Brace yourself, but here’s what we think of the world’s latest, greatest mobile app and its use in customer promotions: if it doesn’t fit your marketing strategy, then Pokémon Go is a no-go for you.

Unless you’ve been off the grid the past few weeks, you’ve heard of it. The free, location-based augmented reality mobile game almost immediately topped the Apple App Store and Google Play download charts and became the most active mobile game ever in the United States. Its daily use is topping that of Facebook and Twitter, especially since its wide release in Europe last week. And it’s been the target of at least one successful hacking attempt, with more sure to come.

If you or your kids haven’t tried it, Pokémon Go allows players to capture, battle and train Pokémon, virtual creatures who appear on device screens as though in the real world. It makes use of GPS and cameras in smartphones and other compatible devices. Players can download the app for free, but in-app purchases are available.

It’s impossible not to think about the commercial possibilities of such a cultural phenomenon. Businesses are reporting increased traffic at nearby PokéStops – places players can visit to gain various items that help them advance faster – and are taking advantage of it. Retailers and restaurants are using the paid portion of the app to add characters and lure players to their locations, offering discounts and specials and setting up events around the game.1


And it appears that advertising will follow. John Hanke, CEO of the San Francisco-based game developer Niantic, responsible for Pokémon Go, told the Financial Times that sponsored locations may come sooner rather than later. In that model, companies would pay to be locations on the virtual game board, primarily to drive foot traffic.

With mobile the latest frontier for digital signage, how might an app such as Pokémon Go (and what will doubtless be its many imitators) integrate with a retailer’s or restaurant’s existing solution? Our first and most important thought:

Strategy still rules. Everyone interested in technology will always take note of the latest and greatest developments. Those responsible for digital signage are no different. We go to a trade show and see a great OLED screen and think we need to install them ASAP. Or we know that beacons are becoming huge, so we need to figure out how to use them in our stores.

But letting technology drive buying decisions is fundamentally wrong. Strategy, and only strategy, should drive those decisions. Does Pokémon Go fit with your brand and marketing strategy? For example, initial statistics published online indicate that 85% of game players (and perhaps more) are 13 to 34 years old, with participation dropping dramatically among those 35 and older. Are your primary targets in that demographic? Does it make sense to attract that group?

And what’s the overall plan for your digital signage solution? If, for example, you’ve defined increased foot traffic as an objective, then great; Pokémon Go leads people to your location (and thus your customer-facing digital signage) and could very well help. If not, think twice about using it, no matter how popular it might be.

You’ll also want to ask yourself:

Is your company nimble enough to take advantage of new developments? As we’ve noted, more than a few businesses have figured out how to use Pokémon Go for their own gain. Developers have, too; a number of approved apps to help with the gaming experience already are available via Apple and Google. And you can even hire people who have become experts in just a few short weeks to help you master the game. We’re betting that some of them are young enough to be your kids (or grandkids).

If you decide a tie-in to the game is right for your business, do you have the processes in place to move on a trend? Can you do so quickly and still make sure that your efforts are brand-consistent and integrated with existing signage and promotions, digital and otherwise?

If you lure people to your business, what are you going to do with them? Once you’ve attracted customers, you don’t want to let them down. This is your chance to build brand loyalty above and beyond offering them a fun opportunity to add to their Pokédex.1 How do you use the game to engage them and make their visit more than a one-time event? How does your existing digital solution play into that?

Augmented reality already is used in commercial applications; it can help people select products from a catalog or kiosk, display options and integrate print and video marketing. But it’s not widespread, and the popularity of Pokémon Go could change that. For example, it’s not hard to see how it could be adapted for wayfinding – to guide customers through a store and alert them to specials and amenities, ultimately improving efficiency (associates can help people with sales, not directions) and increasing business. We’re excited about the concept and look forward to incorporating it into our customers’ strategies as it continues to develop.

However, whether you’re using Pokémon Go or other augmented reality apps now or later, excitement isn’t enough. Strategy still comes first. No number of Poké Balls, Poké Coins or Lucky Eggs1 are going to give you enough power to overcome an ill-advised marketing plan. We’d bet our Pikachu on it.2

1 For more information on all things Pokémon Go, including a glossary of terms, visit the Niantic support page. If you’re interested in learning more about using Pokémon Go to promote your business, published a detailed article with some interesting ideas. Or just search the Web; at last count, Google returned 38 million hits about the game, many to do with marketing.

2 Highly desirable Pokémon, both in the original game and the new one.