What Pokémon Go Can Teach Businesses

Gamers play with the Pokemon Go application on their mobile phone, at the Grote Markt in Haarlem, on July 13, 2016. / AFP / ANP / Remko de Waal / Netherlands OUT (Photo credit should read REMKO DE WAAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Remko De Waal—AFP/Getty Images

Betsy Page Sigman is a professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.

Anyone with a child aged 8 and olderup has probably heard of Pokemon Go this week. As children and adults explore this new phenomenon, we already have seen evidence of businesses shifting their marketing strategies to catch players’ attention as avidly as the app users try to catch Pokemon. This game that is taking over the nation in a way no other app in history has ever done before. As my 21-year-old son showed me, it requires players to physically walk around to search for and capture “live” cartoon versions of the imaginary animals that match those on the Pokemon cards he had collected and traded for years as a child.

While many fret over the safety of players who aimlessly wander through streets and sidewalks playing the game, there are many pluses. Millennial players have the opportunity to relive a part of their childhood while actively interacting with strangers and getting exercise. However, the real winners here are businesses who leverage the app’s phenomenon to drive customers to their stores. The app’s integration of the real life with active game play could completely shift how we as customers interact with businesses.

One of the plusses of the app is that it encourages players to explore their surroundings. It gets them to notice parks, streets, churches, statues, and other community landmarks. And, of course, businesses. A tweet posted this week noted that “My sister got to pick what the sign said” and showed Picasso’s Restaurant, with the sign “You can reach two Pokestops from our dining room, just sayin.” This tweet already had received more than 500,000 likes in one day. I believe this to be a harbinger of the competition that lies ahead, as businesses quickly learn to vie for these coveted Pokestops, for they will bring in potential customers.

The game has a brand whose impact is strong and dates back to the childhoods of many millennials. For these reasons, it has increased the market value of its parent company Nintendo by over $9 billion in just the last six days. The technology it uses —AR or augmented reality — has been around for a number of years, but has become much more popular lately. AR takes real-world camera views and enhances them with digital images and information to convey knowledge or simply make the view more interesting. This technology has been used to show the price of a house on the market or give the history of a building by simply looking at these objects through a camera. With Pokemon, you see the street in front of you superimposed with live creatures you can roll a Pokeball at and try to capture. Believe me, it’s fun. It wouldn’t be getting this reaction if it wasn’t.

What else does Pokemon Go’s popularity mean? Well, it’s one more distraction for workers. Last night, we saw a man out walking with his two kids, playing the game. He saw my son doing the same and told us that he worked for a defense contractor and he had seen people playing it during his lunch hour this week. At workplaces and other institutions everywhere, significant numbers of people in their 20s and 30s spent the last few days reliving a part of their childhood with Pokemon Go. How long will it continue? Who knows, but we do know that there are real productivity decreases when employees get wrapped up in a game (think March Madness, Fantasy Football, etc.)

It also should lead to the development of more similar games, or the addition of similar games to popular business apps. As my husband and I got our Pokemon Go lesson from my son last night, I started thinking of all types of games that could be developed using the same technology. Imagine running with a virtual competitor beside you, spurring you on. Or what about a nature walk where the app would bring up information about every type of wildflower or bird you come across. As with so many advances in technology, there will be countless opportunities coming to the business world, as consumers learn to navigate the online world outside and with their feet.

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