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What can your website strategy learn from the largest media franchise in the world?

It’s November 2001, and a young Jordan is taken to a Toys R Us store by their parents. While busy looking at the toys, he doesn’t notice his father buying a Pikachu-themed Game Boy Color and a copy of Pokemon Crystal.

The family return to their car, and Jordan boots up the Game Boy, struggling to see anything in the dark car on the drive home. He picks his starter Pokemon and so begins a 22-year obsession with a simple game franchise.

As you can probably tell, I have a fond memory of that game. I remember my mum telling me not to take my Game Boy to school, and then telling me off that same evening when she found it in my school bag.

I remember playing nothing but that game for years, until I got a new Pokemon game. And I remember how, when I was still young and not clued up on how to actually play the game, I would just use my starter Pokemon to brute force my way through the game, only to reset it once the credits rolled.

Almost anyone who grew up and played Pokemon at the time will be able to tell you something about those games. Whether it was playground rumours or their favourite Pokemon, they will have at least one fond memory of a game that was released more than 20 years ago.

So, what does this have to do with your website?

Over the past two decades, the Pokemon games haven’t been the same. They have been constantly evolving, and changing up how they appeal to the kids of the day. This constantly evolving user base is not too dissimilar to websites.

The best websites of 2001 are among the absolute worst of 2024. So, what can the Pokemon games teach us as the franchise enters its 28th year of game development?

Set a solid foundation and build on it

When Pokemon first released the sprites (images) of the Pokemon, they were low quality and the choice of attacks you could teach your Pokemon were limited, However, both were extremely well done for the time and the technology available.

And, over time, the sprites became higher quality, eventually becoming 3D. Moreover, the list of moves a Pokemon could learn has grown with every game release as the hardware the games were released on has improved.

Your website is the same. When your website is first launched, it will (hopefully) look great, and will do everything visitors to the site expect it to do. However, as time goes on, the images you used may start to look a bit dated, people visit the site on different devices which don’t display it correctly, or the services listed on your website no longer match what you do.

A website isn’t a static piece of information, but instead should be ever-evolving; reflecting both your business and also your users.

If I gave my niece a copy of Pokemon Crystal, I’m sure she would get bored instantly because the games on her mum’s iPad have better graphics and have more engaging gameplay loops.

But if I give her a copy of Pokemon Scarlet, the latest Pokemon game, she will be met with brighter colours, and see the Pokemon in greater detail. The latest Pokemon games have many flaws, which any long-standing fan could rant about for hours. But even with their flaws, they manage to keep up with what a modern audience is looking for.

Your users are the same. If they come across a site that was built in the 2000s, or even the early 2010s, they may feel as if they’re stepping back in time.

Instead, they should be thinking about the message you want to be sending; what you can do for them, and why you are the right planner/adviser for their needs, instead of thinking if you’re still in business because of how old your website appears to be!

As such, the occasional touch-up on your site, whether it’s updating images, changing layouts/colour schemes, or even full redesigns, should never be something you put off if you think the site looks a bit outdated. If you think that something looks a bit outdated, visitors to your site definitely do.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

When the Pokemon games moved to 3D they also trialled a new feature called “mega evolution”. This gave some fan favourite Pokemon a special Mega form, which was more powerful, and usually had a cooler design than the one fans already loved.

The feature was present for two generations of games before being removed, seemingly forever, and many fans miss it. However, the developers realised that fans enjoyed the difference to the core battle mechanics that mega evolution introduced, and have been implementing different battle gimmicks (as they are now referred to by the community) ever since.

Sometimes you may add things to your site that you later remove. But that isn’t a bad thing, as even something that doesn’t get much engagement can help steer your broader marketing strategy in a better direction.

Maybe you tried a “refer a friend” scheme and got no enquiries from it. Perhaps you added a fee calculator and realised that everyone who used it left the site shortly after? And that Christmas giveaway you tried last month only had two people enter?

All of these sound like duds but, instead, they create an opportunity for you to learn about what people coming to your website want.

For example, if people aren’t referring a friend, perhaps your incentive wasn’t appropriate, or the niche you’re in doesn’t lend itself well to such a scheme. However, you’ll only find this out by trying!

Don’t try to please everyone

This can be the hardest thing, especially internally. Perhaps director wants the website to have a blue background, but that doesn’t line up with what everyone else wants? Someone is going to have to be disappointed.

Pokemon fans have been very vocal about many changes they wish to see made to the series for years. Some of these eventually make their way into the games, but many seem to fall on deaf ears.

This is because the changes many fans want either don’t align with the vision the developers have for the games, or would make the games no longer something the target audience would enjoy.

You must think similarly when it comes to your website. If you have someone telling you the font size is too large, but you know that most of the clients you deal with are in the later years of their lives. That large font could be exactly what they need to help potential new clients learn about what you do, and how you could help them.

The job of your website is, often, to show both existing and new clients that you’re the right firm for them. This may take compromise.

Dare to be different

Pokemon games have very much felt like they are lagging behind other popular games, from a lack of voice acting to criticism of the depth of their stories. Yet, people around the world still love the series, and can’t wait for the next game to be released the moment it’s announced.

Whilst voice acting has been a staple in big-budget games for almost 20 years, the main series of Pokemon games leave this behind, and keep a silent protagonist, to allow the player to self-insert themselves into the role of the playable character.

Although websites are a different form of media, you don’t need to follow the conventions and norms. The ones which stand out do something different than their competitors.

Maybe you want to give the myth about the fold a little test. Or maybe you’re proud of what your clients say and want to put that at the top of the page, before anything about the company.

You may find that by trying to be different, you don’t get the results you hoped for. And this brings us back to experimentation. It may never be perfect, but as long as you and your users are happy with it, that’s all that matters.

In generation five of the Pokemon games, they released a new game where you couldn’t catch anything from a previous game during the main story. This was something that they had never done before, and haven’t done since. Fans grow to love pre-existing Pokemon, so removing the ability to get them upset a lot of people when they realised it wasn’t possible.

That unique idea you have could be a complete flop. Or, you could send ripple effects through the industry as other planners and advisers take note, and implement something similar on their sites.

It’s almost certain new Pokemon will be released every few years, as is the case with website design trends. You can reminisce about the days, in the back of a Rover Metro, driving home from Toys R Us. But don’t forget to think about what’s happening today, and what changes may come in the future.

Get in touch

If it’s time for you to update your website, and you don’t know the difference between a Flareon and a Jigglypuff, we can help.

Email or call 0115 8965 300.

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