What Pokémon Go can teach us about corporate wellness

By Derek Newell, Jiff CEO

There’s no question about it, Pokémon Go has taken the country by storm.

Only two days after its release, the game was downloaded on 5.16 percent of all Android devices in the U.S. To put that in perspective, that’s nearing the number of downloads of Twitter – an app that has been around since the advent of the smartphone – and twice the number of downloads of the popular dating app Tinder.

But, it’s not just Pokémon Go’s download numbers that are impressive — it’s the user engagement rates. Only five days after its launch, according to data released by SimilarWeb, the game closed in on the same number of daily active users as Twitter. Moreover, Pokémon Go’s users are putting some serious time into the game. As of July 8, the app had an average daily use of 43 minutes and 23 seconds —20 minutes more than Instagram or Snapchat.

Even more impressive is what this game is getting people to do — exercise. The game’s augmented reality requires you to move around your house, neighborhood, or city to discover new Pokémon and battle “gyms”. Players are taking to social media reporting sore legs and surging numbers of daily steps counted on their Fitbits.

Even if you think this is a passing fad, it’s undeniable that this game is getting people to do what employee health benefits managers have been trying to get people to do for decades: get moving.

Employers and other health care payers may be confused because many have been struggling to see ROI from legacy wellness programs for years. Some of them even incorporate digital elements to get people engaged. But many of their wellness programs are failing to achieve the levels of engagement and effectiveness needed to result in a healthier, and thus less costly, workforce.

Just how is a mobile game getting people (many of whom are not regularly active) to adopt healthy behaviors so quickly and effectively?

To me, the answer is clear: gamification, mobile-first design, and social proof. In fact, these same pillars form the foundation for Jiff’s enterprise health benefits platform.

Pokémon Go users see real-time feedback, get rewarded for progress, and receive recognition for their achievements — the core elements of successful gamification. Finding the next Pokémon and advancing a level drives them to take more steps. Similarly, when we host a Jiff Challenge, racking up more points than coworkers drives employees to undertake healthy behaviors. What we have found is that when a health benefits program incorporates core elements of game design — from points and leaderboards to real-time incentives and teams — more people engage and keep coming back.

Pokémon Go users can play against their friends, read about others’ game experiences on social media, and explore their neighborhood finding Pokémon. All of this creates social proof — a community feel that encourages engagement. Jiff’s platform allows users to see what their coworkers and friends are doing, to share accomplishments, and to interact with their own personal health benefits program. The result? Higher engagement rates for Jiff users — 82 percent of users of Jiff Challenges log into the app at least once per day during an active program.

To fully achieve that engagement, we have to meet employees where they are — on their mobile devices. We are spending more and more time on our phones to do everything from chatting with friends across multiple channels, to making a deposit in our checking account, to playing Pokémon Go. Designing health benefits that are mobile-first allows employees to be able to engage with their health benefits wherever and whenever they’d like. But it also allows them to track activity and deliver real-time data on what’s working for them. But differently than Pokémon Go, Jiff is committed to protecting users’ data and adheres to the highest standards of user privacy.

For years, health benefits administrators have been trying to tackle one challenge: Engagement.

Higher engagement in health benefits ultimately results in a healthier, more productive workforce and reduced health care costs for employers and employees. In five days, Pokémon Go has shown them the principles for success.