Niantic’s Pokemon Go got millions of people walking, running, riding bikes and skateboards. If you’re in fitness and wellness, you ought to be asking:
Why didn’t we do that?
These are the lessons that the Pokémon Go phenomenon offers the health, fitness and wellness industry:
1. Think “games” vs “fitness apps”
Too many health and wellness professionals excel at turning fitness into work. We treat gamification as a means to an end, a tool, not an objective in itself.
When I first got into the pool as a kid, it was fun. When I learned to swim as an adult so I could compete in Ironman events and ultra swim events, it was work. My swim coach had me doing ladder drills, stick drills and kick drills. He made me watch videos so I could see just how bad my form really was. I became a better swimmer, but I didn’t have fun and I didn’t enjoy it anymore.
Now imagine someone walking alongside you as you play Pokémon Go, telling you when you’re using the app wrong, picking on the fact that you passed up several PokéStops and didn’t go for the rare Pokémons when you leveled up or had a chance to hatch them.
Pokémon’s a game that just happens to require you to get up and move. Physical activity is simply the price you pay to have fun.
Fitness apps want you to track, report, learn, practice, analyze. Are these words you associate with fun? Sure, enthusiasts eat this stuff for breakfast, but it’s work to everyone else.
What if our industry built apps that were so much fun people didn’t even think about the fact they were (gasp!) walking, running or riding as they played the game?
2. Demand more from technology
Outside the fitness world, apps routinely use information about the user’s location and connections to other people to deliver a highly personal real-time experience. They know where you are, who and where your friends are, and use a rich array of sensor data to cue you to take action. Depending on the app, they might alert you to a nearby friend, make it easy to compete head-to-head or to check-in from different cities. They tap features as diverse as user-selected music, haptic feedback, ambient temperature detection, and more to make games like Pokémon possible.
Some fitness apps are GPS-aware, and some are socially aware. But very few actually take full advantage of the incredibly powerful features that exist on those networked, GPS-enabled pocket computers we call smartphones. Club apps often offer little more than basic club information and scheduling functions. Too many fitness apps offer little more than primitive workout logging. Compared to something like the Strava or Cyclemeter GPS cycling apps, or the Zombies, Run! app, they’re in the dark ages. And those cardio machines with a “virtual reality” interface? Still not much better than a 1980s video arcade game.
Augmented reality like that used in Pokémon Go is not new. The technology has been around since the late 1990s and generally available since about 2005. What’s new is that somebody figured out how to use existing tech to make an active game — and it wasn’t our industry.
Surround yourself with people who are interested in tech and who are paying attention to how tech is being used to connect with people and build relationships.
3. Pay attention to other industries
Industry conventions are useful — yet they shouldn’t be the only place you get information. Yes, you have to worry about competition — but you shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about the guy across the street that you completely miss sea changes in how consumers are thinking, acting, and engaging.
Part of the answer is to spend more time talking to people and businesses in other industries, looking more broadly for inspiration.
Instead of hiring a developer to build another fitness app, what would happen if a club owner approached a game developer and said, “Hey, how we could use this in our business?”
4. Stop obsessing about fads
You know those annual “201X fitness trend” articles that pop up every December and January? They represent a fad-centric culture of “what’s hot this year” that too often lacks an equivalent commitment to innovation.
Not one of those lists anticipated that the biggest fitness win EVER would involve people walking, riding, skating, climbing, running, and otherwise moving around at all hours of the day and night…trying to fling balls at imaginary creatures, evolve them, and hatch their eggs.
5. Move FAST
When Pokémon Go came out, issues immediately emerged. People had traffic accidents, rode their bikes into hedges, fell off cliffs, and the people who run the Hiroshima Memorial and Holocaust Museum complained to Pokémon that it didn’t seem appropriate to designate their venues as PokéStops. The company responded in near-real-time and made corrections.
Even better, they’ve already started adding new features, and the game’s only been out a few weeks in most countries.
This is the pace that other consumer industries move at. Hours, days, weeks — not months, years, decades. Think about how often your phone’s most popular apps get new features.
But that’s not the pace that many health and fitness businesses move at. In our industry, both big and small companies routinely take six months, a year, even more to create or update their programs. Others coast along for months or even years without making a single change (check out our article, Losing The Retention Battle: Is Your Wellness Business On Autopilot?).
Meanwhile, the world you operate in is changing around you.
6. Embrace engagement & reward
Successful games like Pokémon Go immerse players for hours and offer a non-stop flow of in-game rewards and accomplishment. People stay up late to play. They rush home from work to play. They compete against friends and strangers. And because Pokemon has their attention, the developer has countless opportunities to engage with players and learn about them and their actions and responses. This applies to anyone who can create an immersive, rewarding experience. You can use that information to enhance the game or app and connect with players / users even more deeply.
Pokémon Go’s developers didn’t focus on fitness and monetization. They started with a cool game concept that drew people in and rewarded them for playing. Everything else came later.
Most health and fitness app developers take the opposite approach. They don’t start with a cool concept. They start with a focus on fitness or other health metrics — reps, heart rate, calories, weight, blood pressure, carb grams, or other aspects that are more like homework than gameplay. Everything about the app is intentionally designed to remind people that it’s “good for you” even though for most people that’s the least compelling reason to do something.
And they’re obsessed with monetization. How will they turn use of the app into memberships, or referrals, or personal training appointments, or supplement sales?
How indeed, when there’s no immersive, enthralling experience?
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