Pokemon Lessons

Imagine an energizing HI-USA National Conference attended by over 1500 hostel and travel enthusiasts, mostly our primary audience between 18 and 30, and staffed mainly by a cadre of long-time enthusiasts who are there because of their personal affinity for the event.

Pokémon provides an intriguing guide on how to realize it.

Welcome to the Indianapolis Convention Center and the three-day National Pokémon Championships for card game players.   I’m here kicking off a family vacation with my wife and sons (who are part of the under-16 crowd, which is outnumbered more than 2 to 1 by older participants.)    The 1500+ participants are not about the cartoons of your childhood, or the video game commercials now on television; they are about brain-twisting strategy.   And this blog post is more about a savvy market leader, Nintendo, which deepens its customer base through a well-conceived ladder of engagement.  

While the connection between hostels, travel and Pokémon is not so obvious, no one can dispute who dominates here: enthusiasts aged twenty-something.  And the spirit is contagious, infused with energy and collegiality.    In this convention hall, Nintendo is fueling its own movement, of a commercial sort.

How did Nintendo successfully move twenty-somethings to a major city Convention Center, from a kid’s cartoon show and colorful trading cards?   What might it mean for HI-USA’s efforts to keep travelers engaged at various stages of schooling and careers?

Here’s the word from the convention hall:

–   National and regional events are popular in part because they are free.   It’s felt to be as much about the welcome, as the limited disposable income of the age group (after all, participants pay for lodging and transportation).

–   Year round, local events help keep everyone connected.  While organized by independent partners (from parents to game stores, rather than Nintendo), the company provides plenty of support and materials.

–   Technology must be a primary engagement tool.   Corporate internet and web video are an important part of the formula; independent web sites reinforce the social network.

–   “Social” is important.    Connecting with those who they meet on the web is a reason for attending, and the promise of prizes and recognition keeps participants coming back.

With HI-USA in the process of retooling itself, we have looked broadly for worthwhile concepts and lessons, from an array of successful organizations. Nintendo certainly qualifies.  And Pokémon seems an intriguing (if unconventional) source of strategies for nonprofits like HI-USA that seek to more deeply connect with teens and twenty-somethings.


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