What all marketers can learn from Pokémon Go. (No, really)

[Warning: this blog post contains puerile references].

Last summer, when Pokémon Go was launched, I remember seeing a few marketing blog posts that proclaimed the pokémon craze presented holy-grail answers for all marketers. Augmented reality, gamification and other buzzwords were (allegedly) the bright future of marketing. Until they weren’t (or at least weren’t the answer for most B2B situations). Until actual marketing experts, such as Professor Ritson, started taking the mickey out of marketers and politely challenged us to stop jumping on bandwagons and do some actual marketing work instead. Well, stop the bus. Normally, I resoundingly agree with Prof Ritson and other evidence-based experts, but – 9 months later on – I can categorically prove that Pokémon Go does present a valuable lesson for all marketers…


First, the backstory…

I recently went shopping with my family. We visited a lovely little spot in South West London called Kingston-Upon-Thames, and had a nice potter about the shops. My wife needed to get a few things. As did I. And all the while, my youngest son traipsed around with us, an increasingly forlorn look casting a sorrowful shadow across his cute, little cheeks as we went from one shop to another. The poor thing’s feet became increasingly leaden as we wandered around the marketplace and then ambled around the mall. THE, WORST, DAY, EVER for all young kids – being dragged around the shops by your parents – when you could be practising penalties at the park with Jake and Harry instead.

It was the worst day ever for him, of course, right up until the point I did what (I suspect) some other conflict-avoiding parents would do – handing him my phone to see if there were any rare pokémon in the area. [For those reading this thinking, ‘but pokémon was soooo last year’, it is a children’s game – and some kids are still playing it]. Anyway, his smile instantly reappeared, beaming across his cute-again cheeks. And my wife and I bought ourselves another 25 minutes of conflict-free meandering.

As we roamed, our lad hunted. A resolute predator, stalking Pikachu by the Thames. I don’t know if they were rare, but he caught a Lapras and a Gengar, or something like that. His face lit up even further, until my phone battery died, and then his dismay returned. And that’s where the marketing lesson kicks in…


Our trip to the shops provided me with another little reminder of an obvious common human characteristic… We’re not inclined to enjoy something or invest our time and attention in it unless it’s something we enjoy doing or are interested in. Or unless it’s something that surprises us, helps us, entertains us or gives us some sort of reward. In my son’s case, looking at ‘mum and dad stuff’ couldn’t have disinterested him more, and he let us know about it. Give him something that did flick his switch and – instantly – he concentrated on it like it was the keys to the local sweet shop.

And, while my son’s only a youngster, there’s one thing that you can almost always rely on from kids – they’re not shy in letting you know exactly how they’re feeling. Whether they’re smiling with delight, or throwing an absolute tantrum at having to eat parsnips, they’re largely completely honest with their raw emotions. And, I think, if grown-ups (such as your target customers) were equally as honest in providing feedback, they too would admit that they would struggle to invest their time and attention into things that aren’t relevant, interesting, fun or helpful. If your grown-up B2B customers were as honest as kids when providing feedback (that is, not caring if they hurt your feelings), they may well let you know that your webinar sounded like poo-poo and your blog post was as interesting as ploppy pants.

And so the lesson for us marketing communicators is perhaps simple. If we want to earn the attention of our target audiences, our marketing communications need to be relevant, interesting, fun or helpful. (More to the point, they need to be more relevant, more interesting, more fun or more helpful than your rivals’ marketing communications.) And the only starting point I’ve ever found to help with that is to develop better empathy with your customers than your rivals – which starts by really listening to them and observing what makes them tick. Which is what Pokémon would probably say to us if they worked in marketing and weren’t fictional, augmented reality characters.


By the way, on this silly chart, which I created to document the lesson learned from my recent shopping trip – my wife and I weren’t really shopping for Chanel, diamond earrings and Jimmy Choos, as shown. It’s just that toothbrushes and schoolbooks look pretty boring visually. So please forgive the artistic license 😉

Image depicting people's attention span

For further reading, here’s another post I wrote about empathy, and here’s a post I wrote about customer attention spans. I hope you like them. If not, there are lots of Pokémon in Kingston-upon-Thames that might be more up your street 😉

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