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Is Second Life Right for Your Brand?

Is Second Life Right for Your Brand? Tom Hespos

FUD: It's an acronym for "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt," and it's often used to describe the motivation behind the launch of new marketing initiatives. When it comes to virtual worlds like Second Life (SL), I see FUD hard at work, with advertisers fearing that they'll miss out on a new way to communicate if they don't jump on the Second Life bandwagon soon. It reminds me of the early dot com land grab.

It also reminds me of the logic that drove legions of advertisers into applications like instant messaging, social networks and mobile messaging with advertising campaigns that didn't possess a compelling strategy. The idea was that advertisers didn't want to miss out on having an early presence within new media that could represent a new standard for communication among young people.

Dandelife.com CEO Kelly Abbott , doing an even better job of highlighting why some of these corporate outposts are poorly thought through. Part of what makes some SL campaigns a bust is that companies haven't thought through a longer-term presence there, and their rush to jump aboard the bandwagon has clouded their vision with respect to how their brand can stay relevant through their efforts there.

I have six key questions I ask marketers who are seriously considering an SL campaign:

1. Can the brand commit to Second Life for the long haul?
Companies often want to dip their toe in the water before committing resources to virtual environments. Problem is, short-term plays can be detrimental to the brand, particularly if a presence is neglected or a virtual storefront is abandoned. Advertisers should prepare to treat their commitment to an SL storefront just as they would the commitment to a brick-and-mortar store.

Don't forget the human interaction part, either. Think about what it might cost to have virtual employees walking around an SL store 24/7. While objects and signs can be programmed to offer interactive experiences that can help your customers, a fully-automated presence often fails to deliver the human component that is an important part of virtual world experiences.

2. How can the brand demonstrate relevance to both Second Life and life in the real world?
Picture yourself walking into a clothing store in Second Life. Now, think about how let down you would feel if you could purchase a shirt for your avatar there, but not one in real life, or vice versa. Ideally, your brand should operate on two levels, addressing needs in both realms. Avatars don't get sick or die, so things like cough medicine, life insurance and funeral homes have less relevance than products and services that can be relevant in both places.

3. How are you going to measure success? 
Will it be based on sales? Traffic driven to your website or brick-and-mortar stores? Market feedback you receive from Second Life residents? You need to set up your goals, metrics and measurement infrastructure… before you commit resources.

4. How are competitors faring? 
Is a competitor trying to best you by setting up shop in SL first? Are they succeeding? Is this even on the competition's radar screen?

5. Is the brand prepared to deal with its detractors in virtual worlds?
There are plenty of people within SL who have problems with commercial intrusion. There will also be people who aren't a fan of an advertised brand, and they may act differently toward the brand than they might in realspace. For instance, someone who doesn't want you there might do their best to trash your presence. 

Are you prepared to clean up the mess and soldier on?

6. What realspace advantage will you gain from a campaign in Second Life? 
If "exposure" is your only answer to this question, reconsider. Exposure alone doesn't fly in a world where people are looking to interact on a deeper level.

One firm that is positioned to gain significantly from Second Life is Bain & Company, a management consulting firm that recently bought some real estate in SL. Rumor has it that they're going to use their presence there to help identify new talent and recruit consultants. If people interested in careers at Bain can bring their avatars to Bain's island, Bain streamlines its process for identifying smart talent, and there's potential to eliminate a step or two from the offline process of getting smart people in the door.

Should YOU do it?
Answer these six questions adequately, and a virtual presence may make sense. If you're lacking an answer for any of the above, it might mean you need to invest some more time in strategic planning for Second Life.

Tom Hespos is the president of Underscore Marketing and blogs at Hespos.com. .

Tom Hespos is President of New York agency Underscore Marketing. He is a frequent contributor to industry trade publications and has been writing a regular column about online marketing and advertising since March of 1998. His clients include Wyeth...

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