I originally wrote this post as a comment on today’s post by Inara Pey, and figured it might be a little more visible here on my own blog, instead of buried under the many comments that Inara might get on her post. Besides, it gives me a chance to correct the many typos and grammatical errors (!) in the comment…
/me sighs at her blindness that, like a miracle, is only cured after hitting the “publish” button.
The original post was generally about how the Lab should market Second Life, and more specifically on the idea of using premiums like logo-marked mugs, clothing and accessories.
Draxtor Despres, who raised this question with Linden Lab staffers in a recent DraxFiles Radio Hour interview, and I have discussed marketing SL in the past, and I remember this and other similar ideas coming up. Like then, as now, Drax and I see this differently.
/me sits comfortably in her leather armchair as she prepares to hand out advice predicated on a data set that resembles swiss cheese.
If I was advising the Lab in matters of marketing, I would recommend them to NOT invest in premiums as a significant marketing investment. And here is why:
Premiums aren’t a good investment
Premiums (which is the broader group for goods supplied by a company with their marketing messages on them) are not a relatively good marketing investment full stop. Studies by The Nielsen Company on global marketing return on investment have shown it to generate $1.19 for every $1 spent, which is only marginally better than average, but falls short when compared to the Return on Investment of (in ascending order) print magazines, co-op programs, long-term PR, long-term TV, and on-line advertising. So, I’d rather the Lab put more investment on on-line advertising and targeted PR before going elsewhere, primarily because Second Life is such a niche product and isn’t ready for TV.
Second Life is a bit like Fight Club – and in some ways the Star Wars Prequels
The first rule about Fight Club is that we don’t talk about Fight Club. Premiums are about communicating communities of association. They act as signifiers of the tribes *we want others to recognise* we belong to (and that “we want others to recognise” is the operative phrase in that statement).
I might, for example, have a coffee cup featuring nothing but Princess Leia’s famous hair buns in Episode IV. This might tell the world that I am a Star Wars fan – because I want to be associated with what Star Wars represents. I might also wear a Captain Picard t-shirt to show which Star Trek *team* I’m on, because everyone knows that TNG was the best series, of course… that goes without saying…
Again, it’s what these ideas or motifs represent, as opposed to what they in fact might even be. Many Millennials might not have even seen the original Star Wars trilogy, but due to retro branding, see it as cool. Original Star Wars branding (and characters) tends to represent originality, innovation, pioneering, and trendsetting. This is starkly contrasted with the idea of wearing a t-shirt with Jar Jar Binks on it, which might only be seen as ironic, lest one be considered devoid of all taste and good judgment. We all know that the second trilogy doesn’t hold a petering blue lightsaber to the coolness of the original.
These premiums (often licensed and not marketed by the brands themselves) might act as conversation starters. This is not why I have these goods, but I wouldn’t mind a conversation coming up surrounding them.
Second Life is different. Most people who use Second Life don’t talk about Second Life to friends and associates – even when probed. In general, Second Life users don’t want to be associated with it in their real life spheres of interaction. Virtual reality as a concept is hardly even discussed among people who work in *highly* technically oriented communities, in which one might consider it to be at least an objective area of interest. The Lab has a word of mouth problem because their product just isn’t seen as very cool.
I’d more likely be seen wearing a shirt featuring Carrie Fisher in her double-barrelled bun-headed glory (even if she was a raging cokehead in the ’80s… but hell, it was the ’80s…), than the same t-shirt featuring the more relatable Natalie Portman, regardless of how much more amazing her hair or how much of a badass she was (barring that unfortunate romance with the incessantly whiny young Anakin, as played by the equally incessantly whiny young actor known as Hayden Christensen).
Premiums are a solution for the wrong problem
Premiums are best for maintaining loyalty among heavy-users, and do very little to attract new users unfamiliar with the product. Second Life does not have a long-term loyalty problem, it has a new-user acquisition problem. As a product, I’ve been loyal to Second Life (albeit with a few short breaks) since 2007. I honestly can’t say that about many other brands. Second Life is by nature addictive because the experiences we have in Second Life are so highly rewarding.
This is even true for famously brand-disloyal Gen Xers (more on this later). We don’t need a logo-festooned jacket to keep us loyal or remind us to log in to Second Life instead of its alternative. For starters, there are very few viable alternatives. Second, we invest a great deal into Second Life, which creates a switching cost. Third, it’s as accessible as nearly everything else digital. Fourth, we don’t even have to be logged in to engage in the community by using the social media surrounding it. Fifth, appearing as a corporate logo-branding shill just isn’t very cool these days either.
I’m not a walking billboard
Premiums are generational, and premiums aren’t viewed the same among generational differences. I have no idea what the age demographic for Second Life is but I can hazard an educated guess.
My assumption (based on nothing but experience and intuition) is that Second Life is most popular among Gen Xers born between 1965 and 1979, with some bleeding into late Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and more penetration into Millennials (1980-2000).
Gen Xers were the first generation to actively wear corporate logos on their clothes, which is why I can understand that this idea might appeal to both Linden Lab staffers, Drax, and many of the readers of Inara’s blog post.
Gen Xers might think back to all the logos they’ve worn emblazoned on back pockets, buttons, chests, shoulders and backs and think that nothing could be more natural. What they tend to forget however, is that this was also the time when George Lucas had a soul.
While we still see some people sporting logos today the way previous generations wore crucifixes around their necks, Gen Xers, and nearly everyone else, has become considerably more aware of how marketing actually works, and refuse to be a walking advertisement for all but the most personally defining brands.
One might cite a trend that seems to fly in the face of that argument, in that for years, the logos on our clothing have become larger and larger. This trend, however, is adopted in mainly three cases: a) the brand is aspirational (which Second Life is not), the adopters of these products are from lower economic social classes (which I’d hazard to guess Second Life users are not), and the adopters of these products are from countries aspiring to Western ideals (which may be a market for Second Life, but wouldn’t constitute the heavy user base for which premiums actually work for).
So, no. As much as I’d like to have a t-shirt with Drax’s handsome mug shot on it (/me winks at Bernhard if he’s reading), I’d advise the Lab to spend its money and energy elsewhere.