What I Learned About Business From Pokemon

Erick Lopez
Jul 16 · 13 min read
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Hello! My name is Erick Lopez and I’ll be your guide into the world of PokeBusiness. You must be the great reader in search of inspiring, but also fun, business articles to help you in your journey to help users and customers feel amazing. Great job in finding this article!

Recently, I’ve been on a business and marketing book kick to keep momentum going for the tech startup I co-founded last year. During this time, I was also playing Pokemon on the Nintendo Switch and realized something…the advice I was getting from business and marketing books was already being executed pretty well by the Pokemon team. How well?

They are the highest grossing media franchise of all time with over $90 billion in revenue.

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(via Wikipedia “Highest Grossing Media Franchises”)

First off, this is not a sponsored post at all and I have no affiliation with Pokemon. I’m just a 90’s kid that connected some dots and understood a company doesn’t get to billions in revenue by accident.

I looked at the core principles of all these books I was reading and compared them to what Pokemon was doing at it’s core with it’s video game product. I figured, plush toys, cards, and random memorabilia don’t sell like hot cakes without having a solid product first, so I focused soley on the product the company created that made them blow up. The video game.

Whether other businesses realize it or not, the Pokemon principles I found have worked for other businesses too (whether they realized they were using the same tactics or not).

While there are many examples to pull from, I wanted to share five actionable things from the video games that stuck out and can immediately help you and your business. Whether you’re a tech startup building software or a brick and mortar selling muffins and coffee, I hope these tips from studying the biggest media franchise help you in your business journey. Let’s begin!

  1. On Boarding / Welcome Experience
  2. Friendly Guide. Clear Path.
  3. Creating A Mental Model
  4. Sense of Responsibility
  5. The Option To Learn About Yourself…And Be Yourself

1. On Boarding / Welcome Experience

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Good ole Professor Oak and Pikachu! I love seeing familiar faces.

WHAT THEY DO:

The video game uses their on boarding to immediately add these keys things to your journey and set you up for a welcoming experience:

  • A feeling of belonging to a community (Mom, City, Starter Pokemon, Support System)
  • A feeling of established accomplishment (You’re the great trainer from Pallet town!)
  • A guide (Professor Oak + Pokedex)
  • A way to measure your progress (Gyms + Rival)

Let’s start by focusing on the first two for the first tip and how these translate in business terms. (We’ll get into guides and progress later on!)

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Community:

There are a myriad of ways for you to create instant community and a sense of belonging for users, customers, and business partners alike that doesn’t involve battling or trading monsters with friends.

For software, adding a forum, a comment section, review system, newsletter, or having social channels where followers have a space to communicate can help with engagement and being memorable.

For brick and mortar/in-person brands, you can host local events, meetups, or partner with other established communities. Other ways include pro knowledge, customer giveaways, or unique experiences people can share. Things like In-n-Out’s secret menu, getting a song sung to you by Coldstone employees when you tip, and the “Get to Know Your Barista” wall at Philz Coffee are all interesting ways to make a customer trust and feel a part of something.

Fun side note: I saw a fast food place post signs and photos congratulating their student workers that were graduating! It made me feel closer to the employees and created a mini community in that instant. (btw…it was Chick-Fil-A)

Established Accomplishment:

Sometimes, letting your user/customer know that they are enough is the best experience. Throughout the game, messages like “Wow, I just saw your match and you did awesome!”, are a welcome sense of encouragement. We get bombarded by marketing ads all the time telling us we aren’t enough and need their products, so whenever you can — find ways to remind customers they are already pretty awesome!

Software can do this with pop ups or “completion” messages, but brick and mortar shops will have to go step further. A simple act like handing your customer a new loyalty card with two stamps instead of one can give them an unexpected boost of accomplishment.

I once went to a juice shop that gave me a free courtesy cup of left over smoothie. Did that ever happen again? No. Did I go out of my way to get more juices and smoothies there…absolutely.

Key thing: Don’t fake these gestures. Save it for real moments where users would appreciate a pat on the back. First time visits, first time task completions, special events, etc. Now on to the next tip!

2. Friendly Guide. Clear Path.

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The friendly new Pokedex from the latest game: Sword and Shield. So cute…so knowledgeable

Have ever felt lost as to what to do next? Where to stand in line? Where to find the grocery item or product feature you’re looking for?

Every time we change our environment we are on high alert. Mostly, because as humans we are trained to identify dangers first. We want to learn about our new environment ASAP because we want to survive. Then, we want to learn how to do well and succeed. When entering a vast world of new pocket monsters and technology, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, close the game, and walk away.

WHAT THEY DO:

Pokemon realized this and, as previously stated, added a “human guide” in Professor Oak, But they also added other things:

  • Townspeople as “mini guides”
  • Badges and Pokedex to measure progress
  • Map to know what to do and how to get there
  • “RoadBlocks” that gently re-direct

In the games, we see an overlay of action items on the map (pictured below in the top left corner) that let us know where we are, where to go, and what to do. There are also townspeople planted throughout that relay information like “I hear X trainer in the next gym only uses water Pokemon” or “You should find a Pokemon that knows X move to help you in the cave”.

If all else fails, there are in-game roadblocks (A giant pokemon blocking your route, body of water, closed doors, etc) that prevent you from going somewhere too soon. These roadblocks are done in a way that doesn’t say “Wrong”, but give you more of a “Not yet” feeling.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Let people know what to do!

In software, this can be in form of little popups or buttons and text that stand out in size or color. Sometimes, a progress bar or badges that a user has yet to achieve will help the user know what needs to be done.

Updating the menu at the top of your website to only show what you want them to do next can make things clear why they are there. Updating the home screen or overall user interface are other options as well.

Also, be careful with “guides”. While Microsoft’s Clippy had good intentions, he quickly became annoying. Not just because of the bad AI that got stale after multiple use, but because he was also the one telling us we were doing things wrong and trying to correct us. It felt like a judging parent watching and waiting to critique what we write.

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Clippy! The glass tapping would scare the beetlejuice out of me. Smh

In brick and mortar or in-person businesses, floor/hanging signs can always help when a customer first walks in.

Sale items? New items? Restrooms? The more simple and useful info we get — the more we can let our metaphorical hair down.

Layout of the store can help too! An empty lobby with a clear path to a desk can give clear direction to come to the desk for assistance.

Roadblocks

You have to be careful with roadblocks or re-directions, because they have to align with the next task or list of tasks that need to be completed AND stay on brand.

A pizza place in Big Bear mountains had a big chalkboard that read “No Wifi. Talk to each other!”. This gave me a big smile, because I did have bad cell phone service, but I was given a clear re-direction that reminded me why I was there to begin with…to talk in-person with the person that was with me.

The person was my wife, so I’m sure she appreciated the phone being put away!

3. Creating A Mental Model

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When you start a new journey, there’s a key moment that will determine if you continue. The “I wonder” moment. And the “Okay, I got it!” moment.

Treat mental models like a hit song. You want a setup that intrigues and a catchy tune that will make them say “Okay, I got it!”.

Sometimes, you’ll find software or businesses selling too many things that make it feel like they’re cramming 5 albums into one, when all they needed was to create that one, easy, and repetitive tune to remember.

WHAT THEY DO:

The video game creates this mental model of excitement with patches of grass. This is the “I wonder” moment. For a split second you wonder IF a Pokemon will appear and WHAT type of Pokemon will appear. These mental models pop up quite a bit in life and quite a bit in Pokemon.

  • Unexpected wild pokemon in designated areas
  • Unexpected trainer battles, but repetitive setups (only when you are close enough and cross their eyeline)
  • New towns, but you always have PokeCenters and PokeMarts (Like seeing a Starbucks or McDonalds in a new city. Comfort in familiarity)

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

For software, your customer or client might wonder “Will they have X feature” or “Will this integrate with my current life/work flow”? Then…boom! You achieve both goals and mental model created.

It’s important to use mental models from existing mainstream sources as well to not cause fatigue for users or customers.

In brick and mortar or in-person businesses, it’s easy to do a cookie cutter template. Some mental models like what to expect from a restaurant are built-in…but can also be spiced up to add a new mental model.

Example Time!!!

You look for a Mexican restaurant and find one called “Yellow Salsa Tacos”. You wonder… “What is yellow salsa and do these guys sell tacos with it on?” You walk into the restaurant and find they do indeed have tacos with yellow salsa on them. You just achieved your goal of creating a mental model for this customer! But be careful…now they will wonder if your chips and salsa will have yellow salsa instead of red. Guess what…it does! Wow. This place is pretty cool. We should come back!

And now I’m hungry for a fictional place…please contact me if you build it.

4. Sense of Responsibility

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If you’re a parent, I don’t have to explain this section too much. Also…congrats on being an awesome parent that’s trying to be supportive and loving the best way you know how!

Giving someone responsibility of something can change how they react to their environment.

Emotional support animals are a good example. Also, it is important to give the user or customer a way to take care and grow what you gave them.

WHAT THEY DO:

In the game, Pokemon doesn’t just start you off with everything you need. You must first visit the Professor’s lab where he can give you a little creature to take care of and a new piece of technology (Pokedex).

While a new environment can be scary, imagine hopping off a flight in a foreign country and a friendly scientist asks you to take care of a special breed of dog that you selected and gives you a new type of cell phone to help you navigate.

Each creature has their own meter that tells you if they are close to fainting, are poisoned/paralyzed/etc, and their joy level.

Feedback is important because we need ways to know if we are doing well in taking care of something. Whether it be a profile, a child, or a pocket monster. This is a quick breakdown of some things the game provides to give you sense of responsibility:

  • A starter Pokemon
  • A place to go “fix up” your Pokemon if they are injured/fainted (PokeCenter)
  • A place to make them stronger and test abilities (gyms, other trainers, wild pokemon areas, etc)
  • A way to gauge how you and your pokemon are doing (level of pokemon, money, badges, map, pokedex)
  • A nursery and ways to breed baby pokemon

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Give your customer’s something to be responsible for and lay out the responsibility. I can give you a cardboard box, but it won’t mean anything to you until I clearly lay out the responsibility attached to it.

“Hold this box filled with dinner plates, while I lay down this bubble wrap. We need to mail it to Fred and Ethel for their wedding gift.”

Responsibility = Why

In software, we’ve seen this done by having badges or scores attached to user profiles. This is done to virtually display knowledge, discipline, or some sort of success in nurturing and taking care of your followers/subscribers/other members within the community.

In brick and mortar or in-person businesses, this can be as simple as a business card or information transfer. In this case, the person’s information or the relationship as a whole can be seen as “something to take care of”.

If you sell physical products, the item a customer leaves with can be seen as the “something to take care of”.

If you really want to go a step further, then the “something to take care of” can actually be the user’s image/reputation (if you focus on branding). This route allows customers to align with your company’s high end status, because they want to be seen as high end. Or they align with your cutting edge technology, so you always have to be new and first. Or they align with your rebellious spirit, so you have to make sure you do things different. So you better take care of that brand!

Taking care of people you love is another “thing to take care of” so selling a product/service that helps the user “take care of someone” like their kids or their spouse can also give them a sense of responsibility.

If your product or service gives to charities, then laying out how you give can be another sense of responsibility where the user aligns with your generous brand AND feels like they are taking care of something/someone.

5. The Option To Learn About Yourself…And Be Yourself

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In the video game, there are many different types of pokemon and pokemon moves. It’s like a big virtual chess game that allows you to customize and learn more about yourself. I had no idea I liked fire and ghost type creatures so much, until I started playing pokemon. I’ve met friends, who love rare pokemon with special colors (shiny pokemon). I have other friends that are more strategic and collect whatever will help them win.

WHAT THEY DO:

The point is, the game gives you options. It feels like a safe environment to be yourself. Here are a few examples of Pokemon giving you freedom to learn about yourself and be yourself:

  • Pick your own name
  • Pick your first pokemon (Give it a nickname!)
  • Pick which pokemon you want to attempt to capture
  • Pick which pokemon hang out with you and which ones go in a box (sounds weird…I know)
  • Pick which moves your pokemon gets to learn or forget
  • Pick if you want your pokemon to change form and evolve
  • Pick which types of items you use in battle

Etc…etc….etc…

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Offer options. Color options, menu options, subscription options, sizing options, etc.

In software, I’ve seen websites use quizzes that make learning about yourself, or what you are looking for, fun. I’ve seen options for themes, dark mode, ways to sign-in, ways to share, etc.

In brick and mortar and in-person services, some of the common “options” are:

  • Ways to pay (Apple Pay, Crypto, Google Pay etc)
  • Ways to interact and shop (online/in-person/drive-thru)
  • Ways to get help (Help buttons, Phone calls, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Direct Messages)
  • Ways to hold purchases (paper/plastic/personal bag)
  • Time of day to come in AKA hours of operation (Kinkos actually became known because they stayed open later — got to love that option!)
  • A place to sit (indoor/outdoor seating)

Some more unique ways include: Option to interchange ingredients based off preference or lifestyle (vegan, non-diary, diet etc). Financial options (Different tier levels for gym/service memberships)

That’s It!!!

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You did it!! Congratulations on making it to the end of the article. Cue the confetti — now take these reminders or new knowledge and do something AWESOME with it! Thank you for taking this journey with me and come back if you need a new pokedex…err…I mean a PokeRefresher.

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Erick Lopez

Written by

Latino Actor (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Tech CEO/Cofounder (Bizzy App). I write things about entertainment, LatinX culture, and tech!

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +719K people. Follow to join our community.

Erick Lopez

Written by

Latino Actor (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Tech CEO/Cofounder (Bizzy App). I write things about entertainment, LatinX culture, and tech!

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +719K people. Follow to join our community.

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