With over ten million downloads to date and an average usage time of 43 minutes, Nintendo’s Pokémon Go game is perched at the pinnacle of pop culture. There are several businesses cashing in – sellers, resellers, advertisers, bloggers – all positioned to take advantage of the game’s massive success. It also leaves a lot of retailers and marketers on the outside looking in, asking two big questions: ‘How do I see something like this coming?’ and ‘How can I make this work for my business?’
It’s sometimes difficult to understand why these mega-trends happen. Something like a ‘Star Wars’ release or the Super Bowl, those are no-brainers. But when we look back on the more unsuspecting success stories, everything from Furbies to Fifty Shades of Grey, we don’t really find a universal tie, that definitive data point that predicts a colossus.
While we can’t always see the future, we can prepare for it. And we can certainly capitalize on it when it becomes our present. I’ve laid out a few primary ways to foresee and take advantage of these sorts of social phenomena.
Stay Ahead of the Game
You want to be part of the story, not one of the people talking about it. Create a go-to cache of resources and consult them every day. Seek out sites that consistently cover stories BEFORE they’ve hit the mainstream. In a search for ‘Pokémon Go’ targeting the week before its release, one finds that very few large news sites had reported on it. There is, however, this piece from the tech-centric SlashGear touting Go as the best game EVER. It took a group truly in-the-know to see Pokémon Go’s potential.
Swim Outside the Mainstream
Make sure you’ve got varied resources. Sites that are dedicated to their topics go so much deeper into their specific niches. Consulting a gamer site, a tech reviewer or a fashion blogger will yield much richer information than a pass through Yahoo News. Go past news and topic sites and get directly at people themselves. Visit forums, post replies, build relationships with people who have genuine insight.
You may even want to venture out into the world itself and attend an event like Comic-Con. Comic-Con isn’t only a source for tapping into social phenomena, it’s a phenomenon in and of itself. When founded in 1970, very few would have thought that it’d grow into the cultural behemoth it is today. Those who did see Comic-Con coming likely saw the wave of pop geekdom that followed it. These are the fanboy millionaires of today.
Once you’ve amassed a strong base of knowledge and dependable resources, you can plan accordingly. You don’t have to act on every lead out there, but you should be prepared. The cultural events that surprise us typically yield the most opportunity IF you can get in early. When it comes to something like Pokémon Go, the path becomes apparent. If you’re a retailer, you need to obtain franchise products and complementary goods. If you’re a marketer, you have to get in front of the Pokémon audience or leverage its brand to make it work for you.
But sometimes capitalizing on a cultural event is a little more nebulous. Let’s say you pulled this data piece polling what eBay users are anticipating at this year’s Comic-Con. You’d see that there are two new TV shows, Mr. Robot and Preacher, topping the list with the upcoming Suicide Squad film coming in third. While you’re likely not involved in film and television distribution, these things still have a massive impact on you and the retail/marketing world. Toys, games, apps, media, fashion, services – in today’s market a cultural phenomenon touches all of these things. Retailers, marketers, content producers and influencers all need to assume a voice that speaks to this material if they want to harness its place in the zeitgeist.
Use Social Channels to Engage
When something becomes a social phenomenon, it creates an instant community. A little world all its own – complete with customs and rules. It’s hard to break into these worlds with conventional marketing tactics as they often defy these rules. People don’t want to be marketed to when they’re enveloped in their community; but they do want to communicate. And if you’re offering something that they want, they probably want to hear about it too. Consider social media the common language of these worlds. It’s a way to transmit your message without interfering with your receiver’s experience.
People come to love these phenomena in their lives – whether they’re games, events, movies, books or even commercials. Ultimately, it takes some degree of appreciation to understand it and make it benefit you. Having good taste and true instinct are invaluable when it comes to recognizing something great and finding a way to play a role in it.
Tim Calpin is the CMO of ChannelApe.