How Pokémon GO Can Be Great for Your Small Business; Plus a Crash Course on Pokémon

You might have noticed by now the obsession with the latest viral smartphone game Pokémon GO. If you're a longtime fan of the franchise (such as myself), then you're likely already pretty well informed about the hype of this augmented reality app. But some of you out there (especially those of you who didn't grow up with the franchise) might be thinking, "I don't get it."

Honestly, it's okay if you don't get it or fully understand the appeal, but know that it is appealing to a rather large audience. In fact, Pokémon has been appealing to its fans for the past 20 years. Fans who have made it one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time, with nearly $58 billion in global revenue, as of 2015. So, to answer another question you might ask, yes, Pokémon is still a thing, and has always been a thing. It's just now an even bigger thing.

What Is Pokémon GO?

The mobile game itself, developed by Niantic Labs, an internal startup at Google, is an augmented reality app that uses your phones location tracking and camera to superimpose animalistic-like creatures, called Pokémon, into the real world on your phone's screen. The game is played in a scavenger hunt fashion, with Pokémon randomly appearing on an illustrated real-world map similar to Google Maps. Players have to walk around in the real world in search of Pokémon (using the game's step counter and location radar) and attempt to capture them when one appears.

The object of the game is to "catch 'em all," but players can also raise and train their captured Pokémon in the game to battle other players' Pokémon at "gyms," which are actually designated locations in the real world. Players can also collect free supply items at real world locations called Poké Stops or set temporary "lures" there, which increases the appearance rate of Pokémon for all players within a radius of that stop. Gyms and stops are determined by the game's algorithms and maps and are often points of public interest or landmarks. Are you Poké-confused yet?

Pokémon GO and Your Small Business

The cross of real world elements with the game's mechanics offers local small businesses huge opportunities to bring in foot traffic and revenue. Ambitious players may seek out local coffee shops or restaurants that are designated or within range of a Poké Stop. Or they may simply need to take a break from battling or walking around. Sean Benedetti, manager of L'iniozio, a pizzeria in Long Island City, Queens, told the New York Post he made an in-game purchase, spending only $10, to lure Pokémon characters into his establishment leading to the shop's business spiking by 75% over the past few days.

Depending on your business, and if you're lucky enough to be near a Poké Stop or Gym, now is the time to potentially capitalize on the craze. But before we get into some ideas, here are some glossary terms you might find helpful:

Pokémon: Animalistic creatures which players or "trainers" try to capture, train, and battle with. The term comes from a contraction of the original Japanese brand name "Pocket Monsters." Pokémon GO currently features 151 different potential creatures that players may obtain. Some are considered rare and are harder to find or obtain than others.

Pikachu: A yellow, animated type of Pokémon and the franchise mascot.

Poké Ball: A spherical object that acts as a capturing device for Pokémon. Players must throw these at Pokémon to capture them using a finger-flicking motion on their phone. Players may find some for free at designated locations or purchase more in bulk through the game's store.

Poké Stop: Designated real world locations where players may resupply with free items such as Poké Balls. Players may resupply at these locations only once, approximately every five minutes. These locations are often real landmarks, monuments, or points of public interest. These are designated in game with blue cubes and will turn into a large circle marker if a player is close enough to use it.

Lures: In-game object which players may attach to a Poké Stop. This item increases the appearance rate of Pokémon within a radius of the stop for 30 minutes for any players playing the game. Stops activated with lures are surrounded by confetti. Lures can be obtained in-game but can be purchased in bulk through its store.

Team Valor, Team Mystic, Team Instinct: Players of the game can join any one of three teams which then compete against one another in battles. Team Valor is Red, Team Mystic is Blue, and Team Instinct is Yellow. (My team, Team Valor, is the best.)

Gyms: Gyms are also designated real world locations where players may battle their Pokémon. Teams compete and battle for ownership over gyms which means they are hot spots for activity and players.

Those are the basics to the game. Now how do you translate this to helping your foot traffic and revenue?

Pokémon GO Can Help Your Business and Increase Your Foot Traffic

Competition and rivalry is not restricted to just sports

Friendly competition is as much a part of this game as it is a part of soccer, baseball, football, or really any sport. Like color bars or sports restaurants, you could designate your small business as being loyal to a particular team and offer small discounts to only players of that team if they show you their team in the app.

Offer players discounts or rewards

If you don't want to pick a side, you can still capitalize on providing the massive amount of players incentive to come in to your business. Offer players discounts or rewards if they can prove they have the app.

Or create a competition around the game for rewards. Have players send you screenshots or show you pictures of their strongest Pokémon to enter them into a drawing. You can use this as an opportunity to collect customer information, such as emails or phone numbers, for future promotional campaigns or marketing.

Incentivize being a paying customer

Download the app (it's free) and see if your business is lucky enough to be near a Poké Stop. If so, tell your patrons that for every certain amount spent within a timeframe at your store, you'll drop a free lure at the nearby stop or stops. Lures can be purchased in the app store and could be a low cost investment to get customers engaged.

Offer free wi-fi

Because the game requires players to move around to play and therefore use their data plan, free wi-fi can be a great incentive to get patrons to stay close by or visit your location. They'll appreciate it and it gives them incentive to stay and potentially purchase something.

Offer phone charging stations

The game also happens to be a massive drain on cell phone batteries, as it requires players to be constantly connected to their GPS locators and keep their screens on. If you sell electronics, now may be a good time to stock up on portable batteries and chargers for cell phones. If you don't, a good way to generate revenue may be to offer paying players phone charging stations. Keep both Apple and Android USB chargers available and customers may browse or purchase more goods as they wait for their phone to charge.

This phenomenon may be short-lived, but it might also last. After all, the franchise has a highly loyal fanbase and this recent release has seemed to have also drawn in many new players who haven't been familiar with the games before. Regardless of your personal opinions of the game, let people have their fun. The hype of the game could offer potential business opportunities for you.

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