Pokemon Go’s Timely Revival: 5 Branding Lessons We Can Learn

Fast forward 4 months, it’s March 2017. It has been one month since Pokemon Go’s major update, which is the largest expansion of Pokemon Go since its launch. And it seems to be rather effective in bringing back users – with over 80 new Pokemon to be caught, the old trainers are back in action and ready to catch ‘em all.

The biggest feature of the February update was the release of over 80 Pokemon from the Johto region, from the franchise’s second generation of games – Pokemon Gold and Silver. Definitely a smart move by Niantic to reignite the interests of Pokemon Go fans while building up the user experience and strengthening its brand community. Most importantly, by releasing Pokemon one region or one generation at a time, it creates more anticipation for users as they start to predict what other Pokemon can be expected on the app (“Johto today, what else tomorrow?”).

As explained in my previous article, the initial decline of Pokemon Go may have been attributed to its stubbornness and unwillingness to listen to its customers. Niantic didn’t anticipate the problems its customers faced – be it the repetition involved in catching Pokemon, or the hassle of catching Pokemon without the ‘nearby’ tracking system. However, the new updates in February addressed these problems – with more Pokemon, better tracking, and other features to empower its players, more and more players are jumping back on the Pokemon bandwagon. Data from Wandera revealed that following the Pokemon Go update in February, there was a 50% spike in the number of logins on the application, suggesting that the update was effective in re-engaging its users around the world. For Niantic, perhaps the single and most important lesson was learning the value in listening to its users. And here’s what the rest of us can learn from the revitalisation of a brand:

#1 Retain authority over your brand through seamless experiences.

Previously, the ‘nearby’ feature on Pokemon Go only showed a list of Pokemon that could be caught within a certain radius, but it could not reveal the exact location of these Pokemon. As users didn’t enjoy this particular challenge of waiting around to catch Pokemon, they turned to third-party apps and websites like Pokemon Radar or Pokemap to track, in real time, the exact location of a specific Pokemon. Unfortunately for Niantic, the incomplete tracking feature led to a lapse in a user’s app experience, as users have to toggle between two apps to enjoy the full Pokemon-hunting/catching experience. Furthermore, when Niantic sent out its ‘cease and desist’ letters to the third-party applications, they inadvertently ‘broke’ the experience for its own users as they now had trouble finding out where particular Pokemon were situated.

With the update, the tracking feature has improved greatly. Not only does it show users where specific Pokemon can be found, it also highlights the particular Pokestop on the map so users can easily find their way to it. Best of all, by improving its own tracking feature, it prevented users from navigating to other third-party applications for the same information. Brand loyalty stays with Niantic, and by creating a seamless experience on the Pokemon Go app, they effectively retain authority over their own brand.

Marketing tip: Don’t give other brands a chance to hijack your brand equity. As a marketer, you must champion your own offerings and provide seamless experiences within the brand so consumers don’t fall out of your funnel into the hands of other competitors.

#2 Don’t fall into a routine.

Before the February update, training was a chore – majority of the Pokemon that appeared along the streets tended to be the same old Weedles, Caterpies and Pidgeys. Granted, these Pokemon can help trainers to level up, but how is it any reward for trainers who walk a hundred miles just to hatch a Pidgey? How can a brand incentivise its customers to stay active in an app if other features within the gameplay threaten to push customers off the very platform?

Now, however, more interesting Pokemon are peppered all over the streets. Even where I live, which unfortunately was once perceived by Niantic as an isolated and abandoned wasteland (thanks a bunch), is now home to cool Pokemon like Croconaw and Skarmory. Catching Pokemon at home and on the streets now become fun, and the user experience with Pokemon Go also improves. This not only injects an element of surprise into the game, but also rewards customers for their loyalty to the game. Feeling more rewarded and engaged, users will then devote more time and energy on the platform. Think of it this way – with more Pokemon to catch, and a limited Pokemon storage of only 250 Pokemon, isn’t there a higher chance of users buying more Pokeballs and storage space to keep their treasured inventory of little creatures?

Marketing tip: the best marketers know how to wow their customers. Brands must not rest on their laurels, but continue delighting customers through enriching experiences.

#3 Make augmented reality your reality.

In my first marketing analysis of the Pokemon Go trend, I briefly discussed the pull of augmented reality being its closeness to, and enhancing of, the real world. The augmented reality magic happens when it mirrors and intensifies the experience one has in the real world.

Two new Pokemon events that sprung up recently included a Valentine’s’ Day event and a festive Pokemon Day. The latter event commemorated the launch of Pokemon Red and Green on February 27 1996, and any Pikachu found in the game during that week donned a festive party hat, which would remain with it even after the event.

Adding these events not only create hype in the days leading up to the festive occasions, but also make the game more relatable to a wider audience. Especially with augmented reality, when the boundaries between the virtual and real world are blurred, having events that transcend the online-offline boundaries seek to interweave the experiences of game and reality, locking users in a fully-immersive experience spanning both worlds. Furthermore, these events highly engage the users as they begin to anticipate what special features or Pokemon would make an appearance following future calendar events and festivals. This bounds to create buzz and hype over a brand, and is a great way to spread anticipation and excitement around the audience.

Marketing tip: the underlying attraction of augmented reality is a heightened, immersive experience with your customers. Fully maximise what augmented reality can do for your brand, and use this to generate hype and buzz around your product.

#4 Empower your users.

Contrary to popular belief, brands don’t have to roll out big features or campaigns to empower their users. Sometimes, a small additional feature can acknowledge a user’s need and equip him/her with greater authority in the game.

Prior to the update, trainers who caught Pokemon were only equipped with the Razzberry fruit, which, while not guaranteeing a catch, does increase the possibility of doing so. Given that a user has many Razzberries, he/she may repeatedly use as many berries as necessary to catch a Pokemon. This was a rather one-dimensional interaction that users had in the game; there is no strategy involved, just repetitive actions. However, the update introduced two new berries, which now allows users to take a more strategic approach in catching their Pokemon. The Nanab berry slows down dodging Pokemons, while the Pinap berry doubles the candy received from a creature. Together with the Razzberry, users now take control over the Pokemon-catching process, as they have to anticipate the creature’s behaviour and response before taking appropriate actions to catch a Pokemon. The introduction of new berries gives users the ability to use more power-ups, while adding in a touch of strategy and empowerment. By implementing more decision-making opportunities within the game, users regain the responsibility and control of catching a Pokemon, since their actions now directly affects their performance in the game.

Marketing tip: empower your users by giving them the power of decision-making. Allow them the opportunity to think, speak, and make decisions. With greater engagement, customers are generally more satisfied and hence, more willing to share your brand with others.

#5 Let them choose to be loyal.

The element of choice is a crucial one. Consumers are more willing to live with an intended outcome if they made a choice to do so. Take the Amazon Kindle for example. You can choose to purchase a Kindle for $99.99, or a cheaper version for $79.99. The only catch? The more affordable version comes with special offers (read: advertisements) on its home screen. Consumers who choose the cheaper version can’t complain of the advertisements on the home screen; neither can those who chose the ad-free version complain about paying more. This works because there is an element of choice. When Niantic introduced daily bonuses for the ‘first catch of the day’ and ‘first Pokestop of the day’, I was truly impressed! Simply put, Niantic was letting consumers choose to be loyal. Reminiscent of the loss aversion theory, there is something compelling about continuing, rather than ending, a streak. In this case, the magnitude of a loss in streak is greater than the magnitude of a gain in a streak. Users thus feel compelled to continue a streak than live with the guilt of having ended it.

By adding daily bonuses and streaks in the game, Niantic essentially uses soft force to induce as many actions in the game as possible, such as logging in, catching Pokemon and collecting freebies at Pokestops. On the surface, this streak system simply rewards a user. However the deeper meaning is this: that spending more time on the app inadvertently increases a user’s chance of seeing more Pokemon and getting more rewards. This then encourages the user to spend even more time on the app, and – well, you know – the cycle continues. Like Snapchat and Duolingo, these streaks are rather effective in motivating users to stay active and return to an application or website. There is something oddly satisfying about seeing the streak number increase on a daily basis, and the worry of having it come to naught after days or weeks of hard work is strong enough to push users back onto a platform.
Kudos to Niantic for taking this streak system one step further. Unlike Snapchat and Duolingo, Niantic now tags rewards to the streaks. Each consecutive day’s login rewards a user with bonus XP and extra Pokeballs or potions. Log in again on the seventh consecutive day and earn a bounty of five times the normal XP and even more items! Through this, Niantic effectively targets two types of users – those who are psychologically motivated (“it feels good to maintain a streak”) and those who are rewards motivated (“I love receiving rewards for logging in”) – successfully killing two Pidgeys with one stone!

Marketing tip: your consumers must always have a choice. Consumers punish brands that force them to behave in a certain way, but reward brands that recognise and accommodate their needs. If you give consumers authority, they’ll do the same to you too!

And so…

The much-anticipated February update reignited the interests of Pokemon trainers around the world, and for good reason, too. The new features, Pokemon releases and changes to the gameplay lent credibility to the game, while proving to be strategic marketing moves. The release underlined the importance of creating seamless in-game experiences, and merging augmented reality with the real world to deliver a fully immersive experience for its users. Users have to be empowered, and must retain a certain level of autonomy and authority for them to repeatedly engage with and love a brand. Above all, a brand must continue to delight its consumers – without which, the user experience will fall back into a state of stagnancy and boredom.

That said, while we anticipate more Pokemon releases in the near future, the method for catching Pokemon is still dreadfully repetitive. The game is still fundamentally the same. Can Niantic strike a balance between delivering a healthy challenge, and making it too difficult to catch rare Pokemon? Brand communities grow by many-to-many interactions – but how has Niantic accommodated that when trading between players has yet become a feature of the game?

It’s going to be another waiting game to see if Niantic delivers. Until then, it’s time to catch them all!

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn. Find the original article here. To read the Part 1 of the article, read it here on LinkedIn.

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