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Publicize an Automaker in Second Life

Publicize an Automaker in Second Life

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TechDirt's Insight Community discusses real-world company/product promotion in the alternate reality game Second Life.
TechDirt's Insight Community discusses real-world company/product promotion in the alternate reality game Second Life.

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Published by: Mel on Aug 23, 2008
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06/16/2009

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Publicize An Automaker In Second Life

For additional insight from the Techdirt Insight Community, please contact Techdirt at http://www.insightcommunity.com or 888.930.9272

Table of Contents
The Issue Executive Summary Techdirt Insight Community Responses benmetcalfe ohashmi joeduck ericlin andrewjaypollack p.3 p.3 pp. 4-8 p.4 p.5 p.6 p.7 p.8

Publicize An Automaker inSecond Life

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The Issue
Publicize An Automake In Second Life While there have been many jokes about “getting a first life” when discussing Second Life, a few automakers (and a Presidential candidate) have created entities in the virtual world of Second Life. Assuming that a Second Life presence is desirable (i.e. don’t slam Second Life, please), outline a strategy for marketing a major automaker who is considering plans to expand its brand into Second Life. How should this automaker proceed now that competitors have a head start? Approximate costs for a plan to create an effective virtual marketing program, and estimate a timeline for growth.

Executive Summary
Effectively Using Second Life For Marketing The Techdirt Insight Community was tasked with helping an automaker enter the popular virtual community Second Life in order to better market its vehicles to members of the community. There were three key points that came out of the analysis. • It’s a community, interact with it: Almost everyone brought this up in one way or another. Recognize that Second Life is not just another marketing channel, but it’s a vibrant community whose success is based on the interaction between people. For that to work in a marketing environment, you need to embrace the interaction. It needs to involve real two-way communication, rather than just putting up some advertising and running away. It needs to involve engaging members of the community, listening to them and providing them with something of value for paying attention. • Build it and they might not come: Too many companies underestimate the effort involved in successfully working within Second Life. There is a belief that a “build it and they will come” attitude is enough. It’s not. Especially as more and more companies enter Second Life, simply announcing a presence within the community is not nearly enough. Beyond having a well-done and engaging presence, it helps to create some sort of reason for being there. Some of the community members suggested an event of some kind to attract initial interest. However, on top of that, you also need a reason for people to stick around and come back for more. Don’t overdo the branding and advertising, but make the place a welcome area for people to hang out, get to know each other and also find out something useful about your brand. • Give stuff away: This enhances each of the two points above as well. It may take some work to build objects within Second Life, but once created, the marginal costs are next to nothing, and giving the products away acts as a tremendous advertisement. Of course, it may depend on the object. In this case, with an automobile company, it’s easy to imagine giving away realistic cars, and perhaps asking users to come back to the Second Life dealership to help customize the car. All in all, there are effective strategies to entering Second Life as a brand – but it involves more than simply buying an island and throwing up a building. Understanding the details of these three key strategic points will help you better attain success within Second Life.

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Insight Community Responses
Response 1
You understandably asked not to ‘slam Second Life’... however I would start out by stressing that the affordances of SecondLife may or may not be suitable and appropriate for your business campaign and great care should be taken to decide whether SecondLife (SL) is a viable marketing option for you. It could potentially be a waste of money or even be detrimental to your brand. But that’s beyond the scope of your question and you have asked for advice assuming that SL is appropriate. As an ongoing observer and participant in this space, my overriding piece of advice would be to consider the virility aspect of your potential campaign. As more and more marketing campaigns are added to SL, the environment is becoming saturated and thus it is no longer safe to setup a virtual island and assume people will come visiting based solely on the buzz of having an island. Just like early web-based marketing activities which took place around a centralized website, many current SecondLife campaigns are currently centered around a single island or area. As you acknowledge there are already other automobile makers with presences in SL, so you must ask the question why someone would chose to visit yours over the competition? In the web environment, marketing matured into viral-natured campaigns to increase awareness, using forwarded emails for example, and I believe you should follow this concept should be explored in SL. For an automobile manufacture an appropriate SL viral campaign might be to re-create one of your cars in SecondLife and make it available such that SecondLifers are able to share and distribute your virtual car to their friends for free. Cars are a popular ‘virtual asset’ currently traded in SL for real money and people enjoy driving them around and using them as a status symbol within the SL metaverse.

TIC Expert: benmetcalfe
With this in mind, offering a free ‘official car from Company X’ would be of great interest. Given the nature of digital assets after the up-front cost of developing a virtual car, there is no additional cost however many times this asset is replicated. Once a SL user is given a copy of the car, information within the prim (the name for a SL object/asset) can alert the user that this is an official/authorized product and that they are invited to check out your official island/area to find out more and to give copies to their friends. It is easy to offer to teleport them instantly to your island/area immediately within this message too. This information can be easily programmed to appear when the user gets in the car, etc. I do feel that having an island/area of land in SL is important as it gives you a controlled environment to fully market the qualities of the model(s) you are trying to market. Depending on the nature of the car you might want to build a race circuit for users to race the free cars you have given them (assuming a sports model) or for a high-end car a luxurious dealership with videos demonstrating the features of the ‘real life’ car. If you are targeting a younger demographic, a dance club or other ‘entertainment venue’ might be appropriate. In order to help achieve a sales conversion, I would recommend having a place within your island/ area that allows the user to customize a car with the various features of the real-world model and then submit their choice along with their contact details so that you can contact them to arrange a test-drive, etc. I hope this information is of interest and benefit. I provide short-term, long-term and retainer consultancy in this area if you would like to explore this further.

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Insight Community Responses
Response 2
Marketing in Second Life is about grand presences or events. The platform lets you create anything that can vividly capture the imagination of the visitors, and because of this many companies have chosen to create elaborate puzzles (Visual Studio) and island games (Wells Fargo) that requires groups to play through. That said, the first step for the automaker is to identify its key differentiators in the perspective of the Second Life residents (who would be largely consistent of youth in their first lives; technical people; some people near retirement / post retirement). E.g. the automobile might be more eco-friendly because of some fuel-emission reduction. The next step would be to create a large puzzle, monument or “attraction” that makes groups interact together to learn more about the emissions and the different ways of combating them. The teams could be given puzzles or tasks to create ways of reducing emissions, which could all be symbolized within that attraction. In addition, a growing number of companies, including IBM and Cisco, are using Second Life for business-to-business communications, providing enduser training, showing power-point presentations and answering questions. In this way, I would recommend that the automaker train some of their staff to be present entirely on Second Life and participate in these activities. Depending again on the key differentiators that the automaker wishes to highlight, one approach could involve a giant recreation of the insides of the engine, with a guided company rep giving presentations and getting direct customer feedback while everyone is inside the engine -- this will make the technical differences easier to highlight. In addition to “attractions” , Second Life also provides a great way for consumers to get directly involved in a dialog with the automaker -- this provides a great platform for consumers to gain the trust of the brand which will ultimately help them with a purchase decision. One of the best ways in which this can be done is

TIC Expert: ohashmi
to get consumers directly involved in designing / building automobiles, with the automaker’s own designers working directly with the consumers to conceptualize new cars. This will not only get people engaged, but through the discussion that is inevitable in these virtual activities the consumers can get a direct hands-on feel for the vision of the company’s designers and the thought-process that is put into the engineering, manufacturing, or styling of those cars. These activities can also be linked to real-world benefits, such as discounts towards the order, or other promotions such as “exclusive virtual models of the cars” for people who place actual orders. Costs After the initial strategy is decided, the costs can be estimated accordingly. In some strategies company reps will be trained and asked to spend time within the virtual world. However, the advantage of this is that these jobs can easily be outsourced to anywhere in the world with fluent english skills and culture naturalization and they will be able to represent your company virtually (I can refer some vendors for this). The other set of costs for creating and managing the event requires efficient programmers, and these can also be outsourced as long as the programmers have distinct visual design taste or direct access to the Marketing Consultant. Finally, any marketing consultant will have his or her own rates for designing the intracacies of the events. Growth The goal would be for the attraction to spread through word of mouth, and for the attraction to keep evolving to accomodate new visitors and give everyone a “fresh” experience every time. How soon the virtual marketing will start affecting growth in real-world sales cannot be said until more specific analysis of the company, their vision and the marketing strategy are all kept in mind.

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Insight Community Responses
Response 3
Although it’s reasonable to assume a Second Life presence for an auto maker is desirable, it’s important not to get carried away during what should be an experimental process into the value of Second Life as a marketing ... vehicle ... for your vehicle. Also note recent information about Second Life demographics indicates that US presence is smaller than was previously thought, so a US auto maker selling to US market may be disappointed. Those caveats in place it’s time for you to experiment effectively and cheaply as follows: 1) Build an Island to promote your company. 2) Develop relationships within the game utilizing your own employee base and a handful of interns that can be assigned to the project. Modest stipends should be provided in employee time and purchases of linden dollars (the SL currency, available for real dollars) to allow these players to help you promote the project. * Building the Island. In Second Life, the Island is a location within which a company can define a brand and a Second Life presence. The cost is $1675 plus $295 monthly land maintenance. Initially only one Island will be needed to effectively brand your product.

TIC Expert: joeduck
There may be advantages to having an internal team develop your SL presence, especially if you have people who already are part of the game. However, even if this is the case, you’ll probably want to invest in some consultants to help guide the process in the early stages. Fees will vary enormously and my personal opinion is that you should stay away from agencies and work with individuals who can better interface with your existing marketing teams. Second Life is very time intensive, so consider using staff capable of taking on the job themselves (this is the most desirable approach if they can integrate with existing marketing efforts. Amazon.com’s very impressive Second Life efforts have been largely from the work of a single employee - feel free to contact me for his contact info as well as the guy who helped establish the Sun Microsystems Island - though that was done with consultants rather than in-house). If in-house development is not feasible there are agencies and consultants that specialize in SL Business setups. The consultant time to establish a simple island presence should be in the “few hundreds” of hours at a cost of approximately $100 per hour. This will be the main expense at approximately $20,000 to $50,000 in addition to the above fees for the Island land, maintenance, and SL perks for your Second Life employees / interns.

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Insight Community Responses
Response 4
Step 0. Do not, I repeat do not, just post ads or kiosks around. That doesn’t engage sl users. Step 1. Get some land. Build a huge show room. Don’t go pasting your logo all over the places, focus on making it a comfortable, social place that you brand with a look and a few logos (maybe an awesome sign outside?). The most important part is making a place where people want to come. Step 2. Build huge, oversized, but accurate models of your cars, both inside and out and put them in your showroom space. Let users climb around and basically give themselves a virtual tour of the vehicles. These do not have to move but should at least work enough that the radio can turn on, etc. Step 3. Build toon-sized replicas of cars that people can drive around. There are plenty of vehicles that work in sl, so i know the code for this exists. You don’t have to do this for all the models, just ones you either expect to be popular or would like to introduce because they’re new. Step 4. Don’t just give away these models, give away the source. Make templates so that people can create custom skins. Annotate the source code well so that people can easily change the exhaust note, make the model move faster, etc.

TIC Expert: ericlin
Step 5. While giving away the cars and the source be sure to let users know that you’ll be holding a custom car show and party on date x (a few weeks in the future) at your showroom, where people can bring show off their modded cars. Step 6. Hold the car show. Invite celebrity judges from the real world as well as from sl. Make it open to the public. Throw a party along with it. This way you engage both the creators and well as the socializers, and it gives you something to brand (an event) that slers relate to. Step 7. Great the buzz from your car show is wearing off, now what? Slers will most likely view you as a link to 1st life. So now you have to staff the showroom with people who can answer questions about your actual cars. Help customers select a new model, and also get service advice if they already own your brand of vehicle. Maybe even go a step further and offer general mechanical advice even if the person doesn’t own your brand. That kind of service can enamor people to your brand and create future customers. Whatever you do -- don’t just stick some stuff in sl and then abandon it.

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Insight Community Responses
Response 5
What will marketing in Second Life really mean? Here’s the first clue -- it’s about the people, not the product or the buildings. There are three things to understand about Second Life if you want to have success there as a business. What it really is, why people are there, and what it really isn’t. Second Life, beneath all the talk, is chat room and a place where adults can play “Dress Up”. I have three girls, and I know the game of Dress Up when I see it. It’s a very attractive, high bandwidth, highly creative chat room, but the underlying principal of its success is that it fosters interaction between people with some degree of anonymity. People who connect to and enjoy Second Life are there because they want to interact with people, to create a self that represents what they want to think of themselves, and to see what it looks like when other people do the same thing. For a marketer, Second Life is not a replacement for any other form of media. The closest example to learn from may be to watch what the big television networks are learning about the internet. If you look at what NBC, CBS, ABC, and the others are doing with their web sites, you see that it doesn’t compete with their broadcast products or with the products of other broadcasters -- it supplements it. Popular shows throw off a smaller core of dedicated viewers who crave more information about the show, its production, its story line, and its characters. When SciFi aired a series of weekly short videos that added information to the story of their hot Battlestar Galactica series, they did it to hold interest and fan dedication during the months when the show was

TIC Expert: andrewjaypollack
between seasons. In short, they’re learning to use the internet as a way to get more information. As much as the internet is about more information and supplemental content, Second Life -- the tools that will grow from it -- is about human interaction. Take a look at the popular places in Second Life and you’ll find they’re not about the building designs or the content offered. The popular places in Second Life are the ones where you’ll always find people. It is self referential in the same way that a popular real world nightclub or restaurant generates bigger crowds simply because other people go there. Who understands this? The virtual “clubs” in Second Life pay small amounts of money to people to be there, so that any patron who comes in always sees a friendly face. Moreover, the political candidate sites are always “staffed” with volunteers who are eager to talk about the candidate, to engage in meaningful debate, and to explain a position. The whole value of those sites is that person to person interaction. How do you apply that to a car manufacturer’s marketing needs? The answer is as simple as making sure there are always real people there to chat about the product. I don’t mean salespeople. I mean car club enthusiast volunteers, guest engineers from the design or manufacturing team, even executives from time to time who are willing not just to talk, but to listen and communicate. Of course the product has to be there to display, links to more information and details are a must -- but more than anything, knowledgeable and enthusiastic people on hand will create the atmosphere for excitement around the product.

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