Friday, February 15, 2008

7 Things Second Life Can Teach Us About Marketing

Second Life is a dangerous place for ad agencies and brands; you can be pilloried, boycotted, picketed and even fire-bombed. This passionate community of people demand to be spoken to as individuals; they require a fair value exchange for their time, they react badly to being lumped into groups and they are vocal about their bad and good experiences. Brands need to tread carefully in the new age of… wait….hold on a second, brands need to behave in exactly the way they used to before mass media, demography, laziness and discipline fragmentation made it easier to broadcast our message at people rather than talk with them about it.

At the mention of Second Life, Twitter, Widgets, Wikis or any other “Web 2.0” application people often undergo a marketing (and common sense) by-pass. As a result, a lot of nonsense is peddled around the communications industry, usually to the detriment of brands who are paying people a lot of money to explain to them how best to use it.The most damaging nonsense is the idea of a ‘new socially connected digital consumer’ who operates in a hyper connected, cyber world of his own and who, shrouded in mystery is making everyone nervous.

Firstly there is no such thing as the ‘digital consumer’. There is no great mystery about how they think and what they want. Secondly these consumers are doing exactly what people have been doing for thousands of years – communicating with each other.

The fact that technology is enabling them to communicate with each other faster, over distance, over mobiles and in 3D worlds is being perceived as something dangerous, unique and extraordinary, something that it needs to be controlled and pinned down. People talk to each other – they always have. They are talking the same language and saying the same things, they are just not necessarily sitting in the pub talking to 1 or 5 people but doing it online to 15 or 5,000.

What “Web 2.0” has highlighted is that it is even more important for brands to step away from the ‘top down’ broadcast thinking; where marketers tell consumers what they should be thinking and buying. Instead, we have to realise that the interaction and conversation that really counts is the one taking place between consumers over time, across multiple channels. In a way it has made things more difficult for brands and marketers. But whilst the digital age has given people more ways to have conversations it has also made it so much easier for agencies to find out what these conversations are about and who is talking to each other. Agencies need to be thinking about how to influence, inform and stimulate the conversations that are already taking place. They need to find the important and influential people in these conversations and work with them.

It’s even more important than ever to come up with a good idea. An idea that can work across all channels and where each channel can communicate a different, self-contained element of the brand narrative but in combination with exposure to others will build to create a larger brand world. A 360 idea.

We need to realise that as advertisers, we are no longer initiating the conversation with consumers – we are trying to become part of the conversation that these people are already having with each other.

More and more the values of brands will spread not through mass media but through the networks of humans talking to each other.

Whilst in the past 35 years the marketing landscape and the tools available have changed, ‘Web 2.0’ applications have reminded us that consumer behaviour and many marketing basics remain the same. The most basic rules being trust & respect.

We are getting a sneak preview of how this new relationship between brands and consumers is likely to play out and is perhaps most evident in environments like Second Life.

What is Second Life
Second Life is an Internet-based virtual world. Developed by Linden Lab, a downloadable program enables its users, called "Residents", to interact with each other through avatars, providing an advanced level of a social network service combined with general aspects of a fully immersive 3D virtual space.

Residents can explore, meet other Residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade items and services from one another. Second Life's virtual currency is the Linden Dollar (Linden, or L$) and is exchangeable for US Dollars in a marketplace consisting of Residents, Linden Lab and real life companies. Turnover averages US$2 million a day.

As of May 2007 more than 5.2 million people inhabit the online world and at any one time some 25,000 "Residents" are online.

London, Tokyo & Ibiza Flooded
Adventure Ecology was founded David de Rothschild and promotes respect and responsibility for the Planet, its environment, species and peoples by developing a greater connection with nature and an understanding of the Planet's greatest challenge: Climate Change. What better place to highlight the potential devastating effect of climate change than Second Life, a virtual world.

On the 4th April Ogilvy, on behalf of Adventure Ecology, flooded low lying areas of Second Life including London, Tokyo and the Netherlands. The hyper connected Residents, blogged, posted pictures and filmed the event carrying the message to marketing, environmental and main stream press and ultimately stimulating millions of conversations globally.

However as Second Life is a virtual environment where each territory in is owned and controlled by individual Residents, holding large-scale "public" events are very tricky. Likewise Residents are a passionate, marketing savvy and, on occasion militant when not being treated with enough respect by brands.

Creating the watery catastrophe was therefore no small feat and in the process we learnt a considerable amount about how to approach marketing in Second Life.

Go Native
The first task was to really understand the environment and the Ogilvy team spent hours in Second Life understanding the dynamics, the technology but most importantly, meeting and talking to Residents.

Through the investigation we identified Anshe Chung, the largest real estate developer in Second Life and the first US Dollar Second Life Millionaire, and approached her company to help stage the flood. Then our technology team worked with developers in Hong Kong and Boston to understand the logistics and the technologies in having total control of the environment and how to raise sea levels with no lasting damage to property or Residents.

Create an Authentic Experience
The best corporate participants do things that enhance the Second Life experience. The night before the flood was due to go live details and relevant SLURLs (Second Life URLs) of the places where Adventure Ecology Avatars would be were sent to the various contacts we had made in world. This ensured we had several hundred Residents participating in the event.

Be Part of the Conversation
During the floods, which were temporary and caused no lasting damage, Adventure Ecology and Ogilvy had avatars on hand to explain what was happening and how to stop such events from occurring in the real world and to direct Residents to the Adventure Ecology website for more information. The feedback was fantastic with Residents offering unanimous support and some even their real estate for future flooding and even media space in their shops and on their buildings.

Ready, Fire, Aim.
Given that this was the World’s first mass event in Second Life we had no indication of the level of participation, the type of feedback and how the event would develop. There were no best practise case studies and we had to optimise and adapt on the day. During the flood several Residents mentioned that they liked the Adventure Ecology T-shirts our avatars were wearing so with a few key strokes we made them available and started handing them out so residents could show their support by wearing them.

Find the Influencers & Seed Clouds
Even though we reached a relatively small number of Residents, they are all hyper connected with many maintaining their own blogs or sites. Within hours of the event photographs and coverage were posted across the web. These in turn were picked up by ecology, marketing and news sites including Shots, Contagious, National Geographic, The Guardian, The Independent and Reuters.

Apply New Measures
Reach, frequency, share of audience and even click-through and conversion rates are not the right measures for social media campaigns. The Second Life flood did reach millions of people and visits to Adventure Ecology’s site increased by over 100% but more importantly the event stimulated thousands of conversations. Adventure Ecology mentions in the blog-sphere increased ten fold during the campaign and has remained high since with all of the coverage positive.

Get a Second Life
Whilst many decry Second Life and its relevancy for brands stating the small population, limited reach, its inability to scale, the passionate audiences, the sheer difficulty of positioning the message in just the right way to enhance the environment and peoples enjoyment of it. I would argue that this is precisely what makes Second Life in particular and many other web 2.0 applications the perfect place for marketers.

It gives us a glimpse of the new marketing dynamic which is here to stay.



Anonymous said...

Not for nothing, but - most people would support what you did, since it was not about a 'product'. It wasn't 'marketing'. It was awareness, and was tactful guerrilla advocacy/activism within a virtual environment.

I must admit I was a little surprised that you started with Anshe Chung. Of course, keeping her name in the press does seem like a bit of a potlatch. I would have started with InfoIsland and other NGOs, myself. But I didn't do this, so...

In all, it was quite well done. As someone involved in real world advocacy and activism on many different levels, I applaud this.

But I offer, once more, that this was not marketing.

Anonymous said...

Great post which summed up a lot of important points. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is a great example of marketing. Marketing is reaching and engaging with an audience that is interested in what one has to say.
Policy organisations, think tanks, and (for good or bad) military organisations have been creating practice situations online for years to enable members of the organisation to test their real world skills. Social activist groups are starting to get involved. There is currently an Israeli/Palestinian created IT video game that allows consumers to plan and implement a Middle East peace process. This may prove to be a more effective way of promoting peace than the less interactive news media, which only lets people read about what the influential politicians are doing. Allowing people to participate in scenarios promotes (dare I say markets) an awareness of the complications of real world problems that more one-sided mainstream media cannot.

Anonymous said...

This is pretty amazing. I come from a background of professional video gaming (no joke) and I am constantly amazed at what this industry has evolved into. Now I know, this is NOT a video game....but....maybe it is.

In any case I think this is a great example of being aware of contemporary mediums, utilizing them in a way that is not offensive to the already existing community that surrounds them, and making them a viable target audience. Well done.

On a side note I was attending a PAF event just a couple of weeks ago and noticed that W+K was speculating on usage of an orb that allowed users to embed 3d video into their Second Life experiences. Thus allowing them to potentially post a 3d video of the NBA All Star Game. I don't know if this went anywhere, but that seems a bit more advertising centric as opposed to awareness driven. Potentially making it less interesting and up for debate as to how 'real' a Second Life experience it is.

Anonymous said...

What a great article! I'm going to direct this to our clients. My name is Bibe Mayo and I am VP of Wilder PR Firm, Inc. which is an in-world PR firm. We are very excited to be on the forefront of this fascinating new experience in marketing.
I like that you made it straightforward, this will definitely be going on our list of what to watch.
Thanks again,
~ Bibe Mayo

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