Add virtual ingredients to your marketing mix

Once, a marketing mix composed entirely of print and broadcast media would get your message out into the markets that mattered. But as more and more companies find themselves working beyond their traditional regional boundaries, and customer expectations grow, rich-media is increasingly helping companies to ‘go the extra mile’.

Time to evolve

Horizons have widened both metaphorically and literally. For instance, creating a positive customer journey is now vital to any business transaction; and global markets have become more accessible to business. The marketing mix has had to evolve to reflect this shifting landscape. Whilst off-line marketing channels will always be effective for conveying marketing messages, especially to a domestic audience, it can be a costly exercise if your business seeks national or international coverage, and it’s a one-way communication.

The advent of online communication technologies allowed marketing messages to be lifted off the page, conveyed cheaply to anywhere in the world, and enabled customers to reply within a few clicks of the mouse if they wished. Now, there’s an extra dimension to add to the marketing mix. Virtual worlds are a three-dimensional environment in which consumers can immerse themselves in a company brand and ethos.

New realities to explore

If you’d like your business to have a presence in a visually rich, entertaining, interactive environment with a regular community of millions, then you should explore the real potential of these multiuser online spaces. Virtual worlds have been around for a while, with everyone from Nissan to Nike choosing to have a presence in worlds like Second Life. Although the initial hype has subsided, virtual worlds still have huge potential to offer the business community.

Combining elements from popular forms of new media including chat rooms, online stores, social networking sites and user-generated content sites like YouTube.com, virtual worlds offer plenty of scope for SMEs to elevate their business profile and generate new clients. In-world marketing opportunities include static or animated 3D billboard ads, virtual product placement and advertising drones. But why be limited to the marketing activities you’d find in the real world when a virtual one allows you to do so much more?

The best of both worlds

In a virtual world you can present your brand ethos in a whole immersive environment to create a truly engaging customer experience. In this dynamic place, a business can integrate a raft of activities including marketing; customer sales, service and support. The virtual realm can deliver a valuable halfway house between phone and face-to-face engagement in providing transactional and support activities. The outcome can be greater customer satisfaction and an enriched customer experience.

Key facts

  • There were 175 virtual worlds in existence by the end of 2009 (Nic Mitham, founder of KZero)
  • There are a staggering 1.1 billion registered users of virtual worlds - that's greater thatn the combined populations of the US and Europe (Nic Mitham, founder of KZero)
  • Second Life residents spend an average of about 100 minutes inworld per visit. September 22, 2009 (Linden Lab)
  • 80% of the world's active Internet users will be in a virtual world by the end of 2011 (Gartner, 2007)

For businesses of all sizes, selling real products and services in the virtual world can increase revenues and reduce the cost of sales. In-world activities offer enormous potential for companies to test the market and raise product awareness before a product is launched. Indeed, companies like American Apparel test-marketed its new line of jeans two months before they hit real stores. They used virtual promotions to drive traffic to both the virtual and physical stores, offering discounts on merchandise bought in the real world to anyone who made purchases in Second Life.

Businesses can conduct certain operations like the delivery of staff training, virtual events and conferencing. Infact, a presence in a virtual world can help a business overcome many of the common physical barriers to doing business they may encounter in the real world. For small businesses – especially those selling services and knowledge rather than physical products – requiring a credible presence without any major investment in physical space, the virtual realm could be a viable solution.

How to conquer new worlds

The rich visual nature of virtual worlds suggests that it’s expensive to set up a company presence, yet renting space in a virtual world is relatively inexpensive and furnishing your world can cost pennies rather than pounds.

Tapping into the technology is relatively simple, but expert advice through local universities is usually accessible to businesses. There are also plenty of virtual worlds and artificial intelligence solution providers out there who can help you build your presence.

The concept of carrying out business in a virtual environment may seem alien, but you’d be surprised how many businesses are exploiting their potential. Why not join one of the worlds dedicated to the business community? It’s a great forum for networking with potential clients and finding out how a virtual presence can boost your business.

Tried and trusted marketing principles should be applied to marketing activities in the virtual realm. Be clear about who your audience is. Different worlds represent widely different resident bases, so it’s important that your products or services find their way into the most appropriate world.

You’ll need to respect the rules of any worlds you select. The nature of your activities is likely to be limited by the world you are in. Activities within pre-teen and teen worlds will be more restricted than in adult worlds, and you should work with the world owner to achieve your objectives.