Whether you’re already a diehard Pokémon Go enthusiast or wondering what all the hype is about (and why people are walking aimlessly around public spaces), one thing is certain: every brand marketer can learn some great gamification lessons from this worldwide phenomenon.

Pokémon Go designers got their user experience right, and here are four things you can learn from them.

1. Use the Power of Mixed Reality

One of the most prominent features of this game is mixed reality: the blur between the digital and the physical world. It features augmented reality plus a real map of the players’ physical surroundings.

Here we learn that digital doesn’t mean you can forget about the physical. You need to provide a great customer experience for both.

In Pokémon Go, even the social elements have both physical and digital counterparts. For example, you can catch Pokémon with a real friend in the physical world.

You can also battle over “gyms” digitally, team up with friends in the digital world, and then come full circle and meet them in real person.

Part of the fun of this game is that you have to walk and explore the physical world rather than sit in front of the computer or stare at the phone. This is also part of the game’s novelty factor.

Augmented reality (AR) is still in its infancy and for many brands it may seem cost prohibitive to experiment with AR to engage customers.

However, one of the concepts of Pokémon Go is location sensitive engagement. Players must be at certain real, physical locations to engage in certain activities (e.g. catch a Pokémon, battle over gyms, or stock up supplies).

While there is controversy around brands sponsoring locations (e.g. the rumored McDonald’s location sponsorships), brands need to evaluate if sponsoring locations could be a way to raise brand awareness, or even participate in your own reward program linked to the game.

Bottom line: We should all be thinking in new ways in light of this game. How can your brand leverage the popularity of Pokémon Go?

2. Engage & Provide Value Before Asking Anything From the User

This strategy lets people engage with the game before they have to provide any information whatsoever.

You are not compelled to purchase any items. You can enjoy the game as is.

You’re not even asked to register and create a username before you learn how to capture a Pokémon and experience how easy and fun it is to engage with their AR.

What brands can learn from this is that it pays to be generous before asking anything from a potential customer. Creating engagement by providing value to your potential customers is a smart way to get people hooked.

This value may be purely entertainment (i.e. fun) or something beyond. Radical generosity is an effective yet overlooked approach to win people’s loyalty.

A related point is that Pokémon Go is first a game for you before it’s a game with friends. This game is very good at focusing on the player first before leveraging any social element (e.g. friends and social graph).

This is often hard for brands, because so many are so used to leveraging people’s social graph to spread the word of mouth, and ask people to share brand content.

Pokémon Go is initially a game just for you to play yourself and enjoy alone, exploring the world and catching Pokémon.

Only after you’ve gained proficiency, skills and level up to level five can you compete with others in “gym” battles. Why does this matter?

The designers ensured that the game has to be fun and entertaining for a player before you get to play with friends and share the experience.

The counter side of this clever design is that if you don’t find it fun, you just stop. Your friends are not affected by you stopping.

This is unlike other social games that depend critically on the fact that your friends have to play (e.g. Draw Something). If you stop, their experience is impacted negatively.

Bottom line: Focusing on the individual first is a smart way to engage the individual and also to protect other people’s user experience.

3. Follow the Steps of the Gamification Spectrum to Keep the Game Going

The Gamification Spectrum is a patented framework that outlines the level of reward and corresponding level of challenge needed to keep the player engaged with the available gamification tools in the market. It provides the design paradigm for keeping the players engaged over long-term and drive the behaviors you want from them.

Pokémon Go follows this Spectrum well by starting out very simple to engage the largest possible audience. Then it levels up in baby steps with many front loaded rewards to keep as many of the initially engaged audience as possible.

Bottom line: Step-by-step, players are challenged and rewarded correspondingly to keep their engagement momentum going.

4. Track the Data

Lastly, the game does a good job at tracking everything the player does, as well as all the Pokémon a player has captured.

Pokémon have different types, heights and weights and can be powered up and evolved. This provides the player many different opportunities for rewards and recognitions.

For example, you get a badge for catching five flying Pokémon, or a badge for 10 poisonous Pokémon, etc.

Players can also get badges for the different behaviors they exhibit (e.g. collector, breeder, scientist, backpacker, ace trainers, etc.).

No matter how you much (or how little) you play, or how you do or like to play the game, there are always numerous, individualized rewards that are relevant to your specific playing behavior.

Bottom line: No two customers are exactly alike. Don’t put them into big general buckets as with traditional demographics. Use the wealth of social and behavioral data to segment them finely in multiple dimensions and understand them individually.

Getting Gamification Right

Although gamification is a great way to engage people, few brands have gotten it right. The success of Pokémon Go provides many great insights and design strategies as a game.

For brands, they need to use this as inspiration to help them leverage the power of gamification to help engage their customers.

Learn what you can from it and see how you can create your own “go” for your brand.

Title image by Skinny Casual Lover in the Public domain