Gotta Catch ‘Em All – Customer Acquisition and Engagement Lessons from Pokémon Go

Unless you’ve been trapped on a deserted island for the last week, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz around Pokémon Go, the new app that allows users to catch Pokémon in the real world. Believe me, if Wilson was a Pokeball, Tom Hanks would have been rescued by a group of teenagers before he even needed to shave.


Now the game hasn’t been without controversy. Two men fell off a cliff, a teenage girl got hit by a car crossing a highway, and there have been a series of robberies by people targeting unsuspecting teens playing the game. Police departments have even had to issue warnings like “It’s a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast.[1]” It’s amazing, but that warning was absolutely necessary.

It even happened to me. I was playing a round of golf earlier this week and was about to hit a shot when 5 teens started wandering aimlessly through the fairway. At first, I didn’t know what the hell they were doing, then it hit me, they were looking for a Pokémon. Like most golfers, I’m not always the most accurate, and they were definitely in the “kill zone”. I figured I would give them a minute to walk through, but before long, it was clear they weren’t going anywhere. After a few minutes I drove up and nicely stated that it probably wasn’t wise to be standing in the middle of the fairway on a busy golf course[2]. They responded “this is a golf course?” They didn’t even know where they were. Unbelievable!

I assume this is only the beginning, and it’s definitely going to get worse before it gets better, but it’s amazing how this game has literally captivated the world. In just over a week, Pokémon Go has been downloaded more times than Tinder during its entire 5 year existence, and last week was searched for more times than porn. Let me say that again, Pokémon Go is currently more popular than porn! As Bill Maher stated this week on Real Time, “Pokémon is more popular than fucking”. Don’t worry though, porn will be ok.

The game has also received a lot of praise. It has encouraged an entire generation of kids to go outside. I read a quote that Pokémon Go in one week, has done more for children’s health than Michelle Obama in 8 years. I doubt this is true, but maybe…

In addition, Twitter is flooded with stories about Pokémon Go’s impact on players’ anxiety and depression, with thousands of people stating the game helped get them out of the house and interact with strangers. As Dr. John Grohol, an expert in technology’s impact on human behavior and mental health states “these simple acts are crucial milestones for anyone struggling with depression”.

Due to this massive success, many companies both large and small have been scrambling to capitalize on the trend. In the world of business, trying to get someone so enamored with a product that they can’t put it down is often the goal. So, how can you use Pokémon Go to help drive sales and increase new customer acquisition?

1. Is Your Business a PokeGym or PokeStop?

In addition to roaming around aimlessly (see above) to collect Pokémon, the game also allows players to collect rewards from PokeStops, battle at PokeGyms, and team up to defend a specified territory.

First, figure out whether your business is a PokeStop or PokeGym. If so, you are extremely lucky, or maybe unlucky like this man who discovered when his home was listed as a gym when people started showing up at all hours of the night.

SnorlaxThese locations attract foot traffic without any effort. If your business is not a gym or stop, find out where the closest ones are to your location, and see if you can capitalize on them. Put out signs stating free wi-fi, or charging stations for users (the game eats up battery life like a Snorlax[3]).

This strategy is probably better suited for retail businesses that have something to sell to customers as they wait, but don’t think that this game is only being played by teens. Check out these stats.

People ages 25-34 have emerged as the predominant age group for the game. Those are the people with money, and the ones that are, or soon will be making very important purchasing decisions. Do you have a real estate company or work in finance? 25-34 year olds are your most coveted demographic.

Do you have a consulting or advertising business? Guess which group is most likely to start a new business?

Just being seen as a “cool” company that caters to this group can go a long way to helping you develop and ingrain your brand into their minds. Beyoncé had it wrong; it’s not girls that run the world, its nerds. So if you are a PokeGym or PokeStop, or at least near one, just make sure you know who runs this mother, and start capitalizing on them.

2. Lure in New Customers

Pokémon Go offers a range a wide array of in-app purchases. Believe me; you will see articles over the next few weeks of people who spent an exorbitant amount of money on this app. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first bankruptcy story comes out before Labor Day sales are announced, and there is already a plethora of GoFundMe posts related to Pokémon Go[4].

One of the most important in-app components is lures. Lures increase the rate of Pokémon generation in the area around the PokeStop where they’re placed for 30 mins.

That may not sound that powerful, but believe me, it is.

For a little more than a dollar an hour, you can bring virtually guaranteed crowds to your business. The ROI here is insane, so if your business is anywhere near a PokeStop, this is a no brainer. Think about the last bit of marketing or advertising you paid for. For the purposes of this conversation, let’s say it was a very small campaign, and you spent $100 on a banner ad which may or may not have driven traffic to your business. For the same price, you could place lures during peak hours for 3 weeks. Isn’t that at least worth a trial? Believe me, you will not be disappointed.

3. Capitalize on Your Business Being Near a Pokémon Gym

Gyms are slightly different from PokeStops. Unfortunately, you can’t just drop down lures, but you don’t have to either, because users are converging on gyms at all hours of the day to fight for control for their team.[5]

To see if your business is near a gym, you simply have to download the app and look for the tall structures with little Pokémon near the top. They are easy to spot and the biggest structures on the game map. Most are places you are probably familiar with, like WWE headquarters in Stanford, CT which, let’s be honest, is the most perfect place for a PokeGym ever.

If you’re nowhere near either a PokeStop or a PokeGym, that just means you have to get a little more creative.

4. Hit the Streets

Once you know the basics of how Pokémon Go works, you don’t actually need to be near a PokeStop or a PokeGym to capitalize on the traffic they can create.

Take your business to the customers.

One way to make your business a part of the phenomenon is to get mobile and find a spot from which to orchestrate the Lure or Gym strategies noted above.

Maybe this means distributing flyers, or giving away samples if you are a restaurant or retailer.

Marketing is supposed to be creative, so get creative.

Is your business situated on a large field or piece of land?  Host a battle.  A lot of the time, people are just looking for a place to play the game where people won’t get mad or make fun of them. 22% percent of people would be embarrassed to tell their family they played Pokémon Go and 38% would be embarrassed to tell their boss.  Give them a safe space, and see if you can convert any players to customers.

5. Promote Your Local Pokémon on Social Media

Even if your business is nowhere near a PokeStop or a Gym, you’re still going to have Pokémon near your business.

One way to get people excited about visiting your area is to get on social media and show off the valuable and/or rare Pokémon in your area. To know what to look for, check the internet. Several people have already made charts of the different types of Pokémon.

Don’t be afraid to hire someone to do this for you. There are a ton of people playing this all day, every day. I’m sure it would not be hard to find someone willing to capture Pokémon in your area for a small fee. Hell, you can probably pay them in lures. And their parents will be proud they finally got off their ass and found a summer job. Everybody wins.

Another option is to incentivize play on the part of your customers. Run it like a referral program.

Promote the fact that you’re rewarding users who find rare Pokémon in and around your business. If you do this, you could turn your location into a viral destination without being a PokeStop or PokeGym.

Look, I’m sure there are some naysayers out there thinking this is only a fad or that it will fade in a few weeks, and that could very well be true, but why not give it a try. If your Facebook page looks anything like mine, it’s already full of Pokémon anyways. They have replaced people putting up pictures of their kids. People care about this more than kids, and the thing that creates kids, sex! Maybe give it a second look before dismissing it.

We are not talking thousands of dollars either. We are talking about a miniscule investment into something with crazy ROI potential. And, if you don’t think the success of Pokémon Go is going to create a new wave of real-world, map based games, you are crazy. There is a first person shooter game that came out this week[6], and we are probably only a few years away from everything being augmented reality. Imagine going to a zoo or a museum and using your phone to have some type of crazy interactive experience with the animals or exhibits. I hope you are prepared, because it’s coming.

Experiment now so that you can capitalize on the success of Pokémon Go but also on the next wave of apps.

Your future customers are out there, and in one form or another they are going to be using these types of platforms. Make sure you devise a strategy for success because just like the enthusiastic Pokémon Go users, you want to catch ‘em all.

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[1] Duh

[2] It wasn’t near that nice

[3] I don’t know that much about the Pokémon world, but this fat bastard must eat a lot, right??

[4] On a personal note, fuck these people.  Seriously, fuck ’em all.

[5] The internet has told me the teams are Mystic, Valor, or Instinct.  Sounds a little like the factions from the popular Divergent book series, which was about a dystopian society that was ultimately a plague on the world and destroyed, but I digress.

[6] Nothing bad is going to happen with this, (I typed with great sarcasm).