Posted July 18, 2016

3 Ways Pokemon Go is Going To Change The Fitness Industry

Have you heard about this new game yet? If not, it’s all you’re going to hear about for a while.

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Pokemon Go was released a little more than a week ago to a select few countries, and over the course of about 48 hours it had more active users than Twitter. Let that sink in for a few seconds. One of the most popular websites in the world was dwarfed in a couple of days (this excludes all of the porn bots and dummy accounts, hopefully). Shortly after one of the most impactful referendum votes the world has ever seen, there were 30% more Tweets about Pokemon Go following it’s launch than about Brexit¬†during the referendum and following fallout. More than 3% of the American population¬† who use Android devices downloaded it within the first week.

The main gist of the game is that you have to walk around to collect hundreds of different characters in the game, and then power them up so that you can then have them battle against each other in “gyms,” special locations in each neighbourhood controlled by different characters. Some characters are only available in special locations, like near water or mountains, which means travel may help you get more and different characters.

Some of the special items are eggs, which can hatch to reveal new characters to add to your collection. In order to hatch these, you have to walk. Some take 5 km of walking, others may take 10. You can’t accumulate distance by driving unless you’re going very slowly, and GPS tracks your every step.

Love it or hate it, the world has never seen something that has engaged the public this much, this quickly, and reached such a fever pace so rapidly.

This isn’t to say the new augmented reality technology with GPS tracking and playable interface doesn’t have its problems. From robberies to people walking off cliffs or into oncoming traffic to the odd dead body, it’s made plenty of headlines for the wrong reasons. You could also say these issues have come up before from texting or Facebooking while on the phone too. Not paying attention to your surroundings isn’t really anything new, but this is a new focal point.

However, I don’t think any of this will slow the popularity or potential development of this game or other games, meaning it’s sort of like how Facebook came along and developed an entire way of being that didn’t exist beforehand. Who knew anything about social media prior to 2004?

One thing is for certain regarding Pokemon Go: It’s solved a massive problem that’s plagued western society for more than a generation. Our population as a whole is less active now than likely at any point in time, and all recommendations for physical activity are woefully unreached. This game has helped people get out and walk, which didn’t happen with millions of dollars devoted to government programs, educational initiatives, private corporations, or special interest groups. It’s given the young people a reason to get outside, without leaving their video games behind.

The BBC reported that the average user is playing this game for about 43 minutes a day. Most recommendations for physical activity are anything above 30 minutes of walking a day. THIS IS A BIG SUCCESS.

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Probably not an accurate calorie description, but still, more activity is the goal.

While it may seem like a very solitary venture, this is also developing a big community within itself. In my neighborhood there’s a lot of lakes and monuments, and apparently those are big deals in Pokemon, which means when I take my dogs for their evening walk, it’s been common to see dozens of small groups of friends walking around chasing their Pokemon characters. These groups see other groups and strike up conversations about hot spots, recent adventures, and where characters are hiding. This is the opposite of a solitary venture.

Because this is an emerging technology and concept, understanding it as an early adopter and influencer can go a long way. Sticking your head in the sand can be disastrous, especially if you want to capture any interest from this as a fitness professional to help people not only continue on with catching them all, but progressing their fitness to the next level or gaining more interest in your specific business. Even the National Parks system is encouraging people to chase their Pokemon.

What this means is that people are more interested in an experience of the activity than the specific outcomes. Most people know exercise is beneficial for them, and that they will feel better after exercising, but the act seems to get people stuck. This is helping people to be active without realizing it. Gaming the application of activity has changed how the fitness consumer accesses activity, meaning doing sets and reps with a barbell may not be that enticing to them. Sure, there will always be those individuals who prefer lifting weights, but they’re not the ones we’re concerned with. They’re already switched on and just need a space with equipment, reasonable gym fees and a good environment. Those exist.

I’m talking about the people who haven’t worked out, don’t want to work out, but now they’re getting active like never before, even if it’s something as simple as walking around. Understanding what drives these individuals and how you can help them continue to explore their environments and expand their fitness repertoire can go a long way to helping them find further success.

Because of these considerations, the fitness industry has a MASSIVE opportunity to take the Pokeball and run with it, so to speak. If an organization were to learn the lingo (what’s a gym, Pokestop, candy, and how in the Pidgey do you upgrade them all?) you could customize a marketing approach to garner interest and to create an experience that wouldn’t be available otherwise.

For instance, let’s say you run an outdoor bootcamp. This is a perfect opportunity to promote a type of scavenger hunt style session where participants race between Pokestops to collect bonuses and cover ground. You set some parameters like hit up X number of stops, cover Y distance as tracked by your hatching eggs, and aim to collect Z number of new monsters. You could outline the track by using lures on specific Pokestops that will glow radiate differently than others, and make it easy to follow, and maybe have stations of activity at each one, like 20 squats, 10 pushups, or whatever you wanted to do. After 30 minutes those lures expire, so you only have so much time to get through the series.

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If your location is near a Pokestop, you could promote that fact so people can come by to collect items. You could even drop a series of lures to promote people coming to your location for a set period of time. Say you’re interested in getting people into the gym for your quiet hours (like 9am-11am). You mention through your social media pages that you’ll be putting lures at the nearby stop for that timeframe, and all trainers (the name of players) should swing by to collect while they can, and if they come in for a workout and check in via social media, you’ll give them 10% off their drop in or order or whatever your business is interested in.

The creating of an experience is what’s going to help people want to continue, and if they come to you for a specific experience, and you deliver the goods, they’ll likely come back. The cost of this is next to nothing as well, and can help capture a massive market.

Next, trainers (in the game, not the kind like me who count reps) can pick and choose which businesses they want to frequent by their response to this. Some have outright annoyance over this new game, which is somewhat perplexing. I can understand places like museums and memorials, such as the US Holocaust museum issuing statements asking people to refrain from playing while there as it’s a bit of a solemn facility with a very grave topic, but most places would likely welcome an influx of active individuals looking to potentially access their services.

By turning their nose up to this, or even worse actively ridiculing or saying no one’s allowed to play while there or to get a life are missing the point. This is like Planet Fitness openly ridiculing bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. True, they have a right to capitalize on their market, and the market they’re choosing to exclude is somewhat small compared to the market they’re targeting, but this is somewhat of the opposite case where the market is growing, very rapidly, and very amped up to this new experience.

The consumer now has more power in determining where they want to go, and again it all ties back to the experience and helping them drive more benefit from it.

How can you potentially get someone to do more than walking through their neighbourhood? I hear other activities like running, roller blading, skateboarding, and others can help you cover ground more rapidly than walking, and therefore help you hatch your critters that much quicker. With all of this extra activity, there’s going to be the odd sore muscle and joint, meaning some advice on how to do some simple stretches for the legs and hips could go a long way if promoted properly through websites or social media. Maybe there will be some PokeRaces popping up people can train for, somewhat like the MudRun/Tough Mudder or Spartan Races.

So essentially, in addition to being a juggernaut of an app, this will change how fitness services are delivered, how businesses choose to market to individuals with a high-touch and experience-based concept, and alter how consumers choose to access fitness based on the perceived experience and community aspects related to this game. You can choose to ignore it and hope it goes away, or understand that just like Facebook, Twitter, and any other digital concepts once called “fads,” the staying power will come down to the user experience, which seems to be massive at the moment. Other iterations of this concept will come in time as well, meaning the fitness industry will likely have to flex to meet this new demand. The changes we’re going to see from it will be interesting at the least.