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The New Vessels: The New Language of Marketing 2.0 [con't]

Social Networks with Virtual Environments

Virtual environments are a powerful alternative reality online. It is a way to imagine a new digital world. Some of the popular virtual worlds are Second Life, OpenSim, ActiveWorlds, Whyville, and Entropia Universe. In fact, the Chinese government has invested a set of engineers to its claim for its own virtual world. Some of the differences in the worlds are their focus on games or business. For instance, Second Life has an economy for the business world and is trying to gear up for commerce.

When entering a virtual environment, you create an avatar for yourself. An avatar, as defined by Wikipedia, is a computer user's representation of herself in the form of a 3D model used in computer games. The term "avatar" can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user. In Figure 10.6, you can see my avatar.

I have made my avatar look like me, well kind of! Many people create an avatar that does not look like them; for example, if they have blonde hair in real life, they might choose dark for their virtual world. Active users on Second Life are around 50,000, which is up significantly from about 30,000 a few months ago. (Active is different from the millions that registered. With more than 4.8 million users existing in the digital network world, Second Life serves as a model for future online communities as they copy Second Life's formula for success!) Virtual environments are global. I have friends from all over the world, and we meet and talk in my SOA island.

What could you do in a virtual environment? Companies buy land, plan adventures, and participate in the economy. Digital characters walk, take vehicles, and even teleport. You can even start a church. Life Church, which has community church services, has planted swords around the virtual world, so that when you choose them, it sends you information about its church. (See Figure 10.7.)

Second Life also offers complete customization, providing the opportunity for users, businesses, and brands to completely reinvent themselves. Creating a corporate Second Life persona enables users to participate and contribute to your efforts, experience a brand-oriented journey through the metaverse, or provide the opportunity to reinvent or reshape your product to fit into the metaverse community.

What is the value in marketing from virtual environments? There are companies that have storefronts in the virtual world sites to try and seek revenue. The Coca Cola Company has an interactive site where customers go to help the company design new ideas for its products, and Cisco has experimented with selling and measuring results. I've also seen a Second Life Chemistry Set. This is a box of chemicals. You give it commands, and it creates molecular structures that hover in the air over the box.

The marketing value of virtual environments is being tested now; however, I do believe that if you are a best-practice company, you should buy land in a virtual environment and experiment with what works. In our case studies on The Coca Cola Company and IBM in the following chapter, you will see some of what the leading edge companies are doing in this alternative universe.

Top Five Tips for Virtual Environments

Virtual environments are very new but worth the addition to the GTM execution for energizing the channel. Following are five tips to assist in the metaverse:

  1. Know your virtual environments: Explore the 3D worlds that exist today to explore the options. Even kids are playing with Webkinz, Build a Bear, and Shining Star sites. These sites allow them to learn about a variety of topics such as art, math, and even commerce! See what the future holds for some of your potential buyers! For businesses, some of the top virtual environments are Second Life, OpenSim, and ActiveWorlds.
  2. Customize your avatar and play in the virtual world: If you haven't been there, it is hard to describe the potential and the feel of the word. Words don't do it justice. You can host a staff meeting to get the feel for it or even host a customer focus group.
  3. Pilot with some of the primary successful uses of virtual environments today: I've seen the most success in using virtual worlds to educate, to hold events, and to solicit input and ideas. Or use your innovation to drive you to be the first marketer with success in an area. Go ahead and invest in some land or an island. I believe this is the way of the future. I would invest early.
  4. Be active: There is a common thread here to all the new vessels. If you invest to put them into action, you must be willing to continue active participation in them. Content is king. Ninety percent of the time spent on developing for virtual environments should be focused on the content upfront; as with a Web site, without a unique, rich experience, click outs are inevitable.
  5. Quality and visual continuity matter: Just like a theme park, the visual impression is a major part of the experience. Your brand quality and identity has to be maintained even in a virtual space. Make sure you don't forget that this vessel is just another element in your branding.

Note: You can read "Zen and the Art of Social Media in Public Relations," by Kathleen Keating, Founder, FastStartPR, on the companion Web site.

Focus on Participation with Viral

The term viral marketing has been used a lot, so I'd like to start with clarity around what I mean when I refer to viral. Viral is about leveraging either a preexisting social network or a set of friends to produce some sort of increase in brand awareness or demand generation through a self-replicating process. It exploits existing social networks by encouraging customers to share product information with their friends. There are lot of techniques and vehicles to produce exponential increases in brand awareness with viral processes.

Viral can be word of mouth delivered and enhanced online to reach a large number of people in a short term. The key intent is to create energy, intrigue, and curiosity. Most viral activities include video clips, interactive Flash games, images, and even text!

Viral marketing is more powerful than third-party advertising because it conveys an implied endorsement from a "friend." Why is viral marketing taking off today and why is it so successful? From IBM's recent market intelligence study, viral is a top influencer in the decision-making process.

There are four critical areas that are key influencers in B2B marketing. The first biggest influence is customer references or customer stories. The second is an external influencer such as an industry analyst or industry advisor. If you're B2C, think consumer reports; if you're B2B, think about some of the typical analysts such as an IDC or a Gartner. The next influencer of a sale is demo downloads, which include how you experience the product such as downloading some sort of simulation or code if you're in the IT space.

The biggest one, though, across every tier, is a colleague or a peer who recommends your particular product or service, and in fact, it's 40 percent of the influence regardless of who your customers are, regardless if they're B2C or B2B. This buzz factor or the friend factor can make a difference in the GTM plan. See Figure 10.8.

When we think about some popular tactics used such as viral marketing to get that buzz factor, prioritization is needed. The latest MarketingSherpa report contains some nuggets to assist in prioritizing for your GTM execution. In its most recent study on viral marketing, MarketingSherpa found that the best viral tactics were microsites, which is not your own site but a separate site that is independent from your company. The second one is video clips, such as those that appear on YouTube. We saw an example of this viral video in Chapter 6, "Lightly Branded: EepyBird, The Coca-Cola Company, and Mentos." The third is online games, quizzes, or polls where you compete and manage the challenge back and forth. Now, the top three moderate results for viral marketing include

  • Tell-a-friend boxes on the site
  • Encouraging e-mail forwarding, such as, "Take a look at this and forward it on to your next best friend"
  • Audio clips

The reason that viral is so effective in the channel is that you have a greater reach and a global reach. Viral breaks through the online and e-mail clutter, mostly because it's cool. The trick is to create viral marketing that is so fun, shocking, or provocative that the user will adopt the experience as his own and send it to a friend for bragging rights. You might be thinking that word of mouth has always been there. In fact, word of mouth has now moved from anecdotal to actionable because it is measurable in the marketplace.

In Figure 10.9, we see that viral marketing through friends and colleagues is the number one way that businesses use to decide who to purchase. "Wordof-mouth marketing is gaining more traction than ever before, and according to growth predictions, we're seeing just the beginning of a huge surge of both interest and word-of-mouth marketing activity," said Amanda Van Nuys, co-chair of WOMMA's Communications Council and vice president of Corporate Marketing at Organic Inc. "All this growth and increased curiosity makes a resource like WOMMA's Case Studies Library extremely valuable. So many marketers are looking for examples of how they can put this phenomenal thing called 'WOM' to work, and, of course, the Wommie winners stand out as the best of the best."

Let's just talk about how a viral campaign might potentially work. At a highest level, you tell a story with strong content on the Web and include the opportunity to pass it along and share the Web site. So for instance, I do a lot of shopping on, and I've watched little snippets about fashion on that Web site. The video at the end sometimes provides news of the opportunity to pass and share that video along, or you can do it with YouTube. My IBM team posted a set of "What is SOA?" videos on YouTube, and we used the mechanism there to pass that along. In this example, the Web is your organic interest, so someone has to find the video and then pass that video along. The best practice is combining viral with traditional marketing (as shown in Figure 10.10) to leads to greater success in doing one or other that's not integrated.

Top Five Tips on Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is both agenda setting and cost effective. It provides the best of the goals of marketing. The following is a list of some of the top elements to drive through your viral strategy:

  1. Create something clever: This should be something worthy of being passed and relevant. People will share good experience. Make it catchy; for example, use Flash in you Web banners and dynamic rotation.
  2. Use videos to tell your story: This is a great medium if you can afford to use it and create fun videos. Videos can convey your marketing message by painting a video picture of the topic using humor or just grabbing the viewer's attention.
  3. Keep your offers simple and visible: For example, for an e-mail signature, include a catchy tagline and a Web link. We are doing this now in every e-mail signature with IMPACT 2009. Use "Tell a Friend" with e-mail, Webcasts, and Web site visitors and let your prospects forward your marketing message.
  4. Participate in user forums: This is free and you can touch people interested in your specific area. Forums are indexed by search engines and their posts increase exposure.
  5. Keyword buys with Google and Word Tracker: Keep refining and optimizing your AdWord buys. If you can't afford to do word buys, submit your URLs to Google for search retrieval. It's free using Google Webmaster tools!
The New Language of Marketing 2.0

This chapter is an excerpt from the book, The New Language of Marketing 2.0 by Sandy Carter, published by IBM Press, November 2008, ISBN 0137142498, Copyright 2009, International Business Machines Corporation. All rights reserved.

Original: January 8, 2009