People just kept hanging out in front of the pub staring at their phones. It took a couple of days before we realized what was going on. At least a few hundred people have come in for a beer while they’re playing...
- Samantha, Bartender, Accidental Pokestop

By now, everyone’s heard of (and written something about) Pokémon GO. It’s become the biggest mobile game in history, at least in peak US Daily Active Users, has more users than Twitter and longer engagement than Facebook Messenger. It did this with barely any marketing. In a couple of weeks. Brands are clamoring to find ways to capitalize on it. We’ve already launched our first related project, a fun experiment with Marketel you can read about here.

A quick summary of the game: Using a combination of Augmented Reality, Mapping, GPS and Pedometer, Pokémon GO is a mobile game that paints a second world over our reality, linked to real-world locations called Pokestops and Gyms, it encourages players to catch, grow and battle cute little monsters while they walk around with their phone. Here’s the marketing sizzle.

It’s important because after a decade of talking about digital-physical bridges as marketers, it’s the first breakthrough in mass adoption of a platform that effectively drives foot traffic through an augmented reality experience (or in general, any mobile experience). pCommerce is the use of a digital membrane between the physical and virtual to drive commercial activity. 

It's also important as a reminder of how rapidly new interaction formats with commercial impact can change customer behavior. From AI and Natural Language Interfaces with projects like IBM’s Watson and Amazon’s Alexa to the increasing use of IoT in everything from home automation to health optimization, the number of new technologies cross-pollinating one another is creating a Medici Effect that promises to add even more unexpected changes in transaction formats and opportunities. 

We are enjoying what [Pokémon Go] is doing for our business at the moment
- Steve Easterbrook, CEO, McDonald

Naysayers will call it a fad or an outlier. These cultural phenomena are constantly rising and falling, rarely making their way from the small streams of ideas into the massive rivers of cultural trends. Analysts note that in the US, where the App first launched, we may have seen Peak Pokémon GO. As a counterpoint, buzz always creates peaks, and user retention is double the industry average for mobile games. 

My favorite thinker Grant McCracken would refer to it as a Culturematic, “a small machine for making meaning.” In this case, whether Pokémon, the 20 year old kids entertainment property that had a multi-billion dollar impact on Nintendo’s stock value as confused investors rallied then dumped on realizing it wasn’t wholly owned, is relevant to you or not, it’s a bellwether of how clever applications can form a connective tissue between the digital and physical worlds by making it meaningful. 

For a decade, folks have talked about the potential for mobile to create a meaningful digital layer over the physical world we live in. Yelp’s six-year old Monocle AR App was amazing and FourSquare is still working to make a run of it with $45 million in new investment. What has been lacking is meaning that resonates enough to really build that connective tissue to maintain a connection between the two worlds. When’s the last time you saw a lift from a QR code?

Let’s take a look at a real-world business example that happened completely by accident at my local pub. When the game developer, Niantic, selected locations to be featured in the game, they used location data from their previous game built with Google called Ingress. Somehow, the place where I unwind with friends over a pint after work became a hotbed of Pokémon GO activity. It’s important to note that these “hotbeds” are just about every few blocks, and cleverly planned by the developers in their nefarious effort to encourage people to get outside and walk around using a combination of the GPS and Pedometer in players’ phones.


Players enjoying the Mixed Reality of My Local Pub

My best finger-in-the-air estimate, taken from conversations with several employees, is that, including players who “side loaded” game files before launch to avoid geo-blocking before it was released in Canada, the game drove around 300 people to the restaurant over 14 days, with an average order size of about $17, or $5,525 in net new revenue. One manager, it should be noted, spent money in the game to start “drawing” the virtual monsters to the location using in-app purchases for items called Lures that act as time-limited giant neon signs for all players to visit a physical location. 

This accidental case proves out Niantic’s other business model of location based marketing. The CEO has acknowledged that sponsored locations will become available so any business can buy-in. We may want to call the IAB to create a standard ad unit driven by Cost-Per-Feet. In Japan, McDonald’s has become the first location-based sponsor that seems to be going well and turns every restaurant into a critical location in the game. 

While I’ve worked on Pokémon before as an agency-side marketer, I’ll be honest. I never really “got it” as a player. I now have 65 Pokémon, am level 7 and talk about Evolution strategies with friends from big famous companies who also play. Part of the meaning is that it’s a shared experience. It’s silly and fun. It’s phatic communication, like golf scores or sports talk. Things we can share. 

But that’s not the real story. The real story is how we’re finally reaching a point where our general level of technological orchestration capability lines up with the complex requirements of bringing parallel, persistent and shared digital realities to life. 

Holistically, mixed reality technologies are already shaping our world. PwC notes how it’s already changing manufacturing in B2B. The next revolution will be what happens when the world experiences a consumer version of Microsoft’s Hololens and the launch of Magic Leap

In the meantime, Pokémon GO has illustrated to everyone that with a meaningful resonance, an mobile application might not move mountains, but it can literally move millions of people to different locations. 

The key isn’t in a combination of technology features and usability, though they are factors, it’s in the right combination of meaning to the user. Is this interesting to me? Does this fit into my life? Does this provide me with value? Those questions are just as valid in the world of B2B as they are in B2C. 

The next decade will likely surprise us with innovative applications in every field that literally give us new perspectives on the immediate world around us through augmented and mixed reality, ones that compel us to action by interacting through a new contextual layer. 

Check out our SMITH Pokemon Map case study.

Sean MacPhedran is a senior content strategist at SMITH.

Tags: PCommerce, ecommerce, Strategy and Intelligence