Though it’s not even officially available in Canada yet, Nintendo/Niantic’s Pokemon Go, an augmented-reality revival of the classic monster-catching title for the Game Boy on mobile devices, has created a media sensation and resulted in a vault in Nintendo of America share prices. The game is on its way to outpacing juggernauts of the app world like Tinder and even Twitter for sheer download volume. Your humble blogger admits to being a core member of the target market: teens and twentysomethings who were kids when the original games debuted in the late 1990s, who now have access to the power of mobile tech – and the disposable income needed to fuel in-app purchasing.
One of the unexpected benefactors from Pokemon Go‘s release: small businesses. The game is predicated on being GPS-enabled: users walk around their cities and interact with real-world locations including landmarks and storefronts in order to stock up on in-game necessities. Many local businesses might find themselves marked on players’ maps as key locations: business owners are already responding to waves of new customers drawn to their doors in search of new Pokemon to add to their collections with an array of creative signage and special offers. Others have used in-game items, called “lures”, to populate their storefronts with digital critters aplenty, incentivizing extra foot traffic from Pokemon-hunting mobile users in 30-minute bursts during otherwise slow times of day. The lures cost a few dollars via in-app purchase, but can provide a much-needed short term boost in traffic and revenue. The app is a notable drain on smartphone batteries: even promoting the availability of a charging station for users on the go might be enough to win the hearts of Pokemon-hunting passersby.
The lesson that Pokemon Go teaches is that creativity and willingness to engage with the mobile populace are winning strategies in the battle to earn customers for any brick and mortar small business. Pokemon Go gives augmented reality and geolocation technologies their change to shine in the small business context as well: previously confined to a small niche of mobile users and mostly concerned with reviews and check-ins, the burst in popularity of these systems should refresh the importance for small businesses of keeping their sense of place visible on the internet. Augmented reality has been around since before Pokemon Go, but it seemed doomed to relegation in the pantheon of tech flashes-in-the-pan. The conversational bubble generated by Niantic’s release will help revitalize discussion around the potential for extremely specific targeted marketing and customer engagement for small businesses.
Unfortunately, unlike the process your business can go through to get listed on Yelp or Google Maps, it’s not possible to apply to become a hotspot for Pokemon Go users: developer Niantic is responsible for populating its in-game map using proprietary data gathering methods. For those lucky small businesses who happen to be located right on top of a Pokemon hideout, however, the size of the potential market for increased foot traffic is more than just a fad to theme a few promotions around. Increasing foot traffic is a great goal: however, your business should also consider the longer term value of new visitors lured through its doors by augmented reality apps. Turning these roving Pokemon trainers into repeat customers and advocates will be the real test of your business’ marketing savvy.