Thursday, April 24, 2008

vBusiness Expo: Taking brands into Virtual Worlds

In this vBusiness Expo session Nic Mitham, KZero CEO and good friend of Clever Zebra, talked about "Taking brands into virtual worlds". A very interesting session with, for perhaps the first time ever, the results of an in world marketing campaign presented and discussed.

There is a difference, Nic explained, between the rationale for B2B and B2C use of virtual words. The first one centers around internal communication, recruitment, positioning and prototyping and such. The second one, business to customer, has a different rationale. It centers around concepts of target market, a new customer engagement channel, research prototyping and R&D, and (perhaps the biggest opportunity) virtual goods revenue stream.

So how should a brand go into a virtual world? Nic detailed seven steps to take into account:

1. Have a plan! Sit down and plan it. There are lots of different virtual worlds available, which one suits your needs in terms of target market, for instance? That doesn't necessarily have to be Second Life; different worlds have different audiences. After you choose a world, define clear objectives. Don't go in saying "we're going in to test it".

2. Design is an output, not an input. The design of your in world presence should be a result of your plan. Buying an island and building a big shiny office there isn't a goal in itself! Think small, simple, think building blocks. Then you can scale it if necessary.

3. Integrate. Take a look at what marketing activities (product launch, advertising campaign) the business has going in real world, and dovetail the virtual activities on those. Don't present the virtual world activity as an isolated event.

4. Giving is better than receiving: bring your brand, your marketing information to the people. They won't keep coming to your island for the shiny building and the ferris wheel. Disseminate your information to the target audience; Nic didn't say it, but he obviously didn't mean you should spam your target audience. In the L'Oreal case study, he talked more about this.

5. Keep the seats warm. If you have an in world venue, be it a shop or an island, you have to have people representing your brand there, in world. Employees or, for instance, hired and trained avatars as "brand ambassadors".

6. Stoke the fire: run events, with the brand as a focal point.

7. Promote and cross promote: use print and web advertising to advertise your in world activities. A kind of meshing between RL and SL activities; what happened around "CSI:NY" and "I am legend" are early examples of this kind of promotion.

Based on these principles, KZero created an in world campaign for L'Oreal Paris, in october 2007. There was a concise project brief from L'Oreal, which basically said they wanted to provide a dedicated, rich experience to their customers, with the central idea to enable avatars to look atractive - as acttractive as some of the real world models of L'Oreal.

So, 'beauty' became the key plan. Other key points: engage the SL target market on their terms; avatars are rarely ugly; L'Oreal doesn't own stores in real world; try to link the virtual activities to RL products.

A couple of skins were developed, based on RL models like Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson, to tap into the whole 'beauty' thing. It was decided that these skins would not be sold on a separate L'Oreal island. Islands have issues; for instance, they are *islands*! An island creates distance between the brand and the consumers, the residents. After all, most avatars really hang out on the mainlands. The solution was to place the L'Oreal products at six selected existing stores. Stores with existing, loyal and frequently returning visitors, stores that are almost a metabrand in their own right.

Also, KZero worked with Rezzable to place a handbag in the famous Greenies kitchen, which still attracts a lot of visitors. Real life products were recreated at a 'larger than life' scale, and put in a handbag which got placed in the kitchen. Nothing more, nothing less; a really subtle and inobtrusive way of product placement. I think this is what Nic meant by "bringing your brand to the customer"; this is obviously much better than spamming your clientele!

And, KZero applied some advertising here and there, mostly in media that exclusively target SL residents. In Second Style for instance, ads were placed that were made to look as identical to real world L'Oreal ads as possible.

After this was all done, there wasn't much left to do except for processing feedback; there was no island to maintain!

It soon became clear that the skins were very well received; residents started emailing pictures of themselves in these skins, which is great. These pictures were posted to Flickr.

Then, Nic proceeded to share the L'Oreal campaign results with us. He believes this is the first time such a thing happens; usually companies sent out press releases at the start telling how great it will be, but they never report back. Kzero did it the other way around; no press release at the beginning, but we will get to hear how it went.

And it went amazingly well. Overall, 34.000 skins were sold, at these six stores, in a couple of weeks - at an average of 2000, 2500 a week. From those sales, almost three quarters came from two of the six shops; Nic declinded to tell which shop sold how much, mostly to 'protect the innocent'!

Due to a technical issue at Nick's side, there was no opportunity to ask questions. I had one in mind, frankly: is it clear why those two unnamed shops outperformed their competitors with such big margins? They were, after all, selling the same product to the same audience in essentially the same market. So what were the differences? There must be a valuable lesson there for all SL fashion shop owners, and I bet they're eager to hear it.

The slides for this session, including ad samples etcetera, can be viewed here, at Please do take a look!

No comments: