Is Pokémon Go the Killer App for Location-Based Marketing?

Three Reasons Why the Game Has Succeeded Where Other Location-Based Apps Have Failed Miserably

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Foursquare invented the "check-in" nearly seven years ago. That same year, the first augmented reality app, for the Paris Metro Subway, launched in the iOS App Store. Since then, thousands of app makers, brands and marketers have tried to crack the real-world to digital-world gap, and most have failed miserably. Until now.

Pokémon Go app trailer.
Pokémon Go app trailer. Credit: Pokémon

I have seen firsthand how difficult the location-based marketing space can be. Before I started Pressboard, I was involved with a proximity marketing company called Gauge Mobile. Gauge was a technology company that provided an easy way for brands to connect thousands of location-based "triggers" to their marketing campaigns.

The concept was simple: Give consumers an easy way to use their smartphones to turn physical items and spaces into digital portals. Scan a movie poster and watch the trailer, walk by a coffee shop and get a deal on a latte. It was a marketer's dream, except for one important thing -- no one cared.

Engagement rates were abysmal. The seemingly small friction point of downloading an app, and scanning, tapping or searching, turned out to be not worth the effort to get a discount on your morning coffee. And yet, somehow, a location-based game featuring characters created over 20 years ago has gained worldwide attention in a matter of days and already surpassed Twitter in daily users.

Here's why I believe Pokémon Go has succeeded where every other location-based app has failed:

1. It's fun, easy and addictive. Pokémon Go has nailed game mechanics perfectly. Bite-sized session times make it playable on the walk to work or can be extended into a weekend-long marathon. The core reward concept of catching Pokémon acts as a mini dopamine drip for our pleasure-seeking minds. Even the game's tagline "Gotta catch 'em all" entices its players to keep at it. It definitely beats getting a geo-specific coupon or a promotional video.

2. It appeals to a wide audience. Games have the uncanny ability to transcend cultures, ages and classes. Where previous iterations of location-based apps were targeted to a very small, early-innovator group of people with the very newest technology, Pokémon Go is accessible to anyone with a smartphone. The safety of the Pokémon brand makes parents comfortable letting their kids play it, and the nostalgia of the 90s pulls in everyone else.

3. Users are driving the adoption, not marketers. Gary Vaynerchuk famously said that "marketers ruin everything." As marketers, we are biased toward solving our own business problems first, and our consumers' problems second. Despite what we tell ourselves, no one wants to see our ads magically come to life in their newspaper, nor have they ever asked themselves why they can't scan a cereal box for more detailed information.

People want to be entertained and inspired. Pokémon Go is entertainment on overdrive, turning the regular world into one filled with animated characters, battles and surprises. Pokémon Go has content at its core, coming from a long lineage of video games, TV shows and playing cards. Its only business challenge is finding new ways to entertain its audience, and a gaming app was a logical extension.

Eventually we, as marketers, may ruin Pokémon Go, too. You can bet that in board rooms across the world executives are meeting to plan brand takeovers of popular Pokestops and somewhere, someone is pitching a catfood sponsorship for Meowth.

Pokémon Go isn't an innovation in technology, marketing or business models -- it's an innovation in entertainment. Pokémon Go wasn't created to solve location-based marketers' woes, but it may have inadvertently launched the industry's first killer app.

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