Journal

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!

Human-Avatar Interaction

2008-04-12

I recently spent a couple of hours in Second Life attending a Caroline’s grand re-opening party. This was the longest stretch of time (about 3 hours) I had been in world in quite a while. Apart from the occasional customer service issue which requires me to jump in world, I don’t visit SL much any more. I’ll have more thoughts in a post marking my 5 year rez-day in a couple of weeks.

At the party eveyone was dancing and there was a central “dance ball” that anyone could touch that would animate his/her avatar. The dances were nothing to write home about—I recognized many bits and pieces that were ripped straight from old Poser 4 (I think it was 4) stock animation and combined with other “found” animation. (Test animations I had uploaded during the 1.4 Preview back in June 2004, if that tells you anything). Other individuals had a variety of different dance animations, some of which I really liked.

While everyone dancing together and listening to the same music/dj is great fun, the only difference between last week’s experience and parties we had in 2003 was the scripted dance animation. Don’t get me wrong, I think animation is great and SL 1.4 was probably one of the most exciting releases to date. And while there are advantages to pre-scripted animation allowing everyone to type and chat, I really longed for more direct interaction.

As chance would have it I was alerted to two bits of info last week which seemed to provide a possible solution to my desire for more direct human-avatar interaction. The first was a tweet from Lordfly about a project that was started back in 2006 by a dev team at LL (Cube Linden, Aura Linden, and Ventrella Linden) called Avatar Puppeteering. Please do check out some of the videos on the site for a working example of puppeteering in action. The project certainly showed a lot of promise. That is, before it was put on indefinite hold so that the team members could work on “viewer stability, bug fixing, and performance” issues. Tateru over at Massively has done a little digging and found out that Ventrella (and, yes, he was responsible for flexi-prims) left LL last year. Her conclusion is that this project has suffered perma-death.

Which is unfortunate because Mitch Kapor, LL’s Chairman, seems to have become interested in human-avatar interaction himself. According to this article Kapor and developer Philippe Bossut have been developing a hands-free, camera-based interface for Second Life. You can visit Kapor’s site to view a demonstration.

Given these projects and the success of accelerometer-based interaction of the Nintendo Wii and Apple iPhone and camera-based interaction like Sony’s Eye-Toy, some form of more advanced human-avatar interaction is coming. Will it come from Linden Lab? I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Photoshop 7 TGA Plug-in Alpha Channel Bug

2007-01-25

A few people have recently been bitten by this bug, and I blame myself for not highlighting it more in my tutorials as it can be frustrating. The bug impacts saving 32-bit TGA files in Photoshop 7.0 — alpha channel transparency doesn’t work. So if you’ve done any of my tutorials and just couldn’t get Alpha Channels to work, my bet is you’ve run into this problem. Luckily all you have to do is download the free Photoshop 7.0.1 update from Adobe’s site.

From the 7.0.1 release notes: “Photoshop now saves alpha transparency data in Targa files in the same way it did in previous versions.”

Year Five is Upon Me

2007-04-30

F our years ago today I created a Second Life account and downloaded the SL beta client. Public land was plentiful and you could fly across the entire world in a couple minutes. Oh, how things have changed. I was planning on a long diatribe on the state of Second Life to mark my 4th anniversary, but I just don’t have the time—real life is extremely busy at the moment. I do have a couple more tutorial translations to post, and I apologize to the authors for not posting them sooner. I will get to them this week.

My thanks go out to my Second Life partner, Caroline Apollo, whom I’ve had a lot of fun with over the past couple years. I’m sorry I’ve been so absent this past year—it’s not for lack of wanting to be in-world, hanging out, and having fun.

I’ll save my laundry list of criticisms for the way Second Life is evolving under the stewardship of Linden Lab. For now I urge you to visit project open letter and add you signature if you feel inclined.