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Eight lessons from Pokémon GO for life sciences digital leaders - part 1

Pokémon GO, the sensational app with over 500 million downloads[1] and mega-viral social media status, has allowed people to walk billions, yes billions, of miles in ‘accidental exercise’ catching Pokémon. Despite launch woes, the mobile game’s user base has grown tremendously since its launch shattering five Guinness World records[2]. By combining nostalgic gaming experiences with a simple yet effective design and some cool augmented reality (AR) technology into the mobile digital-data realm, you increase your chances of reaching viral stardom from users and commentators alike. 

Behind the scenes at Niantic Labs/Nintendo/The Pokémon Company, enormous effort continues to go into getting releases out across several countries – ensuring tip-top app performance, mitigating bugs, dealing with hacks and of course, innovating. It is quite easy to see the high complexity, high risk and high potential returns dynamic at play here. Experience does count as Niantic Labs has ventured here before with Ingress which launched three years ago [3] But it was not at this scale, so it must have been an exciting challenge with new lessons learnt. 

For today’s pharma, biotech and medtech digital leaders, there are eight big lessons to learn from Pokémon GO when embarking on your next digital foray.  We cover these lessons in this two-part blog.

1.Design for the fundamentals

Given the significant advances in mobile technology, users still have to live with ‘constraints’ such as draining battery life, Wi-Fi coverage, data issues and even poor transportation networks to get to Pokestops. These factors continue to limit the potential number of users that can be reached, adoption and continuous usage of the game. With a growing plethora of patient support services, digital drug delivery devices and connected health tech today, such operational challenges must be considered and could be addressed through integrating customer journey maps, service architecture design and planning for multiple use cases and scenarios.

2.Create a Minimum Lovable Product (MLP) and grow ‘app stickiness’

The likes of Apple and Google continue to demonstrate that achieving a MLP constitutes the power of blending design, engineering and experiences to build a high-quality, successful digital product and service. Yet, love for life sciences apps pales in comparison to the likes of Pokémon GO which broke App Store records (or even Kim Kardashian’s app that has over 42 million downloads) [4]. Companies can take the route to develop in-house digital solutions development capabilities or outsource to agencies. The most downloaded app published by a pharma company, Sanofi’s GoMeals, boasts a mere 850,000 downloads [5]. App consolidation and leveraging existing popular platforms are essential to shift the balance of competition by generating insights from aggregated data that will ultimately inform development of high-quality, digital customer services.

3.Ensure quick, effective communication as user engagement time becomes even more limited

We can argue that life sciences apps are dedicated to a specific target user group, but with an average of 3 hours 15 minutes spent using apps in a day [6] (and declining), how can they compete with each other, the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram and daily life’s activities for the time real estate for their user’s engagement? The secret lies in building a deep understanding of user behaviour and routines, and designing your app experience to match such user lifestyles. Proxy studies such as ‘best times to share social media posts’ are insufficient to build such rich in-app and service experiences.

4.Know what users really want – do you have a service wrapper?

Does the Pokémon GO/Niantic Labs team know what users really want? Absolutely, 100% yes. And here’s the recipe: mix the appeal to the head with some cool augmented reality gizmo, sprinkle some appeal to the heart’s nostalgia, make it incredibly simple to use, create communities for users to engage with each other and trade experiences, add an element of competition and of course, the chance to win. Easy to replicate in the sciences? No – but also not impossible. Strides towards such nirvana experiences cannot be achieved by an app alone but through forming the right partnerships, providing real-life services and being truly passionate about users.

So what does this mean for digital leaders with business objectives? How can investment into creating great digital user experiences translate into improving your product sales, growing brand perception and developing user advocates that champion our products? We will explore these in the remaining four lessons in part two of this blog – stay tuned! 


[1] Apple special event keynote on the 7th September 2016
[2] Guinness World Records 
[3] Niantic labs blog 
[4] Fortune 
[5] FiercePharma 
[6] eMarketer















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