Get a (Second) Life!
Creativity is your only boundary when marketing in the virtual world.
Second Life, from Linden Lab in San Francisco, is an Internet-based virtual world that came to international attention via the mainstream news media in late 2006 and early 2007. It’s a source of endless hours of entertainment for scads of virtual-reality fans, but it’s more than just a fun fad.
Second Life provides an advanced social-networking service combined with a fully immersive 3-D virtual space. Residents can explore, meet other residents, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade items — such as virtual property —- and services from one another. In all, more than 9 million Second Life accounts have been registered, and many of them belong to some big-name businesses.
Companies including Adidas, Calvin Klein, Circuit City, Coca-Cola, Dell, IBM, iVillage, Kraft Foods, Microsoft and Sony BMG Music Entertainment have found success promoting or marketing their products and services in Second Life.
eM+C wanted to learn more about Second Life so we asked Catherine Smith, director of marketing and brand strategy at Linden Lab, to offer more details.
eM+C: What is the general concept of Second Life, and how does it work?
Catherine Smith: Second Life is the creation of Linden Lab, a company founded by Philip Rosedale in 1999 to create a revolutionary new form of shared 3-D experience. The former CTO of RealNetworks, Rosedale pioneered the development of many of today’s streaming-media technologies, including RealVideo.
The idea of a virtual world has been around for a long time, but the technology wasn’t really there before. It has allowed individuals and businesses to use an online medium that didn’t exist previously.
From the start, the goal was for Second Life to be a world completely created by and for the people who reside there. The goal has always been to provide a platform that would enable “residents” to do whatever they imagined.
eM+C: How do you see it fitting into the world of e-marketing and commerce? How are major companies using Second Life in interesting or innovative ways?
CS: Marketers are attracted to Second Life because [it] offers them an opportunity to engage their customers in a unique and highly interactive fashion. Second Life has enabled businesses and individuals to interact in a way that has not been seen before. Reebok, for example, lets customers customize and buy virtual sneakers and then order the customized, user-designed version in real life.
Ultimately, the firms that commit to a long-term, creative presence in Second Life have an opportunity to interact with their community in new and innovative ways.
eM+C: Are companies making actual money on Second Life?
CS: Real life, brick-and-mortar businesses are not necessarily looking toward Second Life as a revenue opportunity but rather as a means of brand extension for marketing purposes.
eM+C: What is the first step for a company interested in using Second Life for marketing?
CS: Typically, companies tend to work with a creative agency experienced in establishing a virtual-marketing presence. Conducting business successfully in Second Life requires some adjustment to real-world strategies, and traditional marketing techniques would simply not take advantage of the potential the platform has to offer. In Second Life there are few boundaries or limits to what you can do or create, and it will ultimately be up to companies to develop unique ways of interacting with their respective communities. As creativity is nearly the only in-world limitation, it will be a vital factor to success. We recommend that people join, learn and really feel things out before jumping in.
eM+C: Can you offer some tips for marketers interested in making Second Life part of their brand awareness and sales and marketing mix?
CS: Keep it fresh; build the foundation, and let your customers join in creating the experience; keep them involved; offer social context (discussions, parties, games, etc.); and create connections to the real world (Web site, content uploads or social tools for connecting and sharing successes).
For more information, www.secondlife.com.