Tan Jian Xiang

Pokémon Go – What digital lessons can businesses learn?


Ever since its launch, Pokémon Go has been a major trend for businesses in Singapore – not just its players. From Pokémon-themed promotions and Pokémon lures outside shopping malls, established players such as Resorts World Sentosa, ION Orchard, and CapitaLand have introduced campaigns to increase footfall and drive up customer revenue.

Smaller retail and food outlets have gotten into the game as well, and since then, there has been much talk about the potential for augmented reality services to advertise real-life goods and locations.

However, like all trends, Pokémon Go will not last forever. Eventually, brick-and-mortar retail outlets and attractions will have to deal with weaker tourism spending and the shift of purchasing preferences from offline to online businesses, in which case the benefits of the Pokémon Go craze would only be a brief respite from a much larger and more prolonged storm.

In this regard, businesses could take a leaf from the Pokémon Go playbook, and look at how Niantic – the makers of the game – have managed to revitalise a franchise, and use digital platforms to deliver better customer experiences to millions of players across the globe.

Pokémon as a business
Previously, one could only catch and collect Pokémon on Nintendo’s handheld consoles, or through collecting Pokémon souvenirs and memorabilia. Such methods limited the enjoyment of the Pokémon franchise to particular consoles and to physical goods and services, which in turn limited the potential audience to which the Pokémon franchise could be addressed.

Pokémon Go, on the other hand, has provided new and existing fans a means of catching and collecting Pokémon through their mobile phones – which, unlike other forms of media, is always on, always available, and does not cost much beyond one’s data plan.

In other words, Pokémon Go has provided a new avenue for the enjoyment of the genre, and in doing so, extended the value of the Pokémon franchise beyond its existing distribution channels. As a result, it is probably safe to say that Pokémon will continue to be culturally and commercially relevant in the years to come.

New distribution methods – a challenge for local retailers
Similarly, local brick-and-mortar businesses should learn how to provide customers new means of experiencing or enjoying their brand and/or products. While not all products can be digitalised – a shirt still needs to be a physical shirt in order to be worn – a good number of digital services could be improved in order to enhance the customer’s experience of buying and receiving a product.

A case in point would be the growing number of ecommerce operations in Singapore, among which include ecommerce operations in the food and beverage industry (Deliveroo, DishDash, Grain), supermarkets (Redmart, Honestbee), consumer electronics and apparel (Lazada), furniture (HipVan), and even insurance (GoBear).

While an ecommerce platform, by itself, is not a magic pill, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers will do well to consider the following:

1) These business models aim to offer something new over existing goods and services. Whether all of them have or will successfully do so is another matter, but like Pokémon Go, they aim to add qualities such as convenience, customisability, or ease of comparison to what has gone before.

This may be hampered in part by the logistical cost of keeping or handling physical goods, but the principle of using new distribution methods or new services to market existing brand experiences or products is still the same.

2) Having said that, not all businesses need to develop or commission a digital platform in order to stay up-to-date. Impression management – be it through a company’s website, external review sites, or a company’s social media outlets – may be sufficient to convey the uniqueness of one’s offerings.

This will be more relevant to lifestyle products, where the marketing of the product may be as important as the product itself, but will continue to apply where specific information (e.g. the materials used, the benefits of a supplement) is needed to convince buyers to make a purchase.

Hence, in all cases, businesses should not turn down the opportunity to provide customers more information about their products, particularly where such information can be provided through entertaining and engaging digital experiences as opposed to one-size-fits-all solutions (e.g. static websites, advertising messages in newspapers).

Part of this can be done through existing social media outlets, but where businesses wish to capture the full value of their offerings, a more fundamental rethink of their digital platforms and services might be in order.

For this, just look at Pokémon Go. Now, Pokémon – like Uber drivers – can be found everywhere, all with the help of your device.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Tan Jian Xiang

Tan Jian Xiang

Jian Xiang is a trainee solicitor in one of the Big Four law firms' Intellectual Property, Media and Technology (IPMT) practice in Singapore. He has assisted with matters relating to software and intellectual property licensing.

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