Three Marketing Lessons from Pokémon Go (and it’s not about AR)

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Like many middle schoolers in the 90s, today’s millennials are enraptured by Pokémon – but this time, it’s an augmented-reality iPhone and Android app that allows players to hunt down monsters in real-life locations, or “Pokéstops.” As with any digital distraction that takes over a generation, marketers inevitably strategize how to best capitalize on the craze.

So should we jump on the AR bandwagon?

I don’t think so. While it’s true that Pokémon has become an eye-opening moment for many marketers when it comes to location-driven experiences, the technology itself isn’t new.

Forget AR apps; Pokémon Go has brought up a few more important lessons in marketing:

1) Consumers are still offline, and cross-channel data tracking is the real game

Pokémon Go is tapping into the demographic of digital-savvy millennials who grew up playing games in the “real world.” As mobile technology is blurring lines between offline and online, marketers have already figured out how to bridge the two.

For example, the Sephora To Go app has a “Virtual Artist” feature that leverages augmented reality to enable consumers to “try on” makeup. This not only offers a great experience for the consumer, but also provides the brand with valuable preference data and conversion triggers. As retailers are testing augmented reality and offering virtual showrooms, the physical aspect of shopping is not going away, but gaining another experiential dimension that enhances data collection. So the real challenge becomes mining the data from each experience and unifying it around the individual.

2) Technology is secondary, and content still wears the crown

While few know about Yelp’s hidden Monocle AR feature, which went live back in 2009, the new Pokémon Nearby filter in the app is all the rage. Google’s Project Tango and Magic Leap have got less media attention than a half-baked game that climbed the app store charts despite pixelated graphics and uninspiring gameplay.

Yet, nostalgic content drives people to bump into trees catching monsters or quit jobs to become PRO Pokémon hunters. The ramifications for marketers are clear: Relatable content and low barrier to adoption are key to crossing the chasm between market and product.

3) Most people are careless (or clueless) about data privacy

Pokémon Go only needed permissions to gain access to camera and location data, but it garnered carte blanche to see people’s email, photos, documents, and other Google account data.

While it is not surprising that apps collect and share our data even though it has nothing to do with the app’s features, it is interesting to see millions of users say “okay” to the full access. The lesson: Millennials are open to sharing data, but only the brands that are transparent about how they use it for consumers’ benefit will gain loyalty and trust.

Let’s stop calling Pokémon Go a technology game changer for marketers and agree that it’s just an example of a well-executed franchise. However, it does raise some interesting questions about cross-channel data collection, data privacy ethics, and other things to consider before we marketers start turning all retail locations into Pokéstops.

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