Journal

Avatars and their Celeb Look-alikes

2006-05-26

Thanks to Sabrina for pointing out a fun little tool that uses facial recognition software to match celebrity faces. Not perfect, but fun. My top matches were Bebe Neuwirth, Christy Turlington, and Katrina Kaif (Indian Actress, from what I can tell). Upon close inspection I’ve got the eyes and eyebrows of Bebe, Christy’s mouth and overall head shape, and Katrina’s nose. I never really planned my “look” it just sort of happened organically over time.

The Piracy Paradox

2007-09-23

James Surowiecki, who wrote the highly recommended Wisdom of Crowds, has a great article in the New Yorker on the economics of the fashion industry and its notably weak intellectual property laws.

The paradox stems from the basic dilemma that underpins the economics of fashion: for the industry to keep growing, customers must like this year’s designs, but they must also become dissatisfied with them, so that they’ll buy next year’s. Many other consumer businesses face a similar problem, but fashion—unlike, say, the technology industry—can’t rely on improvements in power and performance to make old products obsolete. Raustiala and Sprigman argue persuasively that, in fashion, it’s copying that serves this function, bringing about what they call “induced obsolescence.” Copying enables designs and styles to move quickly from early adopters to the masses. And since no one cool wants to keep wearing something after everybody else is wearing it, the copying of designs helps fuel the incessant demand for something new.

While I admit that texture theft in virtual worlds is a different situation I think there are lessons to be learned from how the RL fashion industry handles intellectual property theft. Of course real life fashion designers aren’t happy about companies ripping off their designs either. The smart designers, though, are starting to directly compete with the stores that sell the knock-offs from their couture collections. Vera Wang at Kohl’s? Fantastic. The companies that peddle knock-offs will lose in the face of such strong, established brands.

What can you do?

Build a strong brand: create a cool store experience, design great packaging, build strong relationships with your customers and reward them for their loyalty. Communicate with your customers via in-world groups or something like Subscribe-O-Matic (haven’t used this, so can’t vouch for how good it is). Create a weblog. Get your stuff on onrez and SL Exchange. Keep innovating and creating new stuff. You’re the one with the talent so use it as best you can to beat the thieves. The reality is that they’re not going away.

Second Life is a huge place now, which makes it easier for the thieves to peddle your designs without your knowledge. The great thing about building up a loyal customer base is that they’ll tell you if they see your stolen designs. When that happens, take a deep breath, and handle it in a business-like fashion. Do what you can to handle the thief, informally at first and then via Linden Lab if need be, but don’t let it consume you and don’t let it dishearten you or keep you from working on your next piece, because then the thieves really win: they’ve robbed us all of your next design.

SL Marketing 102

2006-06-19

Sabrina did a really nice write-up on SL marketing today. It is a good list of all the things a successful SL entrepreneur should do. But I would caution would-be merchants that this list will in no way ensure your success.

The two most important tactics on the list are probably Fashion Shows and Classified ads, because of their in-world nature, and even then, as marketing tools, they’re hit or miss. But they are definitely part of what has to be a multi-pronged effort to market your product.

Currently a very small percentage of SL users use the forums (2-3%, probably lower given recent population numbers) and a small percentage uses Web-based SL outlets (SLB, SLX, Snapzilla, blogs, etc). I’m not saying don’t bother with them. In fact, one section I think you left out, Sabrina, is one on:

Advertising

Grab those eyeballs with advertising on key SL-related Web sites, weblogs, and perdiodicals. For my money I would do banners/skyscrapers on Snapzilla and SLX (I don’t see any adverts on the new SLB). Ads in Metaverse Messenger and Second Style might generate some interest as well. Then check out some blogs your feel might have readership that matches your brand.

That said, don’t expect a lot of conversion from the above methods. I’ve been struggling for a while now trying to figure out the best way to convert those eyeballs into paying customers, and unfortunately it’s a long leap from SL user browsing a Web site at work to purchasing your product. Brand-awareness is nice, but conversion pays the bills.

In-World Marketing

The crux of my post is: don’t underestimate in-world marketing and promotion. I’m convinced the most important marketing you can do are things you do in-world. Until such time as the convergence of Web and SL Client is complete, the virtual world experience is the key to success. The gross majority of users restrict their experience to the Virtual World itself. Once their investment in the virtual world is large enough, I do believe they seek out ancillary content to enhance and extend their SL experience. Many of those people are influential so it doesn’t hurt to market to them. Just realize your marketing to the cognoscenti.

Classifieds

I’ve already discussed classifieds below. Sabrina’s right, you might as well buy a classified ad — just don’t spend a lot of money on it. I see no evidence that justifies the outrageous costs needed to get to the first page of results or the top spot. What you want to do is make sure you are covered for keyword searches. Also make sure your land is listed in the directory for the same reason, so that your keywords hit when people do a Find in-world.

Location, location…

In the olden days, business location was important. If you were near a telehub, many were convinced, there was a chance you’d grab the attention of travellers who might stop into your store. And it was true to a large extent. When the southern continent first opened there were only two southern telehubs, and one was in Noyo. I was lucky to win an auction on land just south of the hub — and just about everyone who TPd to the new continent flew over my store. Sales were quite good until hubs opened further south.

Now — location still matters but it’s incredibly difficult to go about choosing locations. The world’s very big now. Even if you buy some land next to a casino that’s always packed, there’s nothing saying that people will actually explore outside the casino. While I like the convenience of P2P teleporting, I hate it as a business owner. Previously there were de facto commercial areas. Now there’s no zoning at all. But I’ll leave that for another post.

So how do you choose a location? Some might suggest getting into as many malls and renting as many booths as possible. If you’ve got the time to manage it, it certainly couldn’t hurt (depending). People ask me to display in their mall every week. At first I’d travel to the mall to check it out and invariably I’d get there and the “mall” was barely a build at all. Four prims walls and some stalls. I don’t go any more. I’ve got a certain standard I’ve got to maintain for the brand I’ve developed. If that’s not important to you, go for it. Spread-out across the world — it will net you more sales, even if you develop a strip-mall brand.

One suggestion is to choose an area with some established merchants or getting together with some friends and create your own shopping area. Leverage the marketing and promotions of your neighbors. Advertise both your individual shops as well as (if you can) the combination of your offerings.

In-World Promotions

It’s not hard to stand out in the Events list since the majority seem to be for Slingo/Bingo/Ringo. Having an event in-world is one of the most important promotional tools out there. Have events for openings or sales. Hire a DJ or events coordinator. Even if people just come for the party, you’ve got eyeballs at your location. If you can’t convert them then and there, make sure they walk away with a notecard or at least a landmark.

Social Networking

The most important form of in-world marketing? I’m convinced it’s having people wearing or using your product and having those people be socially active. The social butterfly is your friend. One who evangelizes your product is probably the best thing you could ask for. They’re your ‘salespeople’. Someone who’s involved in many groups, who meets new people, who can spread the word. Remember to make it easy for them. Make sure they have a landmark or notecard they can hand out. Make sure you’re in the Find listings so when they say to X person “search for X store” they can find you.

If you do find someone who loves your stuff, who IMs you with kind words, help them evangelize for gosh sakes! Give them some freebies or exclusives, ask them if you can let them know when you have a new product comes out. Keep track of these people and make sure they stay informed about your products.

Ok, so Nicola, you say, if this is the most important form of marketing in SL, how do I make it happen? A lot of hard work. There’s no doubt in my mind that the most successful in-world designers are successful because of word-of-mouth. To be sure some of them are oldbies who have a bit of a legacy (Neph, the Midnights, Aimee, others) but don’t be fooled — they got where they are through hard work. The rest of you are going to really have to work at it. Hiring people is a risky proposition as it’s hard to measure the success of social networking, although I suppose you could try to build some metrics around your hired evangelists (they send people to different stores, etc). My only other advice is — hit the virtual pavement and spread the word yourself. You can do it, it just takes time and hard work.

Customer Service

Customer service as marketing? You bet. Sometimes it can be tough to tell whether someone is trying to bilk or defraud you when they want to return something or say they didn’t get something from a vendor (etc). Use your best judgement. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt. If I do think it was a vendor error or I mis-advertised something, I generally apologize and refund them, if that’s what they want, and let them keep the item. Sometimes I’ll give them additional items. Make sure they feel like they are always safe shopping at your store. Make sure they walk away thinking “she/he was really helpful, I’d shop at his/her place again” without thinking twice.

In conclusion I hope this helps you think through some more marketing options when it comes to SL. Thanks to Sabrina for getting the ball rolling!

Year Four

2006-05-10

Three years have come and gone, and Second Life appears to be doing quite well. Twas not always the case. When I paid $160 for a lifetime account back in June 2003, money was tight at Linden Lab. That $160 was considered a bit of a risk. But I know all lifetime account holders felt it was worth it, felt there was something special about our little (see Fig. 1) virtual world. I don’t want to spend a lot of time reminiscing about the “good old days” because either you remember them or you don’t, and if you don’t, you probably don’t care. Suffice it to say that first year was special, and I’m sorry most of you didn’t get to experience it. There was a sense we were a tight-knit creative community building a world together free from the inevitable commercial interests. I didn’t do much socializing after that first year — indeed most of my Calling Cards are pre-2004 and I’m always happy to see how many oldies are logged in, even if we haven’t spoken in ages.

The truth is I rarely spend any time in-world. The bulk of my Second Life experience takes place in my imagination, my sketchpad, and Photoshop. I like being a content provider as opposed to consumer. Enhancing someone else’s virtual experience is very rewarding. My biggest thrill nowadays is when I receive an IM from a stranger saying how much they like my creations.

What will the future bring? Hopefully with LL’s rapid growth we’ll start to see some more features and a revamped client user interface. Given Linden Lab’s track record so far, it’s safe to say I won’t be holding my breath.