Niantic and Nintendo’s Pokémon Go hasn’t even finished rolling out internationally yet, but already it is making a significant impact on consumers and brands. In just a matter of weeks, the augmented reality mobile game has captivated audiences, positively influenced mental health outcomes, and overtaken the world’s biggest apps—including Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and even Facebook.

Pokémon Go's growth seems unprecedented—yet it just keeps getting bigger. This new phenomenon is driving foot traffic in droves, shifting paradigms in loyalty, and bringing people together. It’s all about developing the right mix of branding elements and customer engagement strategies to create a loyal following. What can brands learn about loyalty from Niantic and Nintendo’s wild success? A whole lot, it turns out.

Here are five lessons companies can learn from Pokémon Go to boost customer loyalty:

1.Understand Consumer Preferences
Up until the debut of Pokémon Go, Nintendo was largely lambasted among fans for its late adoption of mobile as a viable platform for its properties. Yet Nintendo and Niantic forcefully changed that perception simply by understanding the needs of consumers today.
As many as 57 percent of children prefer to engage with content on a tablet or other mobile device over a television. This tracks well with the broader trend of increased smartphone ownership among adults and a distinct preference for mobile as a pathway to Internet access. A major aspect of Pokémon’s success is its ubiquity—the brand’s willingness to find out where users are spending the most time and meet them there.
2.Reward People For Spending Time With Your Brand
In Pokémon Go, users are actively rewarded for spending time with the game. While users can log into Pokémon Go at any time and may receive push notifications, the best experience happens when consumers are actively engaged—with the app open. Actively engaged players gain access to Pokémon, they can collect nearby in-game items, and can add mileage to the in-game pedometer, which allows players to hatch eggs with rare, valuable, and often powerful Pokémon.

This practice of making these in-game rewards exclusively available through active engagement gives users cause to access Pokémon Go frequently throughout the day—because they feel there’s a reasonable incentive to do so.

When a customer interacts with a brand, they should feel as though their time was well-spent. While a satisfactory product and decent service at the point of sale can certainly contribute to this, there is more than one way to make sure that customers feel like their time is valued. One way to achieve this is to reward customers for the time they spend engaging with the brand—at the point of sale and beyond.

3.Let Consumers Have Fun With Your Brand
While brands certainly want to increase spend and brand advocacy, they should not lose sight of customer experience. Instead, brands should strive to make their customer experiences pleasant—and even better. They need to make them fun.

Pokémon Go prioritizes fun because Niantic knows just how crucial enjoyment is to creating repeat customers. Built into the game are mechanics and Easter eggs that reveal something exciting and new for players each time they play. Each Pokémon has a unique call and pose, for example, which can be accessed once they’ve been caught simply by “tapping” on them in the in-game Pokémon catalog. More interestingly, users who access in-game gyms are able to pit their Pokémon against others, allowing them to engage in active competition—creating an incentive to keep playing so that player-characters are stronger and more likely to win.

Being that Pokémon Go is a video game, it might seem obvious the fun is a cornerstone of its consumer offering—but brands do not have to use video games to be fun. Marketers should think creatively about activities their customers already enjoy, and seek to tie those behaviors to their brands. A salon might reward clients for taking selfies of their new hair-dos, while a restaurant might reward customers for posting photos or reviews to Yelp. The crucial question to ask is: what do customers like to do, and how can brands be a part of that?

4.Initiate Word of Mouth  
In an era of declining information asymmetry, where most anyone can instantly access a wealth of knowledge about any topic, consumers are less likely to take advertisements and other traditional forms of business-to-customer marketing at face value. Consumers are more interested in organic product endorsements from peers, whose opinions they value over advertisements.

By using distinct imagery, proximity marketing and a large dose of cultural nostalgia, Pokémon Go leans into the social sphere as a mechanism to “spread the word” about the game. For example, after its debut, Pokémon Go earned over 6 million social media mentions on Twitter alone. These mentions serve as catalysts for non-users to check the game out and become a part of a self-perpetuating word-of-mouth advocacy campaign.
Brands can learn from this and encourage their own customers to create and participate in conversation about their offerings—perhaps by rewarding social media posts or referrals. By spurring users to bring brands into discussion with their own networks, marketers can take advantage of the value of peer-to-peer recommendations.

5.Cultivate Emotional Connections:
Though Pokémon Go is essentially a simple game, its developers recognize the importance of emotional connections and build them into every mechanic of the game. If users are not enthralled by the campaign of nostalgia associated with this modernization of Pokémon-related sounds and imagery, they are likely drawn to the game’s competitive elements and group association.

Brands can learn from this by realizing that many of the decisions that people make are driven by emotion. It is essential for marketers to understand and influence how their customers feel both about their brands and about factors related in some way to them. By doing so, brands can create a positive or at least engaging emotional tie to their customers which is likely to encourage customers to interact with the brand time and time again.

While Pokémon Go’s popularity may seem unheard of, the foundational principles on which that popularity is built are readily available to brands seeking to build a more robust loyalty marketing strategy. By following the five lessons above, brands can better align their marketing priorities to match the daily behaviors of their customers to develop more loyalty relationships. 

Geoff Smith is CMO of CrowdTwist.

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