Pokemon GO and PokeStops a boon for business

On Monday, I wrote about the popularity of the new Pokemon Go app and how its popularity both befuddled me and intrigued me.

Pokemon Go means even Pikachu can be found at PokeStops

At last check, the game now has been downloaded well over 7.5 million times and is making in the neighborhood of $2 million per day. It is the most popular app in Apple’s app store and is on track to be used by more people than Twitter. Additionally, some estimates report that Pokemon Go is being played nearly 45 minutes a day per user, more than any other social app. The Holocaust Museum and Arlington Cemetery have already outlawed the use of the app on their grounds.

A new opportunity for businesses – being near PokeStops

Thinking about it today, the Pokemon Go brand can be a powerful tool for businesses. As I wrote, the emotional drivers of this craze is that those who use it believe they are cool when they use it and are at important places. It is also much the same for businesses. They have an opportunity to connect with a new target audience.

PokestopsOne of the game’s intentions is to urge people to get out and walk, looking for these virtual Pokemon characters. Throughout the augmented world, there are PokeStops that give players items like eggs and Poke Balls. Businesses have the ability to purchase (within the Pokemon Go app) items called lures that entice Pokemons to their location for a period of time.

Store owners have reported immediate increases in traffic and sales if they are near a PokeStop and have an active lure. There is no other current form of advertising with this impact on such a wide scale. These businesses, in essence, echo the brand face the player has – I am cool because I use it and my location is important. The businesses are aligning themselves with a very coveted age group and making their own locations important.

Eventually, the game’s developer, Niantic Labs, will make it possible to purchase PokeStops. As of now, the best businesses can hope for is that they near one. But the power of this Pokemon Go craze cannot be denied and, most importantly, should not be dismissed by businesses needing to connect with a potentially new audience. Latching onto the Pokemon Go phenomenon means you are cool and where you are is important.

That will make your business important too.

What is the deal with Pokemon Go?

I am the last person to comment on the mania surrounding a Nintendo game, but the immediate popularity of Pokemon Go is too immense to ignore.

And too interesting to leave alone, too.

Pokemon Go
The Pokemon Go craze has been swift, but what does it say about its users?

Reports are that the game has been downloaded more than a million times since its release just last week and Nintendo’s stock has jumped 25%.

What’s going on here? Is this just a fad or something larger?

The trick of Pokemon Go is that it uses augmented reality in which players use their phones to find Pokemon characters in real places, like churches, malls and just down the street from where you are standing. People are walking around their cities with their phones out, looking for these characters, capturing them and using them to fight battles with others who have captured other characters.

My Twitter feed was swarmed by this craze over the weekend with posts from celebrities, reporters and authors. You know, intelligent and thinking adults. Pokemon, which I’ve always thought was just a kids’ card game with silly looking characters, has taken quick root with a larger demographic with Pokemon Go.

Why Pokemon Go is so popular

To understand why people have flocked to this game, you have to understand how preference works. We buy the things that define us in an aspirational manner, even if we are not aware of it. (Most of the time we are not.) I didn’t buy a sports car because I thought it made me look cool. I did it because I wanted to be cool.

The brands we most covet align themselves with such identifications. The Nike wearer is one who wants to “Just Do It,” win without the hassle that usually clutters our life.

Pokemon Go has tapped into a very interesting desire – The yearning to make your current world important. The game is a fantasy that your everyday life and everyday places are important and part of a larger universe.

Intellectually, we can all make the argument that our current surroundings fit that definition. But Pokemon Go makes it real. Well, as real as an app on your phone can make it real.

Of course, you may be seeing people walking down the street, looking at their phones and bumping into things. There have already been reports of injuries as well as users finding a dead body and others luring robbery victims. As sad as those things are, those events increase the importance of this augmented reality.

I haven’t downloaded this app yet and doubt that I will. (Famous last words.) But the appeal of it lies in a self-identification of many – and that’s why so many people are hooked.

Nintendo is finally making apps

When I was young, I enjoyed arcade classics like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. Simple games that involved a joystick and a couple of buttons. These days, I am afraid I could never learn what the plethora of buttons do on a Playstation or X-Box controller. Ultimately, I would end up doing the button “mash” to accomplish much of anything. This is why a video game controller hasn’t touched my hand in decades.

This is where Nintendo needs to put its games.

It is also probably why the one gaming brand I am attracted to is Nintendo. Its systems have always felt like they were rooted in simplicity. Which is an attribute I admire. The brand houses some of the most recognizable gaming characters like Mario and Link.

A handful of years ago, Nintendo was riding high on its Wii system. A Wii system was once next to impossible to wrangle. Customers would snatch them up as soon as they hit the selling floor almost a year after their release.

Since then, Nintendo has been on the decline. The Wii U, an updated version of its predecessor, never hit home with audiences. Moreover, the company recently reported mediocre Q4 results.

Nintendo needs to think outside of the box.

All of this means that Nintendo doesn’t have the same permission to release the action packed, shoot-em up games as its rivals do and must consider a new strategy. For instance, the company has to think more innocently with its games — consider the titles it offers compared to its competitors. Yoshi World vs. Grand Theft Auto.

A few years back, I was contemplating the next steps that the gaming giant should make. Then, I suggested that the company needed to look outside of itself and partner with a company that is top-of-mind, like Apple.

Turns out, Nintendo is doing just that.

Its first foray into the Apple app world was a failed social network/game attempt. However, I have high hopes for its second attempt which will feature a “very familiar character.” This is its best move since the release of the Wii.

By joining the Apple ecosystem, Nintendo’s reach expands tenfold. With Sony and Microsoft ruling the gaming category, Nintendo now has permission to “Think Different.”

eSports, a brave new(ish) world for brands

Last year, 27 million people tuned into the finals of one of the biggest tournaments in professional gaming, the Riot Games League of Legends tournament. Just for quick comparison, that is more than how many watched the final games of the NBA Finals or the MLB World Series last year.

Welcome to the world of eSports.

Yes, they watch computer games.
Yes, they watch computer games.

Going on right now, there is a tournament in Seattle where more than $18 million is up for grabs (more than $6 million for the winners) for players of Dota 2 (Defense of the Ancients). Gaming has matured from teens playing in the family room to young adults playing in basketball arenas, with events being covered and broadcast by ESPN. In fact, the same truck ESPN uses to broadcast Monday Night Football is being used to broadcast the Dota 2 tournament.

And, while for the time being, major sponsors tend to be related to eSports – game companies, hardware companies, etc. – it is only a matter of time before consumer brands take notice of the opportunity to reach a pretty large global audience. The potential rewards are too great for them not to.

But, as with all things dealing with brands, consumer brands must be careful. The gaming world will immediately recognize an interloper and a sense of belonging is of upmost importance to this group.

Why sponsors haven’t signed up.

Not surprisingly, Red Bull sponsors a number of eSports tournaments just as it has with the X Games, which also appeal to millennials. But few other consumer brands have jumped in.

Why haven’t more brands joined them? I think they are worried they will be labeled as an interloper, which if you think about it, is a very sad commentary for brands. Part of the power of a brand is an intimate understanding of who your brand is for and who it is not for, and consumer brands avoiding this valuable niche is evidence that brands, even those that this group uses every day, do not fully understand who they are supposed to be for. Or worse, they do not understand how to communicate with their target audiences.

This is a passionate, loyal and growing audience. Brands should embrace it and not be afraid of it. While their excuse may be that they don’t fully understand the niche, I would say that the brands don’t truly understand who they are.

Nintendo Universal partnership

A few years back, I wrote a blog suggesting that Nintendo should consider its present status in the marketplace and team up with some of the other big guns in the entertainment and technology circuit.

The best brand in the gaming industry.
The best brand in the gaming industry.

I felt Nintendo had room to capitalize on its wonderful array of character-driven games in a variety of platforms. I’m sure Nintendo fanboys would appreciate Mario Kart on their iPads or the newest installment of Super Mario Brothers on their Samsung Galaxy 6 phones.

Nintendo should be licensing the pants out of its trove of games.

Why should it? It’s simple:

Nintendo’s brand exceeds the competition.

While I am not a gamer, and don’t plan on ever becoming one, I do have a bunch of children who play video games. What I know is that Nintendo, unequivocally, has the strongest brand in the gaming industry.

When I consider Nintendo, colorfully timeless characters pop into my mind: Mario and Luigi, and Zelda, for instance. I couldn’t, however, do the same when thinking on the Microsoft or Sony game systems. Neither comes close to the breadth of character that Nintendo’s games offer.

Nintendo’s partnership with Universal is a great first step.

I was pleased when I read that Nintendo would be partnering with Universal Parks & Resorts. It’s about time the brains at Nintendo realized joining forces will propel its brand forward. Think about it: The Nintendo Universal partnership now means you can now visit a Universal theme park and you hop on a Super Mario themed roller coaster or immerse yourself in a 4D game.

That, to me, sounds like a kick in the pants.

My hope for Nintendo is that the partnerships do not end with Universal and that we will see more and more of the cherubic, red-capped, Italian plumber named Mario in more and more aspects of our everyday media.

The Nintendo Universal partnership signals the beginning of Nintendo taking over the world.