4 Things Pokémon GO Teaches Us About Inbound Marketing

Ashley Wilson-Rew

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If you're not familiar with Pokémon GO or Pokémon in general, don't worry. You can skip to the "lesson" in each section for actionable marketing advice.

On July 6, 2016, Niantic, Inc. released Pokémon GO. PoGo is a mobile smartphone app based on a very popular series of games and cartoons. The original series is the brainchild of international electronics company Nintendo

This app is generating quite a buzz less than a week after launch. If you're not hearing about Pokémon GO at every turn, or playing it yourself, I'm sorry, but you might be... old. (Dun dun duuun.)

For the youngsters (read: 20 to 30-year-olds), Pokémon GO is a continuation of a beloved childhood story. The biggest hook? Instead of catching Pokémon in a separate game, the app presents a virtual reality twist: the Pokémon you catch appear right in front of you, with the help of your GPS and camera.

Aside from providing much-needed exercise for Millennials, the app is also a great example of why inbound marketing is so successful. (If you're not familiar with inbound marketing, here's a quick overview.)

Here are a few things to take away from Pokémon GO - and why its initial launch was such a smashing success.

1.  People will gladly do something not-so-fun for (what we perceive to be) a valuable reward.

When asked if they enjoy walking everywhere instead of driving, most people would say hell no. 

As Americans, we generally prefer sitting around watching Netflix over walking. Anywhere. Getting off our butts is hard.

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Who needs to walk when you have a couch car?

However, an entire generation is now getting off its ass to chase imaginary digital monsters. To baby boomers, this phenomenon seems both very silly and absolutely incredible. What sorcery has pulled these Millennials away from their computer screens into the great outdoors?!

The trick was finding the right incentive. The target audience of Pokémon GO is happy - ecstatic, even! - to run around their towns, battle friends and strangers, and collect all the critters they remember from childhood.

Lesson: The same applies to marketing your business. You want people to give you their contact information. Most people are wary about giving out their contact info, so you need to provide the right incentive to make them convert. 

What do your target buyers (buyer personas) care about? Increasing revenues, developing better products, cutting costs? Provide information that helps them do just that. They'll happily hand over their email address.

2.  When you have a large online network, information travels quickly

Currently, my Facebook news feed is absolutely overrun by Pokémon GO stories, pictures, and updates. I see these posts almost instantaneously. As soon as someone makes a new meme, it shows up on my Facebook.

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A recent post.

When the app was launched a week ago, people knew immediately. Within the first two days, 5.16% of all US Android devices had PG installed.

For reference, there are 107 million US Android users in 2016. That's five million downloads in the first two days. As of July 11, five days after launch, there were an estimated 7.6 million downloads and counting.

Pokémon certainly has a unique community. A huge portion of the population is already familiar with the franchise, and is connected to it in some way online. That means word travels fast and far.

Lesson: Chances are your online community won't be as large as Nintendo's or Niantic's. However, a bigger network means more reach, more sharing, more eyes, and more chances to hook a customer. Take every chance you get to network with peers, prospects, and potential customers so you can grow your brand's presence.

3.  When people are already familiar with a product, it's much easier to sell additional products and services.

An entire generation grew up with Pokémon games, movies, TV series, and other media. This generation invested a lifetime of money, time, sweat, and tears into the characters and the story.

What happens when you tell them "a new Pokémon game is coming to your smartphone, and you can catch Pokémon in real life, and it's free"? Their heads explode.

The same goes for your product or service. 

Lesson: As you pick up new customers and grow your brand, don't forget about the people who have been loyal from the start. Your past customers are easier to get on board - they've already worked with you, used your product, and know what to expect. They're more likely to make repeat purchases and buy new products. (It costs businesses 6-7x more to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one).

Further, they're a great source of referrals for getting new business.

4.  Know how to hook your target audience, then give your sales pitch.

Pokémon GO is a free-to-play app. Sounds great, right? Especially for Niantic's target audience: Millennials who grew up with Pokémon, who are now just out of college or just starting their careers.

This demographic is notorious for going to incredible lengths to avoid paying for things. See: the popularity of Limewire, Pirate Bay, and other file sharing platforms.

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Shameless pirates, all of us.

Niantic understood that a free app would bring more long-term revenue than a paid app. Why? Because it's free (why not download it?).

Then, once the players are hooked, the company provides paid "extras" that give a leg up on other players, or that simply improve the game experience. In six days, this has worked to the tune of $1.6 million in daily revenue.

Free apps with paid "extras" are an infamously successful strategy. Candy Crush, the biggest mobile game ever, followed this same strategy and is now worth $6 billionPokémon GO may surpass this record.

Companies find this "foot-in-the-door" type of product easier to market because there's no initial investment. There's no risk for checking it out. Except... suddenly you're hooked, and you're spending your entire paycheck on Lucky Eggs and Incense.

Further, the immediate gratification between paid items and in-game success makes people looser with their cash.

Lesson: Know exactly who you're targeting. Get your foot in the door. Build a relationship before you sell. Make sure they know the benefits of your product, how it will make their life easier, and what it would cost them to not use your product. 

Demos, free trials, and samples are the easiest way to "hook" your customers. Once they've used your product and see exactly what it can do for them, they'll be unhappy to give it back or lose access. This unhappiness needs to be stronger than their desire to keep their money.

Learning from Niantic and Pokémon GO

In the first week, Pokémon GO has seen more success than many companies see in a lifetime. Here are the big reasons why:

  1. Niantic pays attention to its audience and gives them what they want to make them do an otherwise not-very-fun thing
  2. The company utilized Pokémon's huge online network to generate interest pre-launch, and spread the word post-launch
  3. They made this new product appealing to current and past customers as well as new customers
  4. The game hooks players first before asking for money

You can definitely use these tactics in your own inbound marketing strategies. Want to know how?

In the meantime, consider giving the app a try! It's free, it's fun, and you'll get to see some of these lessons in action.

Had any epiphanies about marketing, society, or life due to Pokémon GO? Let us know in the comments!

Related: How to Increase ROI With Inbound Marketing

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