Yelp Is Helping Local Merchants Win At Pokemon Go. Here’s How

The mania isn't dying down, as Yelp, T-Mobile, Wendy's, Retale, and independent SMBs are latching on to the Pokemon Go craze.

It’s just over a week since the Pokemon Go craze hit the U.S. and local businesses are alternatively marketing to attract or repel players of Niantic’s augmented reality game.

To recap, the Pokemon Go mobile app game prompts users to turn on location services, which enables a GPS-powered map that directs players to real-world locations where they can go out and find Pokemon characters Venusaur, Charizard, Blastoise, and Pikachu. After reaching the specified place, players point their smartphone cameras to “reveal” Pokemon in the real world. At that point, a player shoots a ball toward the creature to “capture it” and collect medals.

As users make their way to designated spots to make their captures and do their battles, there are “Poke Stops” pinned to actual physical locations where players can grab items. “Native environments” like lakes or parks, as well as grocery stores, museums, churches, malls, and even street signs can serve as a Poke Stop.

Over the past week, bars have put chalk to sandwich boards outside their doors to invite Pokemon Go players inside.

Brother Jimmy's PokemonOn Friday, local guide platform Yelp began offering a search filter that would allow business locations to be officially designated as a “PokeStop.”

“As you head into a weekend full of wild Zubats and Charmanders, remember to open up your Yelp app or search for businesses with a nearby PokéStop,” wrote Will Cole, associate product manager for Yelp Product Management, in a company blog post.

Poke-marketing For Local Business

To do this on mobile or desktop, users simply search for a type of local business (“bars,” “restaurants,” etc.), swipe through the filter options at the top. They can then hit “PokeStop Nearby,” and get directions.

The PokeStop filter allows users to search for businesses with nearby PokéStops — similar to how you might search for a business that is “Good for Kids” or “Takes Reservations.” The filter is enabled on iOS and Android and is currently available in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.

The Pokemon craze is a great example of what can happen when mobile location technology is harnessed “the right way,” says Rob Murphy, VP of marketing for proximity platform Swirl Networks.

“Niantic has taken the mobile and physical worlds and effectively merged them into a fully integrated, seamless experience that creates value for consumers. In this case, that value comes in the form of entertainment,” says Murphy. “For retailers thinking about how to take advantage of this craze, or any other location-based mobile marketing opportunity, finding ways to create value for the consumer is critical.”

That value could come in the form of in-game integrations (for example, rewarding users with additional PokeCoins, stardust, candy or other items when they catch a Pokemon at your Pokestop (retail store)) or it could manifest in the physical location itself, Murphy adds.

To help its marketing clients capture that value, Yelp is also asking users to help other players spread the word about PokeStops as well.

“To identify a business that’s in the vicinity of a PokéStop, check-in to that location on Yelp and answer a quick question to let fellow Yelpers and trainers know that this is the place they want to be,” Yelp’s Cole writes. “In just the past 24 hours, Yelpers have already identified thousands of PokéStops! With your help, we’ll become Pokémon masters in no time.”

San Fran spors Bar The Polo Grounds is kind of indifferent to Pokemon Go. But it's a fine way to catch players' attention. - Photo Credit: Masha Geller.
San Fran spors Bar The Polo Grounds is kind of indifferent to Pokemon Go. But it’s a fine way to catch players’ attention. – Photo Credit: Masha Geller.

For businesses like The Polo Grounds, a sports bar located in the SoMa, South Beach area of San Francisco, Pokemon Go has become an amusing part of their street marketing.

In a small way, the Polo Grounds’ approach helps reflect a fun attitude with players as well as non-players. To Swirl’s Murphy, it’s all about communicating a broader tone about the indoor experience, whether it’s a bar or a retailer.

“Savvy retailers (and their agencies) are busy thinking of ways to extend the Pokemon experience to consumers when they arrive at their real-world store,” Murphy says. “Don’t be surprised if you soon see branded in-store signage, sweepstakes or exclusive in-store offers for game participants, mobile wallet offers beamed automatically to game users when they enter your store, and even multi-channel promotions that reward users for sharing photos of their in-store experience on social media.”

Mobile Marketing On The Go

While there’s been some trepidation regarding privacy issues associated with Pokemon Go Niantic, an augmented reality game maker that was spun off from Google last fall, would be gathering, the company has said that it is in the process of rewriting the app’s terms of service to reflect its more narrow marketing interests (specifically, Niantic, and its partners Nintendo and The Pokemon Company, say they only want basic Google profile information from users, as well as location data to help connect players in the physical world).

To ease worries about the amount of cellular data that players are using as they race around their cities, carrier T-Mobile is using the game as an opportunity to offer customers free, unlimited data for Pokemon Go.

There’s also a cross-promotion with quick serve restaurant chain Wendy’s.

Among T-Mobile’s Pokemon Go deal offerings include:

  • Free, unlimited data on Pokémon Go, so it won’t touch your high-speed data—for a full year
  • Free Lyft rides up to $15 to get to a new PokeStop or Gym
  • Free Wendy’s Frosty to fuel up for your hunting trip
  • 50 percent off select accessories – including portable power packs and chargers at T-Mobile stores – so you can keep on playing for hoursOn top of that, 250 people will each win $100 in PokeCoins, and five people will win a Pokemon Go hunting trip anywhere in the U.S. for themselves and a guest!

    “This is what T-Mobile Tuesday is all about – thanking customers with hot, new, totally free gifts every week, and right now, nothing is hotter than Pokémon Go!” said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile, in a statement. “With the carriers’ shared data schemes, players could easily burn up the family’s data bucket – and then, hello, overages! At T-Mobile, we’re unleashing Pokémon Go so our customers can play free for a year.”

Best PokeSpot Practices

Nels Stromborg, EVP of Retale, offers some best practices for businesses looking to capitalize on the poke-craze.

  • Learn about lures: Lures are an item in the Pokemon Go game that can be purchased and placed on any of the game’s many location-specific “PokeStops.” If your business is located on or near a PokeStop, placing a lure there will attract Pokemon – and subsequently, players – to your store. Perhaps add a flash sale or move merchandise outside to drive quick sales from anyone lingering around your lure.
  • Target the trainers: Take advantage of the knowledge that a large portion of your customers will be playing Pokemon Go – target them with Pokemon-related messaging and deals connected to the app. This is an excellent opportunity to get creative with customer engagement in your marketing channels.
  • Publicize your Pokemon: Even if you aren’t located near a PokeStop or a Gym, there will be Pokemon in and around your store. If you jump into the game for a bit and find something particularly interesting, promoting the find on your social accounts is a great way to incentivize visitors interested in catching the same Pokemon. This requires a bit more time and luck than the other tips, but announcing a particularly rare find could be the only Pokemon advertising you need.
About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.