How to Build a Loyalty Program as Successful as Pokemon Go


One of my favorite things about writing for Hubba is tapping into the vast knowledge of my many coworkers. I’ve learned some Javascript, how to make the perfect cup of coffee, and what exactly ‘synergy’ means. But today, I learned how to catch a Pokemon.

After a pretty harsh groan over my Poke-puns, Hubba’s resident expert Azhar Khan and I got down to business. “There’s so much loyalty programs can learn from these guys” says Khan, throwing Pokeballs at a Weedle across the room. Because for every person running around the city in search of a Charmander to round out their collection, Nintendo (and the game’s publisher Niantic) is sitting behind their desks watching their business grow.

People want what they can’t have. The day after the app’s US release date, – one of the few places you could download the Android app in Canada –  site traffic skyrocketed from 600,000 to over 4 million visits. That’s 597% increase in traffic literally overnight.

Nintendo also works exclusivity into the game to boost in-app retention (a fancy word for how much time people spend on the app during a session). Rare Pokemon appear in random places, for a limited time. A few days ago, a Vaporeon spawned in Central Park and caused a traffic jam as grown adults sprinted out of their cars mid-commute to catch it.

Nintendo isn’t the first company to appeal to our desire for the good ol’ days. It’s no coincidence that franchises like Toy Story came out with a third movie where the protagonist goes to college at the same time as the original fan base.

Pokemon Go’s release comes with the 20th anniversary year of the Pokemon franchise. Fans are growing up! Rather than staying up late giggling at our Gameboy colors, we’re working and grocery shopping. What better way to tap into your original fans than adding a little excitement to the produce aisle with an Oddish nestled in the radishes? “You don’t know when a Pokemon is going to show up!” quips Khan.

I walked into the office kitchen this morning to find one of our developers hovering in a corner with his phone because it was a Pokestop. “I’m restocking” he said, looking up at me with an expression somewhere between shame and being really, really pleased with himself.
People are taking their dogs for more walks or cruising around on their bikes just to find Pokestops. And if you don’t want to walk, you pay. Nintendo has found a clever way to monetize the game by creating a store to buy Pokeballs or to heal and revive your tired Pokemon if you don’t feel like wandering around your neighborhood.

The app doesn’t work in the background. “If you wanna catch ‘em all, you gotta keep it open” Khan continues. “My phone’s in my pocket, but I know there are things I could be doing in that world to get me ahead.” As a result, people will leave the app open as they’re going about their day. In-app retention time is through the roof – blowing right past Twitter and Snapchat with an average session time of nearly 45 minutes! (Facebook Messenger is only 13).

If there’s one thing our big human brains grab onto, it’s curiosity for the unknown. First it was the pyramids, then it was space travel, and now it’s what happens when you catch them all. We don’t know, but we will venture on until we find out.

Building a loyalty program that works takes a lot of forethought. By integrating some of these tactics into your own program, you’ll be sure to have customers coming back for more!