in paying attention to what is popular, both in the real world and the digital, and taking advantage of it while you can.

The lesson here is simple:  make something old new, and don’t forget that loyal audiences from previous successful ventures are a captive market that can be rediscovered and reinvigorated through new product developments.

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Zera Day is a Gender, Classical and Library Studies graduate from the University of Cape Town. A consummate nerd and trained Librarian, she is well versed in the effects of technology and the internet on data and information. She spends her time immersing herself in literature and researching the effects of gender on everyday life.