‘Virtual Worlds’ Marketing —Sherburne
LAST MONTH, I suggested taking a look at 3D to see what it could add to your business and the quality of your customer experience. Since then, I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Regan, president of staffing firm Semper International LLC, who added a new dimension to the 3D discussion for me. . .Virtual Worlds.
I admit it. I had no idea what he was talking about when we started the discussion. But, by the time we were through, I was beginning to see a vision of a future that could be extremely important to our industry.
First, what are Virtual Worlds? You may have read about Second Life (www.SecondLife.com), since it’s probably the largest. Another would be There.com. Regan points out that, in its current iteration, the Web is a 2D world. Virtual Worlds are 3D and are much more interactive and experiential than the Web as we know it today. These are social networking sites, like the next generation of Facebook or something. But there is a lot of business activity going on there, as well. There are even some printers already there, and PIA/GATF has set up a Second Life location to begin experimenting with what this might mean for the printing industry.
Big Firms Lead the Way
Companies that are actively involved in Second Life include some very big names: Coca Cola, 20th Century Fox, Verizon, Toyota, Pontiac, NBC, IBM, Cisco and Fidelity, to name a few. And they invested about $1 billion in virtual worlds during 2006.
There seem to be two primary reasons companies are getting engaged. First, for advertisers and the major consumer brands, they see the writing on the wall in terms of a migration away from traditional means of advertising, as the so-called “digital natives” reach adulthood and increase their buying power. They realize that less and less time will be spent with television, radio, newspapers and magazines, and more time will be spent in online activities, whatever those morph into. And they want to be there in a way that matters.
The second reason companies seem to be jumping in is to improve the efficiency of internal communications. Cisco and Fidelity, for example, are using Second Life as an internal tool that helps them interact better with their technical staff. And, as a byproduct, it is green. No need to get on a plane to attend a two-week training class. It can be done effectively online in this 3D environment.
Perhaps explaining how Semper uses Second Life will provide some insight. According to Regan, there are some 9 million participants in Second Life worldwide, and although that is a big number, it is not yet a good place to recruit potential employees. So the firm is still using more traditional means of finding people. But once they find them, they invite them to a meeting at their Second Life site.
During this session, a recruiter does a scripted presentation that outlines who and what they are looking for, and conducts a Q&A session. Interaction by the attendees is through text messaging and/or voice. Regan indicates that people tend to be much more engaged than they are with simply a conference call, because the multimedia approach makes it harder to multitask—you know, put the phone on mute and speaker, and check your e-mail during the meeting. We have all done that!
After the formal presentation, the meeting ad-journs to a less formal environment, like a beach party. Recruiters and attendees interact with each other during this session in a more relaxed mode. You can tell a lot about people from these sessions, he says. Can they write? Do they know how to interact appropriately in a business environment? How participative are they, and what kinds of questions do they ask? Following the session, Semper decides which candidates to follow up with, and from there, the approach can often be more traditional.
Key to participating in these Virtual Worlds is the creation of an Avatar, which is the “digital you.” It is a cartoon-like representation that is your persona during Second Life sessions. Your Avatar is created during registration and, like everything else there, it is 3D.
The first barrier to participating—one I haven’t overcome yet—is the requirement to download a pretty significant chunk of software in order to join the community—about 70 megabytes compressed. It is a big file because it is, in effect, a video game. Once you’ve registered, downloaded the software and created your Avatar, you are ready to prowl around to see what is there.
Regan’s company is an “old-timer” in this environment. It started getting active in Second Life way back in March of 2007. IBM is pushing an initiative that would establish standards around these Virtual Worlds. Today, you have to register individually for each one. If IBM has its way, there will be one standard and, once you establish an Avatar or identity in one, you will be able to seamlessly move from one to another, like you do with Web pages today.
As I was speaking with him, I thought about all the times in my life I have been exposed to a hot, new trend early in its life and have either not realized it was a hot trend, or didn’t know what to do with it.
The first was when the Xerox DocuTech was brought to market in 1990, and print-on-demand was born. I am not sure any of us realized what the ultimate effect of that would be—on the industry and the world.
Remember the Browser?
The second was when I was visiting with a friend at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the very early 1990s, and he showed me this funny little application he called a browser (Mosaic, for you history buffs), which provided a visual interface to something called the Internet. At that time, I knew this was big, but didn’t know what to do with it. As the Internet began to take off, I was in that crowd of over-enthusiastic consultants who said it would be the end of print, or at least the end of print buying and selling as we know it.
All right, that was a little over the top but, in reality, it did bring dramatic changes to the industry, and many of those who jumped in early are reaping the benefits today.
I believe Virtual Worlds, in some form or another, will be another one of those hot, new trends that will change the way we do things. But this time, we have some context for what the impact of the Internet can be. It makes sense for us to learn from the lessons of the past and pay attention this time.
If your company has the resources, you should be experimenting. Maybe your customers aren’t talking about this now—or they aren’t talking about it with you—but they will be, and many of them already are. Will you be there with a solution as it becomes an important part of their business? PI
About the Author
Cary Sherburne is a well-known journalist, author and strategic marketing consultant working primarily with the printing and publishing industry. She is a frequent speaker at industry events, a regular contributor to industry publications and has written three books, which are available for purchase through the Bookstore section on Printing Impressions’ Website (www.piworld.com). Sherburne can be reached at Cary@SherburneAssociates.com.