The Real Pokémon Go Business Lessons

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Pokémon Go is the hottest thing to hit the Internet since SnapChat. Of course, now there are all sorts of marketing posts popping up espousing marketing lessons Pokémon Go. This wave of expert posts was foreseen. Much like the Oreo real-time marketing chatter that ensued after the 2013 Super Bowl power outage, the post-mortem focus is myopic.

The real lessons to be learned are not in the viral success of the app. Instead, look at some of the mistakes made by Pokémon Go developer Niantic as well as the smarter businesses who have turned Pokémon Go into a marketing opportunity.

Word of Mouth Begins with Listening

Like all businesses, Niantic created something that people love. When new technologies become well used, problems emerge that require a level of responsiveness, a sense of commitment that Niantic still has yet to demonstrate. Now players are complaining about the Pokemon tracker and Niantic’s shutting down of third party apps. Customers are revolting.

Will Niantic turn the ship and does it matter?

Pokémon Go may be too big to fail, but how many brands can really afford to anger their customer communities like this? For every Niantic, there are hundreds of thousands of start-ups that will never experience this kind of success. Each of their customers and word of mouth opportunities becomes that much more valuable.

Listening is paramount for word of mouth marketing success. Customers become more loyal when brands respond, even when they are unable to fulfill requests. If there was any lesson learned from the social media era, it was listen to your community. You never know when or where customers will say something about your brand.

Don’t Mimic It, Leverage It

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Image via Polygon.

When I see a successful community launch, I am not interested in copying its marketing tactics, though it is always helpful to see what worked. Instead, I wonder how I can leverage that community to help my clients.

The third party tracker makes a ton of sense, but like other social communities such as Twitter and Facebook that began with open APIs, Niantic has already shown a penchant to crush successful secondary apps. Develop apps at your own risk! I would avoid plugging directly into the network.

Leveraging a successful platform involves a smart marketing play that works off the platform without interfering with it. Consider how some businesses are working with Niantic to offer sponsored Pokémon Go spots. If I was responsible for marketing a public venue, retail store, or restaurant that 1) had significant physical space and 2) wanted to attract younger users, I would explore this. Further, I would consider making the space friendly for all augmented reality apps.

This reminds me of when Foursquare first broke onto the scene. Smart businesses and nonprofits leveraged the platform and created badges, mayoral contests and more to attract social media friendly customers. The Brooklyn Museum was the most prolific example of past success that I can remember.

Becoming a Pokémon Go spot is just one way to leverage the Niantic community. I am sure there are many others, too.

What do you think of the new network?

Success Built on a Mountain of Failures

Two weeks ago, Jelly Founder and Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone spoke at the Greater Washington Board of Trade about his lessons learned as an entrepreneur, as detailed in his new book, Things a Little Bird Told Me. The conversation with Board of Trade President Jim Dinegar inspired hundreds of executives.

“My success is built on a mountain of failures,” said Biz.

Biz continued and said that he attributed 99% of his success to failures and 1% to luck. He looked at failure as a method of experimentation. Failure tells you what doesn’t work, and allows you to move on to a different approach and find an answer.

Opportunity means a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something, noted Biz Stone. Unfortunately, most people assume that they have to wait for those circumstances. “We can make the circumstances that create opportunity,” said Biz.

Twitter Success Came from Failure

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Biz had an impovershed upbringing. He was raised by his mother who was a single earner. He was busy as a high school student, and ended up starting and participating in his lacrosse team and working at night. He didn’t have time for homework, too, so he actively dialogued with his teachers and worked out an agreement. Later Biz dropped out of college… Twice.

He related how he had moved west to Silicon Valley to work with Ev Williams, and his mild successes and failures with Google’s Blogger platform. During the pre-Twitter success period of his life, Biz was struggling to make ends meet, and he and his wife slept on their floor.

Ev left Blogger, and Biz became the leader of the unit. Google then IPOed, which help relieve Biz’s financial woes. Biz decided to leave Google after the IPO because he wasn’t happy with the experience, even though he was the voice of the Blogger platform. He didn’t love what he was doing, and he had specifically come to California to work with Ev. So even though the Google IPO promised more wealth, he joined Ev and built the podcasting software company Odeo.

Odeo’s failure produced the concept for Twitter. Rather than simply close the doors, Ev and Biz held a hackathon to come up with cool ideas. By then Biz and Jack Dorsey, a programmer at Odeo, were becoming good friends. They hacked the idea for Twitter based on AOL’s Instant Messenger platform.

During the company’s initial successes, Twitter experienced severe technical issues, and the service kept collapsing. It was the era of the Twitter fail whale. Everyone was strained, and one day Biz — who again was the face of the company — came in and snapped. He yelled at the team.

Jack got up and asked Biz to talk privately. They went for a walk and Jack told Biz that he couldn’t behave that way. “I realized I was the leader of the company,” said Biz. “I always needed to present a positive outlook for the team.”

More stories were shared including a stiff conversation with Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg who inquired to buy Twitter.

All in all, I found Biz’s adventures to be very inspiring. I believe that success is something that could happen with hard work and faith. And that belief was reaffirmed. I liked the Jack lesson, too.

Biz did note that it was important for people to give back. He said it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you always need to give to people, even if it is just time or $5. It changes who you are and the benefit is that it make you a better person. Biz is actively involved with DonorsChoose.

A version of this post ran originally on the Vocus blog.

Clarifying Views on Faith

Last week turned out to be a fantastic for Exodus. More than 2000 books were moved, and when I woke up on Christmas morning, the book was ranked #207 on the Amazon Kindle free rankings, and number six in the science fiction category (I engaged in a modified version of Brian Meeks’ strategies).

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The success brought some interesting commentary (cough) from some more devout Christians who weren’t pleased with the depiction of a medieval-like fundamentalist state that used their faith to conquer others. This post is not a response. I did want to take the opportunity to clarify my views on fundamentalism, Christianity or otherwise, for friends and readers who may be curious.

As to the hate mail itself, I expected this when I published the book. I don’t believe hardliners will actually get the message. As soon as the more devout read the first chapter, they’re certain that I am a heretical liberal. By the fourth they may think I am in league with Old Scratch himself (thus the preface from Paul Dunn).

To be clear, I read every remark to see if it’s an actual critique of the book, or someone ranting that Christianity was used as an example of fundamentalism. If it’s the prior, I pay attention. If it’s the latter, I ignore it. Welcome to America and The First Amendment.

Faith and Christianity

I believe that any faith is capable of helping people enjoy life more. That includes Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Bhuddhism, and others. I personally believe in God. I also believe that humans are capable of taking any faith, and warping its words to achieve wrongdoing.

I don’t think Islam is a violent religion. In fact, I quite like Sufism. Unfortunately for the faith of Islam, violent extremists use it to justify their actions. And that creates quite a lot of ignorance and stereotypes about fundamentalism.

Back to the impetus for this post, I have seen many benevolent acts performed by Christians. The faith (in its various forms) offers incredibly powerful teachings for anyone who wants spiritual guidance. In fact, while not a Christian, I say the Lord’s prayer several times a week, my wife is of Presbyterian decent, and most of my friends are Christian or of Christian descent.

Yet like any other faith, people can use its words to justify great wrongs. You can look back at the Crusades for an example. Or more recently at the IRA terrorism of the 70s and 80s, or in the Unted States the KKK’s acts of racism and violence. I have experienced this personally in my life. Many people have tried to convert me, or explain to me how I was going to hell because of my decent. You could argue the Christian right’s political impact in our country could (not will, but could) create similar situations.

As for the faith of my blood, Judaism, some feel Israel’s hard line views towards Palestineans and other Islamic states is also in the fundamental extreme. People are dying in the Middle East, and sometimes at the hands of the Israeli military.

In none of these situations is the faith in question wrong. Rather, people make decisions, and use religion as a justification to take actions that impact their fellow man, usually in a negative fashion.

What’s worse, when blind faith exists or when people generally believe what they are told, we create problems. We see this today in the media and the violated trust we feel when the Lance Armstrongs and government officials of this world let us down. To be clear, this is the power of propaganda, not religion.

Now About the Book

Let’s look at several aspects of fundamentalism in the book. First, it was the Islamic fundamentalism of the present (and a fictional Christian right reaction to it) that provokes the Great Sickness, the apocalyptic event that creates the world of Exodus.

Why not continue with Islam as the faith of wrong doing? For starters, it’s too easy per the earlier stereotype discussion. As a writer it’s about as challenging as depicting Richard Nixon as a villain.

Frankly, I think we have a blind eye in this country to our own actions. Since the book takes place in America, I decided to use our country’s dominant faith, Christianity. And per the conversation earlier, Christianity has been misused by the power-hungry for such purposes in the past. Unfortunately for humankind, history has a nasty tendency of repeating itself.

Several of the characters have intentional names referring to Greek mythological characters and one biblical character, Mordecai. Mordecai represents the true Christian faith (at least as it appears to this Jewish fellow’s eyes). In book two, Mordecai attracts new Christians, but he does so through principled action rather than proselytizing.

The power-hungry leader of the Christian Empire is Pravus, which is Latin for depraved. That should be a clear tip off to folks who think I am engaged in blasphemy. I am not, this guy is fricking nuts. There’s a reason why Mordecai left the Emperor’s side to venture out on his own.

Without tipping my hat too much, the entire trilogy explores the concept that every single one of us is capable of rationalizing wrong with ideologies and belief systems. We think we’re right, that our ideas can protect us from wrongdoing, but in actuality we may be harming others.

This is true for every human, and there are many ideologies — not just religious ones — that can be used to justify wrongdoing. Evil is rarely a dramatic moment. It is often the result of small decisions that collectively point someone in the wrong direction.

OK, I’ve said my piece. The floor is yours.

The Acidic Taste of Failure

Sometimes you try to achieve things with all that you’ve got, and then you fail. Some say failure is good, that it teaches you what not to do, etc., etc.

I agree, failing is part of the process of learning how to win. But I never like failing, particularly when I feel like it happened on my watch because of choices I made.

I can feel the acid burning my gut. I always hate failure.

Last week I experienced such a failure. It wasn’t on a public project, so let’s not read too much into things. Nevertheless, I failed. What made it worse was that I felt really good about the situation, rehearsed and worked hard, and put in extra time to get ready.

When it was show time, the effort flew like a lead zeppelin.

It was so obvious that I was dead in the water from the get-go, and I had to finish the job. If the situation was a baseball game, the opposition had a 10-run first inning. No escape for three hours. Done and done. Good night.

At least I am laughing about it a week later.

Nevertheless, it bugged me. Looking back there were mistakes like a critical flaw in evaluating my audience. A big disconnect occurred. Plus, I was exhausted and that didn’t help anything.

So, I did what I always do when I fail. I got back up the next day, and started working on the next big thing, which is planning the 2014 edition of xPotomac (Patrick Ashamalla and Shonali Burke are joining me again as co-hosts this year).

Because that’s what I do. I get back up.

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It’s important to take away what I can from the mistakes, adapt so next time there is different outcome, and work towards the next success. Maybe I’ll experience a win, maybe a different failure, but always move a step closer to the solution.

I also took the necessary time to rest. Self-care remains one of the best ways to overcome failure. There is always more work, and sometimes I just have to put it on the backburner. If I treat myself like crap, I will surely feel and perform like crap, too.

But no matter what, failures still burn, some more than others. That’s what makes winning all the more worthwhile. Call it fuel.

How do you handle failures?

Featured image by Mike Stimpson.