Monday, July 16, 2007

Traditional Marketing in Second Life doesn't work

I recently attended a conference in Second Life (SL) led by Macarthur Foundation president, Jonathan Fanton, and CEO of Linden Lab and founder of SL, Philip Rosedale. They had an engaging conversation about opportunities for philanthropy, education and business in SL. Someone asked Philip Rosedale to comment on the lack of measurable success real life businesses experience by redeploying its brands in SL.

He said to be successful businesses need to adapt to the culture in SL. He cited Amazon as an example of a company that adapted to internet culture and found great success. Before a company decides to do business in a foreign country, it studies social mores and customs to encourage effective communication. Why should SL be any different?

I recommend to companies thinking of colonizing SL with its brand to engage the community and encourage participation, both asynchronously and synchronously. One of my favorite corporate islands is Mercedes-Benz.

The dealership and grounds are well designed and interactive. Visitors can test drive cars as well change colors of the showroom models. There are multimedia features such as movies and music. My favorite features are the driving course and interactivity. Touching certain objects prompted pop-up windows containing links to specific areas of the company website.

I could also buy a Mercedes to drive in Second Life but regrettably, will pass on that one; I’m a terrible SL driver and why drive when I can fly?

We live in a culture of pro-consumerism. It’s about giving people what they want when they want it. Maybe it’s information; maybe it’s products or services. Whatever it is, be prepared to provide it now and on the residents’ terms. If a brand is already prolific in the real life marketplace, it isn’t going to be well received in SL. According to Philip Rosedale, companies need to be “able to contribute to the world itself or give people tools to make their experience powerful.” Companies can accomplish this by empowering the community.
Here are some ideas:

- Set up internships
- Set up focus groups
- Involve the community in helping to build your presence such as content development contests
- Think education and collaboration – what could a company do to educate its particular public and encourage collaboration?
- Involve the community!

I have been consulting with many companies who want to take the traditional approach to marketing its products in SL. One of them suggested an avatar walking around in a t-shirt with the company logo. Giving those cool t-shirts away including a landmark to the company SL headquarters is a better approach and more effective.

Lastly, real people manage avatars and are most likely consumers of popular brands. So instead of trying to repeat real life marketing strategies in SL, introduce existing customers to a whole new level of interaction by inviting them to the company island. A SL url or Slurl, on a website is a way for people to access the company island. Customer service island can be a great feature for customers waiting to speak to a customer service representative. Maybe even interact with a customer service rep in SL.

Second Life can be a powerful tool for companies if they are willing to adapt to the environment, are patient and experiment.

Recently, Wagner James Au published a great article on marketing in SL for GigaOM.