July 18, 2016

5 Ways Local Businesses Can Capitalize on the Pokémon Go Craze


Pokémon Go is not only a cultural phenomenon; it’s also a location-marketing bonanza. The most popular mobile game in U.S. history, which challenges players to find, train, and do battle with Pokémon that appear in our real-world environments, will soon become bigger when the game’s creator, Niantic, rolls out an advertising model. But businesses that operate brick-and-mortar storefronts, especially retailers and restaurants, need not wait for Niantic to launch the model. Many brick-and-mortar businesses are increasing foot traffic and sales by creating their own location marketing Pokémon Go hacks — and so should you. This post offers five tips.

First off, a PSA: before you attempt jump on to the Pokémon Go location-marketing craze, do your homework. Download the app and play the game. (Chances are, someone at your location already is.) Get immersed. Appreciate the experience from the standpoint of the players. Understand how the game’s mechanics are intertwined with location.

For instance, playing the game means getting outside your home and work space and using your smartphone to join teams and find Pokémon that pop up in real-world locations (through the power of augmented reality). Those locations can and do include commercial establishments, which, naturally, draw players. If your location has been lucky enough to be designated a PokéStop or a gym by the game designers, players will visit you to collect special rewards, train their Pokémon, and do battle. By paying a modest fee, you can use a Lure to draw more Pokémon to your location, where players are bound to gather and play.

But you won’t know any of this important information unless you play the game. Fortunately, doing so is easy and fun — which is exactly why Pokémon Go became a global phenomenon within hours of its general release July 6.

Once you do your homework, it’s time to start capitalizing on the game. Here are some ideas:

1. Get into the Game

If your business is lucky enough to be a PokéStop or gym, you absolutely need to capitalize on your good fortune. You will gain natural foot traffic from people playing the game nearby (trust me — once they’re in your neighborhood, they’ll discover that you are a PokéStop or gym). But, better yet, you can draw foot traffic from far and wide by advertising your coveted designation, as the Sacramento Zoo does by using social media to notify players that they’ll find nine PokéStops and gyms inside the zoo. If you have a strong Facebook presence, try geo-targeted advertising on Facebook.
As noted, for a modest fee, you can also use a Lure module to attract Pokémon to your location (if you happen to be a PokéStop) for 30 minutes. Lure modules not only attract players, they also build goodwill because players know you were kind enough to set a Lure. Consider also offering a deal to anyone who visits your store to set a Lure. One New York pizzeria saw business increase 75 percent after its manager spent $10 to drop a dozen Lures.

2. Host an Event

Pokémon Go is a social game. Businesses can tap into the game’s social spirit and celebrate the players by hosting an event. For instance, restaurants should consider advertising Pokémon meet-ups with free or discounted food and beverages to attract players and teams (even if they’re on opposing teams). In Chicago, Japanese street food spot/ramen house Yusho is doing just that. The restaurant, which is also a Pokémon gym, has hosted a Pokémon party with special food offers.

3. Provide a Utility

Pokémon players are constantly on the go, burning up calories and depleting their mobile phone batteries. Savvy businesses could make themselves useful by offering free energy snacks and battery charges exclusively to players who come into their stores. In Australia, for instance, Virgin Mobile provides free phone charges at retail stores and kiosks in malls where its stores are located. Virgin Mobile also offers free secure charge lockers in food courts. And you don’t need to be a Virgin Mobile customer to enjoy the services — all you need to do is play Pokémon Go and stop in for a charge.

4. Reward Players

Players love to get rewarded with points and the status that comes with leveling up. So celebrate their achievements! For instance, advertise offers for players who accumulate a certain number of points or for those who capture one of the harder-to-find Pokémon. All they need to do is visit your location and show them your mobile phone. Remember, Pokémon Go players are in a happy, enthused state of mind. They want to visit locations where they can play. They will stay and spend money when you reward them to stay. Whatever you do, don’t alienate them by turning them away — unless you want to become a poster child for a business that doesn’t get it. You can also reward players by offering discounts for simply coming in, playing, and capturing Pokémon, as many businesses are doing.

5. Create Your Own Spin-off Contests

Another way to tap into the passion of Pokémon players is to create spin-off games. Consider, for instance, encouraging players to share selfies of themselves at your location (or images of Pokémon they’ve caught) on their social spaces, such as Instagram, with a customized hashtag. Then watch for the images and offer a reward to the most creative one. In Salem, Massachusetts, Flying Saucer Pizza Company encourages customers to share Pokémon Go pictures on social media and tag the restaurant. Players who do so are eligible to win free gift cards. Or you can do as Applebee’s has done, and simply offer to retweet and share your favorite fan-generated images that tag your location. Especially because Applebee’s has reach, the joy of a shout-out and share from the chain is a reward in and of itself.

Dive In

As I noted in a recent Marketing Land column, Pokémon Go is only going to get bigger as Niantic rolls out a formal branded program. I would urge businesses to avoid the temptation to treat Pokémon Go as a passing phase. Pokémon Go is already surpassing many other apps in popularity, and Niantic is still rolling out the game worldwide. By tapping into a strong legacy Pokémon brand and creating a game with brilliant mechanics, Niantic has quickly launched a sustainable business model. Do your homework. Start playing. And start profiting.

For further reading:



Advertising Age, “Sponsored Locations Are Coming to Pokémon Go on a Cost-Per-Visit Basis,” by Maureen Morrison, July 14, 2016.

Bauserman Group, “10 Examples of Businesses Capitalizing on the Pokémon Craze,” July 15, 2016.

Eater, “How Restaurants Are Dealing with Pokémon Go Mania,” by Whitney Filloon, July 11, 2016.

Forbes, “How ‘Pokémon Go’ Can Lure More Customers to Your Local Business,” by Jason Evangelho, July 9, 2016.

Gizmodo, “Virgin Mobile Has Free Charging Stations for Pokémon Go Players,” by Rae Johnston, July 12, 2016.

Inc.,Pokémon Go Is Driving Insane Amounts of Sales at Small, Local Businesses. Here’s How It Works,” by Walter Chen, July 11, 2016.

 PC Magazine: “Pokémon Go: How the Pokéconomy Is Changing Business, One Lure at a Time,” by Rob Marvin, July 13, 2016.

Street Fight, “6 Ways That Local Businesses Are Using Pokémon Go to Drive Business,” by Stephanie Miles, July 12, 2016.


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