Tony Tie

Three Marketing Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Pokémon GO

By: Tony Tie | March 16, 2017 | 

Three Marketing Lessons from the Swift Rise and Fall of Pokémon GONiantic’s Pokémon GO took the world by storm last year.

Now, just months after its launch, it has nearly fallen off the radar.

After its release, users gathered at PokéStops and chatted with other players while onlookers wondered what the big deal was.

Millions of people jumped on the bandwagon just after the game’s launch, and it has had more than 500 million downloads.

So what caused the fall from grace?

A big part of it stems back to marketing.

Take a look at these key marketing lessons we can learn from where Niantic missed the mark.

Putting All its Eggs in the Word-of-Mouth Basket

To be fair, Pokémon GO owes its meteoric rise almost entirely to word-of-mouth marketing.

It is what everyone was talking about last summer.

Every business wants that type of buzz, and most brands admit it is hard to get.

For many people, product recommendations from family and friends are more influential than any other form of marketing.

But Niantic leaned too heavily on personal accounts.

The app’s decline shows how word-of-mouth can be a spark that dies just as quickly as it ignites.

It is a tool that can boost marketing efforts, but brands shouldn’t rely on this tool alone.

The marketing lessons here?

Don’t over-depend on word-of-mouth, but when you get it, put budget behind amplifying it.

Failing to Educate Users

Well-educated customers will stay loyal to your brand.

Brand knowledge fosters trust and engagement, and it reminds your customers of your brand’s value.

That said, consumers do not want to use an app if they are left wondering how to use it.

Niantic struck out here, too.

The brand didn’t provide guides or tutorials in the app or on the internet.

When users had questions, they had to resort to Google searches or the knowledge of experienced players they knew in the real world.

Some argue this lack of customer education from Niantic is a deliberate move to create community and generate more buzz.

More often than not, however, opting out of user education isn’t a risk worth taking.

The marketing lessons we can learn here are a lack of educational content can frustrate users, which in turn, drives them away.

Brands need to address users’ questions in order to retain them.

Ignoring Glitches

You’re not going to please everyone, and certainly not all the time.

But when you have unhappy customers, responding to them quickly shows your brand’s empathy and reliability.

Pokémon GO dropped the ball here, too.

Talk to users about the app’s functionality, and they’ll describe a love-hate relationship.

While its augmented reality features initially wowed users, its quick launch and massive amount of downloads caused system crashes and exposed several glitches.

Niantic gave refunds to customers who spent money in the app, only to find out that a subsequent update significantly changed the game’s functionality.

The notorious three-step glitch, which muddled a user’s distance from a nearby Pokémon, went unresolved in spite of vocal frustration.

Pokémon GO lost both users and revenue as a result.

When fundamental problems with a product are revealed in its early stages, the brand must work to address and resolve them quickly.

Users won’t stick around long if issues go unresolved.

Marketing Lessons to Apply to Your Next Launch

These marketing issues alone didn’t undermine the success of Pokémon GO.

But they are valuable marketing lessons to consider when planning your next product launch.

About Tony Tie

Tony Tie is a numbers-obsessed marketer, life hacker, and public speaker who has helped various Fortune 500 companies grow their online presence. Located in Toronto, he is currently the senior search marketer at Expedia Canada, the leading travel booking platform for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and local activities. Connect with Tony on Twitter @tonytie.

  • It’s not only about putting all the eggs in one basket, but also about being so in love with your product, you can’t put yourself into your consumers shoes.

    Getting drunk with your own success and failing to have a long-term strategy is a recipe for failure.

  • Ry.the.Stunner

    While it’s not nearly as popular as it was at launch, to suggest it’s “fallen off the radar” is uninformed and idiotic.

    Niantic just recently released it’s Gen 2 Pokemon in an update. Upon announcing this, so many people logged on to play that it crashed the servers again much like what happened in its first week of launch. People still do play…a lot of them.

    • Tony Tie

      Just to be clear, I wasn’t saying that Pokemon GO no longer has a large user base. It still does.

  • The Liaison

    lack of pvp that is what led to its down fall

    • Tony Tie

      A must have feature for mobile

  • stultiloquy

    All of the glitches and unreliable gameplay killed ‘Go’ for me.

    It would usually take me multiple tries just to login, and even when I managed to successfully do so, the game’s clunky interface and functionality stumbled to a crawl; I often had pokemon appear, only to lag out and disappear with an ‘error’ message, the game would constantly crash, and the lack of any ability to fight wild pokemon with your trained monsters, combined with no PvP whatsoever led me to give up on the app.

    I think moreso than marketing, it just a case of Niantic underestimating the Pokemon fanbase, releasing the incomplete app before it was ready, and lacking the proper infrastructure to support their app.

    Being caught on their heels at launch proved to be an error from which they couldn’t manage to recover, and they’re paying for it now with the significant decline in their active player base.

    • Tony Tie

      To add to that, I think it was also an underestimation of the power of mobile on how easy it was to acquire a customer and how easy it was to lose one. Traditional consoles would have more friction.

  • Erica Flores

    I hadn’t considered Pokemon Go’s ending to be the fault of marketing, so this was a really interesting read. It brought out some points I hadn’t thought of before, especially over-depending on word-of-mouth.

    • Tony Tie

      Of course this is just one aspect in the complicated mix of things. But certainly something worth noting.

  • Kamino

    Quite a few things lead to it’s downfall

    -horrible execution on release
    -lack of pvp
    -lack of trading (both core components of the series)

    • Tony Tie

      It was a high price to pay for quick deployment I suppose

  • Hopwin

    It died due to draconian nerfing.

  • Jay Sanders

    the beta launched with more features than the actual release and by august the game had less features than it launched with and they made it way too hard to make up for the lack of anything to do once you caught everything. there is still no pvp or trading. combat still sucks. the only fun part of the game was being outside and playing with literally everyone. all types of people. the game itself always kind of sucked. they should’ve taken another year to release.

  • – $2 million daily revenue
    – 20 million daily active users (that’s US, millions more globally)
    – 26 minutes on the app daily (versus 20 minutes average on Facebook)
    – 78% of players are Millennials (now there’s a target audience for every brand…)

    These are just some stats as of last month. While it may not be experiencing the heady days of release, which is pretty much standard fare for videogames anyway, it’s far from being a failure.