The PoGo Effect

July 26, 2016 6:45 pm

Like a “zubat outta hell,” tech’s newest unicorn disrupter, Pokémon Go burst forth.  Within days, the app trounced the social media titans of Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat in daily active users and engagement.  Hype over the new AR mobile game nearly “broke” the internet.  Sign-ups and usage continuously crashed the servers.  Yet, their momentum did not subside.

Skeptics hail Pokémon Go as a “cultural moment,” a fleeting phenomenon that will fizzle soon after it fires.  Regardless, businesses are riding the wave.  There are Poke Pub crawls and “Porkémon”-themed barbeques.  There is a new dating site, “PokéDates,” that assists players in “Pikachu-sing” a new “Bulbasaur” for your “Jigglypuff.”  The phrase “I’ve gotta hatch this egg” has replaced “I need to get my steps in.”  Pokémon even went a little political with Hillary Clinton declaring she wants to get people to “Pokémon Go to the polls!”  Por que, Hillary!  Or should I say, “Poké!”

All puns aside, the Pokémon franchise, Google, and Niantic found that sweet spot, that trifecta of branding, technological innovation, and timing.  However, Pokémon Go is less of a moment and more of a movement as industries are forced to re-examine mobile augmented reality as a relevant and viable tool and further pinpoint the true source of consumer motivation.  As we adjust for this future landscape, there are a few points to remember and consider.

Real Time Amplification = Mattering More

The statistics are staggering.  Mobile smartphone usage has sky-rocketed over the past two years.  In a 2015 article, “Smartphones are now the Dominant Driver of Social Media,” it stated that “57% of Americans use social media apps to interact” via smartphones.  “Nine out of 10 Millennials have a smartphone.”  “30% to 50% of digital media properties are accessed solely through mobile.”  More eyes are on smartphones.  More searches are on smartphones.  In a study published on Smart Insights in April 2016, 80% of internet searches take place on a smartphone.  Pokémon Go is only feeding this trend.  The breadth of this penetration is driving expectations. 

The viral nature of Pokémon Go demonstrates the necessity for businesses to not only be present, but participating in real time.  Relevancy is a matter of strategic agility.  Agility is a dominant factor in competitive advantage.  Not only do businesses need to be in-tune and embracing new emerging technology trends, they need responsive teams who actively seek out trends and activity across platforms.  The ability to pivot in digital communications today is essential. 

Word to the Wise: “Think like a Traveler.” 

Such convenient thought for a business to ponder as customers turn into to travelers themselves!  Businesses must be on that journey, as well.  Tom Kelley of IDEO, a renowned speaker on creativity and innovation for businesses, offers this token of wisdom:  “Think like a Traveler.”  What happens when one travels?  There is heightened awareness.  There is overwhelming alertness.  Each sense is working overtime to process the new surroundings.  In this state, details once lost to familiarity are brought to the forefront. 

Conversely, marketers and business owners are conditioned to “Think like the Consumer.”  However, that perspective is fraught with limitations.  “Think like a Consumer” assumes a singular role and purpose in a restrictive, cyclical process.  Companies continuously administer surveys, collect data, build personas, and segment the results, all in hopes of drawing nearer to their consumers.  But are they?  Do the analytics only take them so far?  How close are they to an authentic connection? 

All the more important for businesses to practice innovation by “Thinking like a Traveler.” This notion encourages observation beyond repetitive, statistical analysis.  Get out from behind your computer screen and observer your people!  Be in tune with your surroundings.  This idea emphasizes curiosity, allowing marketers to entertain the “what ifs” and the “what abouts.”  In this way, businesses are more adaptive to change.  Marketing intelligence is a marriage between analytics and humanity.  There are so many faces to humanity in addition to “consumer.” A traveler investigates and visits them all.

The Resurgence of Authenticity and Intimacy

Today, the relationship between companies and consumers is a multi-channel, multi-screen tapestry that feeds a participatory culture.  The landscape caters to consumer hyper-personalization.  Consumers are the creators of their own experiences.  Dare I say it?  It’s not about the Pokémon or the AR! (Gasp!)  The AR is fun but rudimentary at best.  There are still glitches in the system.  But consumers are activated!  We are again adventurers, roving about, experiencing our world through a new set of lens.  We join others in experiencing the magic and the pitfalls of the process.  It’s Google’s Pokémon Challenge Promo come to life! ( 

Authenticity of the experience is key.  Pokémon Go has inspired our agency.  We are choosing to be physically active participants.  Earlier this year, Facebook announced they are combating a decrease in users posting personal content.  Of the 1.6 billion users, the majority are re-sharing news and information from other websites.  That famous algorithm that allows us to “personalize” our newsfeeds has also made us passive receptors.  Bloomberg labeled this problem for Facebook as a “decline in intimacy.”  Very few people feel comfortable posting their personal details for all to see.

With Pokémon Go, the rediscovery of social intimacy is present.  We are creators in control, yet vulnerable.  We share both our excitement and disappointment with other humans publicly at community PokéStops and Gyms.  Facebook is trying to bring people back by allowing old memories to re-emerge.  Nostalgia is fleeting and stagnant with expectations.  But exploration is forward looking, forward reaching.  Where do I want to be?  What do I want to be?  The irony is that the vehicle for this authenticity and intimacy is augmented reality.  Has Niantic achieved the impossible?  Could it be that the heart of this innovation is not the synthesis of product and medium, but more simply how we see ourselves?