Gotta Connect ‘Em All!

There may be no greater commercial symbol of the 90’s generation than Pokemon. And thanks to the recent USA release of Pokemon GO, the little pocket monsters that so many of today’s millennials sought to befriend and train are now out and about in the real world! Through The Pokemon Company’s revolutionary technology, the GPS and camera functions of our smartphones have rekindled the fading spark that was once the main fervor that surrounded millions of childhoods. Pokemon are now in our parks, our supermarkets, and some even seem to be taking advantage of our services industries. SW&A discovered this morning that Pidgeys are especially interested in improving their spoken communications skills! 

But what value does all this excitement surrounding the new game really mean? Is it just a way for Nintendo and Game Freak to recapture the attention of their now aged audience, or is there a discernible lesson to be learned from Pokemon GO’s mammoth success? Not everyone loved Pokemon growing up and although there are people of every age group who did love the original games, the majority of The Pokemon Company’s original fans are in their early thirties and mid-twenties, a traditionally fickle seller’s market to say the least. Yet within its first week of launching, Pokemon GO made a staggering $8 billion and made headlines all over the world as people went to ridiculous links to invade their neighbor’s yards to catch a Scyther, or in more than a few towns the game rapidly became so popular that it forced police departments to issue “don’t catch Pokemon and drive” campaigns. 

Whether you grew up a fan or not, Pokemon GO’s success is something to marvel at. A game brand that was based on a capture, train, and battle formula that was becoming tired after seven release generations, suddenly revamped our old original 151 digital friends and gave them back to us in a way that reignited our old passion. Last night while I was walking my dog I passed fourteen people out walking with their phones open, scanning a local creek for water Pokemon, three people running around a construction site because a rare Eevee was supposedly in it, and just this morning there were five people standing outside of our office building playing the game because our office building is apparently a Pokemon gym. 

So what do Pikachu and the rest of the gang’s success have to teach us, particularly about millennials? It’s a fascinating topic and it goes far beyond merely the popularity of Pokemon. Connecting with either an individual, a small group, or a large audience is one of the hardest things to master in any industry. Connection goes beyond subject matter expertise and is an art form that allows good data points to align with the brain, and good stories to align with the heart. People who can engage both their audience’s head and heart have a much greater chance of getting results. 

In our previous posts I’ve talked a lot about how Gen-Y operates differently from previous generations and about the challenges involved in engaging an easily disinterested millennial audience. Pokemon GO however, offers a unique chance to examine a company hitting a grand slam in trying to connect with the millennial market. Millennials may be difficult to engage, but in the case of Pokemon GO all it took was someone to focus in on something that was important/nostalgic to millennials, add in their own innovation, and the company made over $8 billion in one week.

Now, in fairness, there are plenty of case-specific reasons why The Pokemon Company’s success can’t be replicated exactly. For example the gaming industry pretty consistently holds millennials’ attention more so than most industries, and the release of Pokemon GO was in part a re-release of a product that already possessed instant brand recognition and excitement. Yet there are still lessons that other companies can learn from this success.

The energy surrounding Pokemon GO is unprecedented even within its own branding. Pikachu on an original GameBoy was cool, but never before have stores had to post “Pokemon are for paying customers only” signs on their windows, and social media, news networks, and public recreation spots are being overrun by the enthusiasm surrounding the game. People who haven’t played Pokemon since grade school are now suddenly being pulled back into The Pokemon Company’s market long after they might have been considered “aged out” of the company’s product. I myself felt compelled to download the app just to see what all the noise was about. (For those of you curious, I chose Squirtle as my starter. He is hands down the best one. End of discussion.)

If nothing else, Pokemon GO shows us just how powerful the energy of Gen-Y can be once it’s focused. While I’ve watched several people play the game that I never would have expected, the heart of the game’s success is being driven by the millennial generation. A small population of Pokemon GO subscribers are loyal fans who’ve played every game since the beginning, but the real reason for the game’s all-encompassing appeal is its ability to bring back long-lost fans as well as attract people who have never played the game before. The gaming industry may capture more immediate customer attention because it’s interactive and entertaining, but these lessons can be applied far beyond gaming platforms. 

Connection is a powerful tool. And when you are able to connect with a generation that is quick-acting, mobile, and socially connected, results can spread like wildfire. Millennials are eager, driven, and more than a little self-focused. We are a large generation with far reaching potential, but if you want us to bring you success, take a lesson from PokemonGo and Connect (with) ‘Em All!