Postcards from Second Life: Crayon’s Virtual Branding Event

Yesterday, a few of us gathered around my computer and watched as my avatar made his way through SL to the Crayonville Amphitheater- virtual home to new marketing firm Crayon which was hosting a panel on Marketing in Virtual Worlds.

Much of the panel discussion hovered around what the panel members respective companies had tried so far to build their in-world brands (such as Coke’s Virtual Thirst contest).

A central theme that emerged- not so different from discussions around here- was that companies have thus far mistakenly hedged their bets on simply having a presence in Second Life as the end goal- setting up shop in the same fashion as the do in the real world and assuming people will just come to them. Now, those companies are left with often times barren landscapes as residents gravitate elsewhere…

…towards brands/companies that view Second Life for what it is: a tool used to ENGAGE people. Coldwell Banker is a recent example of a company that gets the need to provide value to be relevant. Other (relative) success stories include Pontiac’s Motorati Island, HBO’s island for the L-Word (which holds recreations of the show in it’s lobby), and IBM (company island includes tutorials on open source coding). These three have some of the highest weekly unique visitors in SL among real world brands (+4000 according to SL demographic experts).

Despite these few exceptions, it’s not a surprise that the most trafficked areas in SL are those created by residents- they offer more than a slick logo and building, and bring some value to the table and the experience of being in-world (such as Amsterdam Island, a recreation of the real thing…complete with many familiar Amsterdam activities).

The panel discussion appeared to be one of those places residents respected as adding to the experience and not just “being there”…

Well, it’s not bursting at the seams, but compared to the largely empty buildings of most companies, this is pretty good. And, according to Crayon, the sim was at max capacity and they actually had to turn away some last-minute sign ups.

Perhaps just as interesting as the panel itself was watching how the audience of avatars engaged with the presenters. While one might assume that, in this world where the laws of physics can be broken, and one has the ability to create objects from nothing, keeping people’s attention would be tough. But there we all sat, pointed at the stage, listening intently to the words of these virtual branding experts.

We also started to see how closely this virtual world can mirror the experience of First Life. Just as you would lean over to a friend who was at a conference with you, whispering side-conversation back and forth, avatars were doing the same. (In Second Life, you can chat with basically anyone within earshot- simply start typing, hit send, and your words appear on screen for all to see. Think chatroom- with a visual component).

As we sat in our Minneapolis conference room, discussing the panel’s comments, many of the same comments were popping up on screen from the avatars in attendance- some questioning the need or use for Second Life, and many other’s pouncing quickly in defense of the world. The general consensus from the audience was that, while SL is important and shouldn’t be ignored, it is still too complex, too vague, and not user-friendly enough for adoption by the masses.

Overall, a good event to take in. It was the first in what will be a monthly thought-leadership series. They also have weekly informal chats- Coffee with Crayon– every Thursday @ 9AM EST at Crayonville for more new marketing goodies.