Radio’s Pokémon Go strategy

What can radio learn from the new virtual reality game on mobile phones?

By James Cridland
Posted 12 July 2016, 2.31am bst
Reddit user OneNineTwo

Pokémon Go. You’ve probably already heard about it - a game played with the GPS chip inside your mobile phone. It gets you walking around your local area to pick up virtual things. The more “Pokéstops” you visit, the more tools you can pick up, and the more Pokémon you can collect. You can fight other Pokémon and take over local areas too. Here are more details, in case this is already a bit tedious.

Pokémon Go is big. Really big. It’s only been launched a week - in the US and Australia only - and it already has more users than Twitter. In the first two days, it was installed on 5% of all Android phones in the US. Its success has spawned acres of media coverage. And, since it gets people active, it’s probably a good thing: exercise is one of the best tools to combat depression and improve mental health.

I’ve been playing a game like it for the last few years. The game was called Ingress: indeed, it’s the same company, Niantic Labs, behind both games.

In Ingress, the equivalent of Pokéstops had some interesting sponsors. Zipcar, the car-sharing club, got all their parking places put into the game. Since the game guarantees footfall, that meant that every single Ingress player was quickly educated as to where their local Zipcar location was.

Jamba Juice, a US-based drinks company, also managed to get all its stores into Ingress. Once more, this guaranteed footfall: and to link a physical walking game with a drinks company was a clever plan.

So, what can we learn from this? Here are three ideas:

Reward listening. Pokémon Go players are typically rewarded for spending longer in the game. So, why aren’t radio stations rewarding listeners for listening longer? I’m surprised that we’ve not turned the act of listening into gamification: rewarding listeners for tuning in and for keeping listening. Earn some notional radio station points, or - better - earn cash to spend at local stores.

Drive footfall. Could you encourage footfall to local stores by building some kind of geotagging into your app? “We’ve got twenty-five tickets to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to give away. Just get down to your local Tim Horton’s and fire up the Hit107 app to enter! They’ve got a fresh pot ready!”

Geo-tag what you’re famous for. When I worked at Virgin Radio, one of my team had a bright idea (partially because he just wanted to play with Google Maps): a database of places to do with the music we played. Abbey Road studios, the telephone box in Heddon Street where David Bowie posed for his Ziggy Stardust album cover, the spot in Berwick Street where Oasis posed for their front cover; the studio retreat in Cornwall where Muse recorded their album, and so on. We called it Rock Pilgrimages, and got it sponsored by a national hotel chain: giving directions to your nearest hotel from each spot. They even put details of their nearest Rock Pilgrimage locations in their properties. Were we doing it now, we’d build it into our mobile app. (Or, we’d licence it to Pokémon Go.)

The success of Pokémon Go is, in part, based on the global Pokémon brand, and its clear proposition: “Gotta catch them all!”. And perhaps this is the main learning for the fragmented world of radio. Focus on national or international brands that share the same proposition: not a mismatch of increasingly irrelevant local radio brands that have little in common. In many places in the world, we’ve had the industry consolidation, but not the brand consolidation that should, also, have happened. And one thing’s for certain: for Pandora or Beats 1, the benefit of a clear international brand is something that they’ll continue to use to their advantage.

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.

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