Pokemon Go: Fad Or Technological Revolution?

I was out bowling with some (millennial) friends the day that Pokemon Go was launched in the US. While I was waiting my turn to bowl, one of my friends showed me this new game that he described as ‘bringing his online and offline lives together.’ Even though it had only been around for only a few hours, he couldn’t stop playing it. It was called Pokemon Go.

For those of you who have not heard of this new phenomenon, Pokemon Go is a game played on a smartphone, developed by Nintendo and Niantic (a Google spinoff). The goal of the game is to catch different kinds of Pokemon that appear virtually on a map, on the screen of your phone. But you must physically go to within a few feet of them to throw a virtual ‘Poke Ball’ at them to capture them. You can also see the Pokemon superimposed in your immediate surroundings by using the camera on your phone. The goal of the game is to capture as many Pokemon with ‘Poke Balls’ which you can refill at ‘PokeStops’ (pre-defined locations on the map usually of some significance). The game is free, but you can also make in app purchases. The Pokemon website does a great job of explaining the details of the game if you’re interested.

Opportunities for Pokemon Go

It seems like everyone from companies to individuals are trying to figure out how to maximize their benefit from Pokemon Go. Companies are starting to think of creative ways to use the game to gain more customers and delight their existing ones. Individuals are not only competing to get to the next level in the game – there are other benefits as well.

  • Companies – Last week, T Mobile, offered free data plans for a year to play the game; Lyft offered free taxi rides up to $15 to Pokemon locations; and Wendy’s offered free frosties for people to beat the heat while they chase Pokemons. Retail stores and restaurants, are starting to explore the power of getting someone to come to a store or restaurant to look for a Pokemon and stay to try or buy something. In the finance industry, investment companies had a good opportunity to make some money – the Nintendo share price (NTDOY) has risen more than 40% since the launch of the game!
  • Individual players – Individual players are getting more exercise while walking around looking for Pokemons that they otherwise would not have gotten. The game also has a social component – activities such as building teams in the game and then posting updates on social media, players can take those virtual relationships and make friends in the real world. From an educational perspective, most PokeStops are at churches or places of historical relevance and this becomes a good opportunity to learn more about the community. What a great way to explore a new city while looking for Pokemons!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zzR1SRCcTM

Threats and Dangers of Pokemon Go

Like with everything else there are some downsides or dangers of this new phenomenon as well. From hackers using the game to lure innocent people into dark alleys to mug them, to kids looking at their phones instead of ahead of them and walking into traffic. It could also be a distraction to employees at work. There are also ethical questions around privacy. Where people are, what they are doing and how long they have been is now public information not just for the gaming company and the cell phone provider but now also across all the millions of people playing the game.

Emerging Technologies – Augmented Reality and Geolocation

The two primary technologies that the Pokemon Go game leverages are Augmented Reality (AR) and Geolocation (GL). While both of these technologies have been around for a while, the game brings the two together to create an uber personalized experience for the player.

  • Geolocation (GL) – This is the process or technique of identifying the geographical location of a person or device by means of digital information. Geolocation works by using GPS signals and in some cases cell phone tower information to triangulate the position of a person and then uses mapping technology to place the person in a relative spot. (http://www.pcworld.com/article/192803/geolo.html). Geolocation technology has been around for many years but due to accuracy, privacy and indoor performance concerns, companies are not utilizing this to grow their business and optimize the customer’s experience. Until now.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) – ‘Augmented reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.’ (http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/augmented-reality-AR) . In simple words AR means superimposing virtual items (e.g. Pokemons) on physical ones (e.g. your living room couch). This is a relatively new concept and as smartphones with cameras become a must have for every person, the applications of this technology are now starting to take shape.

What the future could look like

Bringing GL and AR together can be powerful and lucrative. Some examples could be:

  • Buying retail goods – What if you could try on a virtual hat and see what it looks like on you before you actually bought it online? What if you could see what a new couch would look like in your living room… And you got an offer for a 20% discount the next day when you walked by the retail store you were researching online?
  • Media companies – Imax, improved sound quality and reclining seats are already improving the movie theater experience. What if movies could actually add another dimension personalized for you? What if scenes from the movie look like they took place in your backyard? Would you pay more for that?
  • Construction – Today in the construction industry, people look at designs on paper or ipads and then visualize what the structures should look like. What if the engineers could design these and see what they looked like right on the construction site? They could build with more accuracy and speed.
  • Self driving cars – The ultimate application of GL and AR is for self driving cars. Though Tesla has dabbled in this, there is a long way to go before it is error free and safe, after which it can be more completely commercialized. What if this feature could be further augmented by superimposing road hazards right on your windshield? Would that make it safer?

The application of these new technologies are limitless and still nascent. This game is a great way to consider how we use our environment, pop culture and how we go about our day as input to our marketing efforts. Even if no one plays Pokemon Go a month from now, the ideas have taken root, and it is only a matter of time before other industries and companies begin using these technologies to engage new and existing customers.

Keep in mind, though, that not every company will be able to use a game such as Pokemon Go to grow their business. And that’s okay. The challenge is to seek opportunities to understand the customer journey and find ways to connect with the audience along it. Companies selling to consumers may find a unique way to engage their audience directly with perks and specials. Organizations with business customers may have to get more creative with AR/GL. Used correctly, these technologies can enhance the customer experience, take personalization to a new level and fundamentally change the way companies market to and build relationships with their customers and prospects.

How would you use these technologies as part of your marketing strategy? Leave us a comment or an idea!

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