Kristy LaPlante: Who’s the real winner: Pokémon, or Email?
By now, you’ve played Pokémon Go. And if you haven’t, you’ve witnessed someone who is playing it.
Welcome to the world of mainstream augmented reality. Before we dig deeper into the implications of Pokémon Go to Email Marketing – and yes, there are several – let’s begin with a complete understanding of what augmented reality is and how it came to be.
A Brief History of AR in Marketing
While augmented reality (AR) technically took root in the 1960s, it largely was not adopted for practical use until the US government began to apply the concept to military technologies. Louis Rosenberg’s Virtual Fixtures system provided the Air Force with an upper-body skeleton that allowed personnel to control machinery remotely; the Navy and NASA soon followed suit with AR technologies. My personal favorite AR application came about in 1998, when the NFL began its broadcast of the virtual, yellow first-and-ten line to denote a player’s distance from a first down.
Marketers began to catch up to the hype with Hirokazu Kato’s creation of the ARToolKit in 2000. This open-source library created a means for users to overlay computer graphics with a video camera, and its code is often still in use today. Beginning in 2007, marketers experimented with AR applications in Direct Mail and Print. But it wasn’t until 2012’s Google Glass release that the concept of AR as a marketing tool really began to take off.
Two main events tend to instigate “tipping points” for new technologies: legitimacy and mass adoption. Google leant significant legitimacy to AR in the development of its Glass product, though the product itself ultimately met with little success. Since then, several acquisitions have again pushed AR to the forefront of market consciousness, perhaps none more famously than Facebook’s 2014 acquisition of Oculus. With such high-profile industry players showing public support of AR via mergers and acquisitions, it was only a matter of time before consumers began to buy in to the craze and push the technology into the mainstream. The only question left became one of mass adoption: what would finally tip the scales in AR’s favor? The answer, as we are seeing today, is Pokémon.
One Pokémon to Rule Them All
Pokémon did not invent AR, nor did it do much to revolutionize it. What Pokémon did, quite simply, was apply the functionality of AR to a familiar video game filled with familiar, likeable characters. The Pokémon craze took root nearly two decades ago, when Japan’s Pocket Monsters franchise popularly partnered with Nintendo’s Game Boy. The game quickly spilled into other media including television, feature-length films and merchandise—even an All Nippon Airways jetliner was painted in a Pokémon theme. In its simplest form, familiarity is what catapulted Pokémon into the mainstream in the 1990s, and a revival of that familiarity ultimately launched the franchise’s AR phenomenon we are living through today.
The Implication for Email Marketers
Acceptance of Pokémon Go is no longer an option: the AR game’s wild success almost guarantees that we will all inevitably encounter a Pokémon “Trainer” or two as we meander through our daily routines. However, the game also has a particular appeal for email marketers, and for marketing in general.
For local marketers or businesses with a local presence, Pokémon Go serves as an effective touchpoint to drive both foot traffic and awareness. For email marketers, however, the implications are far more significant. After all, you can’t play the game until you register with an email address. AR proves that email is vital to digital experiences, and email marketers can succeed in an AR-enabled world by focusing on all of the personalization options enabled by the medium.
The email provider most poised to win this AR game is Gmail. While Niantic has revised its policy since Pokémon Go’s launch to access less personal information from Google, the connection to Google remains. The implications of this connection are far-reaching: to date, the most challenging piece of the customer journey puzzle has been the ability to identify a specific user across multiple devices, no matter where they are. Both cross-device identification and real-time location-based knowledge were barriers. Pokémon Go serves up a simple solution: a user signs into the app using their Gmail address, theoretically enabling the application to cross streams of data with a user’s entire Google profile.
For the folks who sign in to the game with a different address, the data connection persists: they still sign in with an email address, which makes them targetable in identity platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more. This data is powerful, and email again dominates in its ability to provide that crucial connective tissue to the industry.
A Word of Caution
If there is one thing that makes AR fascinating as a marketing capability, it is the medium’s inherent ability to bring interactive digital features to life. For several years, we’ve witnessed the rise of mobile devices and video as key to driving maximum levels of engagement. And yet, marketers have continued to lag behind in their adoption of mobile video advertising. It is wise to think of AR as the next valuable extension of digital advertising, and to put the technical and video foundations in place today to support an AR-enabled future.
In the end, there are two things email marketers do incredibly well that will enable them to be successful in a fully AR environment: collect email addresses, and use those addresses to maintain meaningful, personalized relationships with customers. The excitement of Pokémon Go may seem daunting initially, but with a thorough understanding of AR, its application to our marketing efforts should really be as easy as, well, the virtual toss of a pokéball.