The Value of Brand

By now the vast majority of people will have heard of the new Pokemon game – Pokemon GO, an Augmented Reality game playable on smart phones. For the sake of some of my confused colleagues (and naming no names) I’ll offer a brief explanation:

It’s a location-based game where you wander around trying to catch little creatures called “Pokémon” by throwing balls at them. Eventually, you will force these little creatures to battle against each other to conquer “gyms”, typically locations of some geographic interest, and stick your team flag on top of it. The three teams are in constant warfare to conquer – and hold on to – as many gyms as possible.

The game itself isn’t the interesting part for this blog post however (whatever my feelings are on the inevitable victory of Team Instinct and the domination that awaits us). The interesting part is the game that was (and still is) the precursor to Pokémon GO – Ingress.

The roots of Ingress are much the same as Pokémon GO – it’s a location-based game where you walk around trying to capture points of geographical interest (“portals”) with your team. There’s some different mechanics around the portals – gathering several allows you to form a triangle that cannot easily be broken by the opposing team – but fundamentally, it’s very similar. This is to the point where Niantic – the developer for both games – has simply ported over locations and pathways from Ingress to Pokémon GO.

Pokémon GO has had an estimated 75 million downloads in the 20 days it’s been available, with an estimated 26 million players active (logging in daily) in the US alone. Ingress has 400,000 active players (logging in at least once a month) and 10 million downloads in the 4 years it’s been available. The observant of you may notice a slight difference in those numbers.

The gameplay is relatively similar (although Ingress doesn’t have the advantage of enslaving adorable miniature animals to do your bidding in battle). The company is the same. The locations and the data are the same. And yet we’re talking about over seven times the downloads and over sixty times the number of active players. What’s prompting the difference?

The answer is, of course, the brand attached. Ingress is a new game with no brand attached, Pokémon GO the follow on to a twenty year, wildly popular series. Despite a number of flaws in the new game, most notably server downtime, people are willing to tolerate it for the sake of a brand they loved as a child (it is interesting to note that the vast majority of Pokémon GO players seem to be between 25 and 30). The value of the name attached far overpowers the value of the game itself.

This can be seen in a number of large companies worldwide – Coca-Cola’s brand is valued at around $58.5 billion, over a quarter of its market cap at $197.14 billion. Apple’s brand is valued at $154.1 billion. Toyota values its brand at $42.5 billion. Disney, $39.5 billion. The brand can make the company.

Start-ups often focus on product, and on shipping as fast as possible. It’s worth remembering though that your brand is one of the most valuable parts of your business that you’re building – and will last you through any number of products, markets, and countries.


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