How Pokemon Go could boost your businessA welcome shard of relief has pierced the post Brexit economic gloom for at least some UK businesses. It comes in the unexpected guise of an augmented reality smartphone game that combines mobile technology with real life locations. It is, of course, the cultural phenomenon known as ‘Pokémon GO’, launched just a few days ago, which is taking the world by storm.

So what, you might ask? Well, if you’re one of the few who have been happy to remain in a state of blissful PoGo ignorance until now, content in the knowledge that it’s keeping the kids amused, for free, during the long holidays while you bust a gut growing your business, here’s some news that might change your world view of computer gaming forever: Pokémon GO has the potential to be a goldmine for your business. Really.

To find out how, (and assuming you’re not chasing Weedles as we speak) you first need some rudimentary knowledge of how the game works…

Pokémon GO: a smartphone game that could attract new customers to your business

In very simple terms, the game uses your mobile GPS and clock functions to detect your current location and then, as you move around, reveals wild Pokémon creatures waiting to be captured. It’s a bit like a virtual safari but one where the usual lions, elephants and buffalo are replaced with exotic creatures such as Squirtles, Pidgeys and Wartortles. Added layers of complexity in the game include the opportunity to do battle with other players at Pokémon ‘Gyms’ and to collect extra Pokémon creatures at ‘PokeStops’.

It’s a sophisticated and addictive game which already has more active daily users than Twitter and has been credited for getting our largely sedentary nation off its collective backside and out into the Great British outdoors, no matter what the weather and, it seems, no matter what your age. But, within just a few days of its launch in July 2016, it became apparent that there are potential benefits for businesses too…

How can Pubs, Cafés, Restaurants and other businesses benefit from the Pokémon GO craze

Take, for example, the remotely situated Canterbury pub which, having discovered that its premises happen to be a Pokémon Gym, has capitalised on the situation by opening up different areas of its premises and promoting its newly acquired PoGo status on its Facebook page. The result has been a massive increase of footfall to the pub, with players vying to take control of the Gym – and tucking into a pint and a plate of pub grub while they’re at it.

Meanwhile, in Manchester, a taxi firm is using the collective Pokémon gaming knowledge of its enthusiastic drivers to offer a unique service: for just £20, players can be taken on an hour’s tour of the city, taking in local parks where rare Pokémon characters lurk in the undergrowth. It’s a price worth paying for the hundreds of Mancunians desperate to catch the most elusive Pokémon creations – and a nice little earner for the taxi firm.

In a more obvious business alignment, a UK mobile phone carrier has announced free unlimited mobile data to PoGo-crazy customers willing to sign up to one of its summer promotions.

How to find out if your UK business is a Pokémon Gym or PokeStop

So, interested now? If you, too, would like to find out what PoGo may be able to offer your business, the first step is to take a deep breath and sign up for the game. It’s free, so you’ve got nothing to lose. Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the basics (or persuaded the kids to give you a quick lesson), you should be able to see whether your business premises are harbouring a PokeStop or a Gym. PokeStops look like little blue cubes, and Gyms are taller structures with Pokemon defending them. If so, result! In fact, you may have already noticed small crowds of strangers gathering outside waving their mobiles in the air – now you know why.

All you need to do then is advertise that fact as widely as possible, preferably by social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, and then entice people inside with a special Pokémon ‘promotion’. Businesses which offer food and drink are perfectly placed to do this, but be creative. For example, a hair salon might offer 10% off a professional walk-in blow dry. Book shops, toy shop and clothes shop may be able to sell Pokémon related merchandise. And when it comes to targeting your audience, remember, this game has universal appeal. People of all ages, backgrounds and genders are participating.

Can I pay to host a Pokemon Gym or PokeStop in the UK?

The short answer at the time of writing this article, is ‘no’ (or, at least, if you live in an area where Gyms and PokeStops are scarce, you can ask the question of the Support Desk, but have no guarantee that your request will be approved). However, all that looks set to change, and very soon. Just one month after the launch of PoGo, there is already talk of businesses being able to pay Niantic, the developers, to become a location in the game in order to drive foot traffic. It’s rumoured that MacDonald’s will be the first to take up this opportunity.

In the meantime, you can use the Pokémon app to purchase ‘Lure modules’ which can be attached to PokeStops. Lure models, as the name suggests, are used to lure Pokémon to a particular location and cost 0.79p for 1 or around £5.00 for 8. One player drops the lure module but it then works for all players – but for 30 minutes only. You can’t miss a PokeStop that’s supporting a lure module: it will be surrounded by a shower of petals on your map screen. One pizza restaurant in New York reportedly saw its sales increase by about 75% over the course of a weekend after using a lure mode to attract the game’s players into the restaurant.

Seize the day: Pokémon GO business opportunities may not last

At the moment, it’s hard to visualise an end to the Pokemon GO craze. Demand for the game is unprecedented and the developers behind it will certainly be canny enough to dream up new ways to engage players – and to get them to part with their cash. Indeed, the first update has already been released. Nevertheless, crazes do come and go and there has been some negative press associated with the game too. Not everyone wants hordes of strangers gathering around their house or business and experts are calling for Niantic to offer individuals, businesses and organisations ways of removing tags that mark their premises as Pokémon Gyms.

So, if you want to piggy-back on the Pokémon phenomenon, don’t wait too long to make your move. On the other hand, if you’d rather dance naked in the street with a sandwich board promoting your business, feel free. Just be aware that there are lots of people out and about with mobile phones clasped in their hands at the moment…