Marketing Second Life: Where does one start?

Monday night's piano music at Basilique
Random image that has nothing to do with this post! But here is a big thanks to Caity for showing me how to embed Flickr images in my posts!

Yesterday’s blog post about Second Life merchandising and premiums certainly led to some spirited discussions, and I’m feeling motivated to dive into this subject a bit more before I leave it.

One of the questions Draxtor Despres asked in a comment he made to yesterday’s post was:

Who the heck IS THE TYPICAL SL “user”? Do we know?”

Drax was responding to my assertion that he (and anyone in SL’s public eye) is atypical in how we might share our association with Second Life with the greater world outside; and, that I assume that the views and practices of those that might be considered more typical are very different. Drax also mentioned that half of his friends in Second Life are happy to share their Second Lives external to the platform, while the other half are not. Again, however, I must point out that Drax’s friends are also unlikely to be representative of the majority of Second Life residents.

That particular thread of discussion led away from the main thread of the comments (which was about SL merchandising), so I thought I’d start a new post about this topic, because it’s interesting in its own right.

Knowing more about Second Life Residents is the starting point for knowing how to grow Second Life

So, is it important for Linden Lab to know about its typical user (or resident)? Is there such a thing as a typical SL user/resident?

Personally, I believe this is a starting point when planning how to promote Second Life beyond its existing user base.

I don’t think Linden Lab should make a cool product and then hope to attract people to it. Instead, I very much agree with the idea of inviting members from the greater SL community to share why they think Second Life is cool, so that Linden Lab can adapt its core product over time to best fit what we think is cool now, and into what they think might be cool in the future.

Drax’s visit to Linden Lab HQ for the All-Hands Meeting (chronicled in his podcast) is a terrific example of that. At the same time, I do hope they are also surveying, observing, interacting, and revealing what the smaller SL communities use SL for (e.g. the much larger proportion of users that are not famous for anything).

Drax asks if we know who the “typical SL user” is. In part, it depends on how we define “typical”. Many people dislike the idea of fitting people into neat little boxes and treating them as such, so we might tend to undervalue words like “typical” because it suggests fuzzy thinking or homogenization.

Notably however, when I use the word “typical”, I don’t mean “average”. When I use the word typical in a marketing sense, I’m using the classic definition of the word, meaning: “having the distinctive qualities of a particular type of person or thing.”

Why is this important? Because marketers (and I include strategists, researchers, product designers, packagers, pricing specialists and communicators in that group) need to identify distinctive qualities of particular people to identify needs, design products, package feature bundles, set pricing and spread the word about products that these people want.

In Second Life’s case, as is the case of many sophisticated products for decades now, there are probably several “typicals”. Can they be identified and described? Surely. Is it worth knowing? Definitely. Should Linden Lab aim to know? Absolutely!

So what should Linden Lab do to grow Second Life?

Drax asked me a follow-up question at the end of his comment:

how can Linden Lab do promotion more effectively in this fragmented digital age other than having their most ardent fans be loud and proud?”

Well, marketers have a massive amount of choice when creating their marketing plans, there are a huge amount of tactics to choose from, depending on what the organisation wants to do and in the time frame they wish to do it (not to mention budget).

I honestly can’t, and wouldn’t, answer that question right now, precisely because I don’t have access to the data that I’m talking about in this post. With that data, and that is always the starting point, I’d be happy to try my hand at articulating a comprehensive marketing plan for Second Life, provided they trusted me to do so.

Any other approach would be akin to a doctor prescribing a medication without examining the patient.

Much of what we discuss on inworld, in blogs, in forums, online discussion groups, and in the analog world about what a particular company should do to succeed is little more than conjecture, because we lack answers to five critical questions:

  • Who are the typical Second Life residents? How can we describe them?
  • What do(es) the market(s) for Second Life really want?
  • What’s Linden Lab’s goal and timeline for Second Life?
  • How does Linden Lab stand on that goal now?
  • What’s Linden Lab’s budget to meet that goal on the timeline for Second Life?

I’d be asking these five questions in my first meeting with a new marketing client, and this is only the beginning. Without honest and comprehensive answers to these questions, we can argue all we want about what a company should do (and sometimes that’s really fun to do, so I’m all for it!) but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that any of our suggestions are “right” or “best”. They might be, but it’s really difficult to know, because we don’t yet know the answers to the five questions above.

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