What did you think about Snapchat when it first came out? Did you think it was a fad that would burn out? I did. But now, four years later, Snapchat is still going strong and those who jumped on the Snapchat bandwagon at the beginning are seeing the benefits.
The mobile messaging app's rocky start and lasting success should serve as a valuable lesson to those of us working in associations and marketing. We should not dismiss the latest craze just because we think it's going to burn out.
That lesson is highlighted now that we're in the midst of another craze: PokÃ©mon Go.
Since its release on July 6 (just three weeks ago!) Pokémon Go has replaced Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat as the app people spend the most time in. It's even more popular than Candy Crush.
Starting with the US, Australia, and New Zealand, Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm, but for those who don't play, what exactly is Pokémon Go? And, perhaps even more importantly, how is it relevant to associations?
Created by the San Francisco-based company, Niantic, Pokémon Go is an updated version of the 1990s Pokémon card and video games. The updated game takes advantage of augmented reality technology, requiring users to move through the physical world in order to catch virtual monsters called Pokémon.
Players download the game onto their smartphones, then use their phone's GPS to show the real-world locations of Pokémon. Players need to travel throughout their cities to find and catch the Pokémon. As you read this, players around the world are walking around public parks, historical locations, libraries, and churches, trying to catch Pokémon on their phones.
In addition to catching Pokémon, players can also visit PokéStops and gyms (also locations in the real world) to gather supplies or level up in the game. Right now, the location of Pokémon and gathering places like gyms are random public locations, but Niantic has announced that in the future organizations will be able to sponsor locations.
The ultimate goal of the Pokémon Go is to "catch 'em all," meaning that players want to catch at least one of every Pokémon variety. There are currently 151 types of Pokémon, with more to be released in the future. Those future Pokémon releases may be one sign that the game is here to stay, at least for the next year or so.
One word: millennials. Almost overnight, Pokémon Go became a stunning success with millennials, which is one of the main reasons the game should interest associations.
Millennials have proven to be a challenge for associations to engage, but since they now make up the majority of the workforce, they're also an area of great opportunity. How long has your association been trying to understand and engage millennial members? How much more effective would your association be if you were effectively engaging, recruiting, and retaining millennial members right now?
Since Pokémon Go is effectively engaging millennials, associations may be able to learn from the game or use it to connect with the younger generation. Before you start, however, you have to understand what makes Pokémon Go such a hit with millennials.
Pokémon Go's biggest draw for millennials is most likely nostalgia. The original Pokémon was a favorite game when millennials were growing up, and now Pokémon Go has taken millennials back to the good old days of their childhood. It uses a strong emotional connection to appeal to the younger generation, and get them involved.
If all Pokémon Go did was draw on nostalgia, however, it wouldn't be the roaring success it is now. Niantic's brilliance was in combining nostalgia with the modern technology that millennials love, such as smartphones. It then took the game to another level entirely by incorporating the cutting-edge use of augmented reality and location-based technology.
A sense of community may also contribute to the game's success. People like to be part of something bigger than themselves, and Pokémon Go has become a large community. Players are even part of different teams within the game, and have started organizing real-life events around hunting for Pokemon.
Niantic created a community by bringing an old love into the digital age and making an outdated game relevant again. Organizations are already learning from that example, getting a fuller picture of how important technology and positive emotional experiences are to millennials. They're also taking advantage of the game itself to improve business performance. Can your association do the same?
There is no one-size-fits-all way to learn from or use Pokémon Go. Instead, the game and what it can teach you about millennials needs to be adapted to fit your organization and your mission. Here are just a few ways that organizations have started using the game.
Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) from several cities have started using Pokémon Go as a way to increase tourism and attendance at conferences. The CVB in Anahaim, California, for example, is using Pokémon to lure visitors to historic locations. They've published guides and blogs on where Pokémon can usually be found to help visitors, and the blogs have been popular enough to cause a noticeable increase in web traffic to their site.
Museums in cities around the country, including the Delaware Museum of Natural History, are also using Pokémon to increase visitors. If you visit their museum you'll not only learn something, you might catch a Pikachu.
Businesses are using Pokémon Go to their advantage by luring more foot traffic to their physical locations, then encouraging those visitors to make a purchase. Discounts, free giveaways, or promotions for Pokémon players are all ways to lure additional foot traffic to make a purchase.
Players come for the Pokémon, and stay for the deal. One restaurant in New York City was able to increase their business by 75% by using Pokémon Go to lure in customers.
Nonprofits are also getting into the game by asking players to log the miles they walk while searching for Pokémon to raise money for charity. Charity Miles was one of the first organizations to recognize the opportunity here and run with it. They posted a blog with step-by-step instructions for how players can log miles and send in screenshots while playing the game.
There are many organizations that have been wildly successful at using Pokémon Go to reach new audiences and grow their businesses. But regardless of how organizations are using Pokémon Go, there are downsides. Pokémon Go is a rapidly changing platform with an uncertain future. Is it a fad that will only last a few months, or is it like Snapchat, a new platform that will still have a major influence years down the road?
Those accidents, however, are only a small part of a much larger phenomenon. They may even serve as another illustration of just how engrossing Pokémon Go can be, especially for millennials. After all, look how popular the game has become in just three weeks. It's taken the world by storm, and has already become a regular part of many people's lives.
As with many new developments, it's difficult to tell if Pokémon Go is here to stay, or a trend that you need to capitalize on quickly—before it fizzles out. All we know for sure is that Pokémon Go is here now, and it is wildly popular.
So what about your association? Does anything about Pokémon Go fit into your mission? If there is a way for you to use the game to your advantage, whether that's increasing awareness of your association or raising money for charity, the time is now.
Even if you can't use Pokémon Go directly, take a hard look at the game and try to learn from its success and the community that has built up around it. Can your association find a way to appeal to millennials through positive emotional experiences like nostalgia? That may be difficult, but what about technology like smartphones and augmented reality? You might be able to take advantage of the technology that millennials love to create better benefits in the future.
The lessons from Pokémon Go could benefit your association for years, even if the game does not.