Digital Marketing & eCommerce Innovation Blog

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Pokémon Go: Using Gamification to Drive Data Mining

Pokémon Go has only been available for a month, but it’s already come to dominate the global gaming scene. Despite being launched in only a handful of territories (Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, and Japan), the game is believed to have been downloaded over 50 million times, and has encouraged such delighted fervour that it’s caused server outages, stampedes, and even serious accidents. Players are desperate to ‘catch ‘em all’, and that doesn’t just mean good news for the game’s creator, Niantic, it also represents a watershed moment for Augmented Reality, gamification, data mining and brands’ use of them.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is, quite simply, the application of digital elements to real life. It’s different to Virtual Reality, which crafts an entire digital world around the user and replaces the real world, and has already been put to use by several brands. Tesco, for example, has used AR to allow customers to see how home décor products look in their home before they buy. Meanwhile, Lacoste LCST has offered a service that allows customers to ‘try on’ its products before making the purchase.

Pokémon Go is a much more expansive example of AR in action, and also one with no obvious commercial or practical application. Augmented Reality works best for brands when it’s useful – allowing customers to try something before they buy, or enabling a discount while on the go. Pokémon Go exists purely for entertainment purposes, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t provide an interesting route forward for brands. Entertainment means engagement, and engagement is a critical metric for brands. Both can be achieved through gamification.

What is Gamification?

In its simplest form, gamification refers to the idea of adding elements of a game into an activity that isn’t actually a game. So, for example, Klout turned social media into a game by awarding people points based on the engagement their tweets received and ranking them for certain topics. Likewise, Foursquare turned the world into a game by allowing users who frequently visited certain places to become the ‘mayor’ of those places. If a piece of digital technology has some kind of game element to it, it’s either wholly or partly gamification.

This may not sound like it’s of particular significance to brands; brands, after all, can’t plough resource into developing a Pokémon Go-type piece of entertainment. But attempts at gamification don’t always have to be expensive. In 2013, M&Ms in the United States launched Eye-Spy Pretzel, a simple picture-based puzzle game where a single pretzel was hidden amongst a group of M&Ms. It was a cheap and simple example of gamification, but it worked well, delivering 25,000 new likes on the brand’s Facebook page, 6,000 shares, and 10,000 comments.

On a grander scale, the hugely popular Nike+ Fuel app turns exercise into a game by allowing users to compete against one another, or take on individual missions to complete. This works well for both customers and Nike itself. Customers are able to add extra incentive to their exercise plan, while Nike gets to innovate and make itself distinct from its competitors. More significantly, it also gets an opportunity to generate a significant amount of data that its customers are more than happy to provide as it gives them access to a fun and engaging service. This is the hidden value of gamification: data mining.

What is Data Mining?

Data Mining is the act of generating large amounts of information about users, analysing and ordering it, and using it to inform business decisions.

It’s data mining that provides the greatest opportunity for brands in gamification and augmented reality. Pokémon Go is a free download, but the amount of data that Niantic is able to mine from it far outweighs the value of simple pounds and pence. The game collects a number of key pieces of personal information about the user, and Niantic is free to share it with third parties. The success of the game has even led to some concerns that users are agreeing to its Terms and Conditions without being fully aware of the data they are giving away. There was even controversy shortly after the game’s release when it was noted that the app was requesting full access to users’ Google accounts.

Indeed, there’s a huge difference in the amount of information people will give out if there’s a sense that they’re getting something exciting out of the deal. Put a simple data collection form in front of people, and most are likely to find the entry of information dull, and ultimately not do it. Throw an incentive in there, such as a prize or free gift, and the entry becomes slightly more appealing, and the user more likely to input. Build the data entry around an innovative and exciting new take on a nostalgic favourite, and the likelihood of generating a vast amount of data grows again. All this because the user feels they’re getting something appealing or entertaining in return.

Though it’s still too early to say exactly how Niantic is using the data it’s gathering, there’s an opportunity for it to understand its customers in more depth, which will in turn benefit marketing going forwards. Unlike traditional data mining practices, which can be limited, the augmented reality and gamification elements of Pokémon Go expand the opportunity and draw geospatial data into the equation. By gathering this kind of information, Niantic can ascertain players’ movements not just in a digital space, but in the real world: where people are going and how far they’re willing to go to get there.

Bringing it all together

In this way, Pokémon Go is the most successful bridging of the physical and digital worlds yet. It’s something retailers have been trying to achieve for many years, and it’s little surprise that businesses are already taking advantage by using Lures (functionality that increases the rate of Pokémon generation in a certain area) to attract players. For those lucky enough to be at or near PokeStops or Gyms, there are even greater opportunities to take advantage of, and some businesses are offering Pokémon Go players discounts and deals, with some degree of success.

Niantic is well aware of these possibilities, and has already struck a deal with McDonald’s in Japan that saw the company set up Pokestops and Gyms at nearly 3,000 branches across the country. Other such partnerships are likely to follow in other territories and outlets across the coming months. It’s a perfect deal: Niantic become less reliant on in-app purchases to make money (and further pushes the game’s groundbreaking reputation), while McDonald’s increases footfall (and likely gains access to some of the data Pokémon Go is generating).

Pokémon Go has shown a new utility for augmented reality, gamification, and data mining in marketing. Brands now need to consider how and why it’s been successful, and find a way to make those things work for them.

What do you think about using gamification for data mining? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to receive articles straight to your inbox!

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