I had the opportunity to catch up with Ken Brady, gadfly and immersive world guru-type fella. Now for a lot of folks, conversations about immersive worlds goes 'Second Life' fast. Between them, Hipihi, and metabirds, you cover a lot of ground. And miss a lot.
Oh - and you lose everyone. I mean c'mon. Walk into a marketing department and say 'Second Life' and you may as well be selling Dutch tulips. Or plague bandages. Or dead, really stinky animals. Or barf.
So for those of you who class immersive worlds somewhere near "Klingons vs. Furries Bowling", Ken had some interesting insights. And there's even a chance to win a prize somewhere in this entry. Like at the end.
Back to Ken.
I asked him to share four important things everyone should know, here's the knowledge bombs dropped:
1. Everything you learn now will change in two weeks. Ken knew thirty new platforms in various stages of development, each with a range of strengths and weaknesses. The platfrom-specific knowledge from an experience in any would, he suggested, have the shelf life of sushi.
2. Fast retreat = Community Backlash. In other words, don't treat immersive world brand experiences like campaigns with a hard start and finish. The social contract of entering an immersive world requires a real community engagement (read: committment) to earn the respect of the in-world inhabitants. Hence the creation of the SLLA - originally formulated to resist marketing incursions (including "shooting" people entering SL American Apparel stores, though of late they've taken a political stance seeking in-world political rights...)
3. Own the IP and/or 3d models built to support your in-world efforts - otherwise you'll need to rebuild them the next time you need them. Also, the models may (and this is a big 'may') be cross-platform compatible, so while you may need to re-stretch some polygons, don't pay twice for the wireframes/skeletons if you don't need to...
4. Engage communities on their terms, not yours. A brand conversation in Gaia online (e.g., 'The Last Mimzy') versus a Second Life dialoge are different experiences entirely. Before you can relevantly message or "plus-up" an in-worlder's experience, you gotta know what makes the eco-system tick - what are the goals, rewards and social currencies (explicit and implicit) built into or minted in those locations? How do you enhance what's going on and provide real value?
As we talked, we also discussed the role of a community manager/virtual brand manager in virtual space, and the outsourcing of marketing functions by real world brands to virtual world teams. This gets real interesting real fast. To whit: Brand management as classically understood in the command and control systems of CPGs has to evolve to community management.
With IP dissemination in virtual space (literally and figuratively) control is effectively gone. (This is the irony of "UGC" - if your brand is relevant to people, there is UGC around it. The choice isn't whether it makes sense, the choice is how to engage)
So you can fight the loss of total brand control in interactive space, or leverage it.
Virtual worlds, dealt with attentively and respectfully, have the potential to become crowdsourced brand forums where you can learn a lot about how your brand could better meet the needs of virtual customers and advocates - and the lessons learned there may well feed real world conversations as well.
Leveraging the power of those spaces means participating relevantly in the communities themselves and being a part of conversations around your brand - aiding and enabling, or correcting as needed.
How's that sound: "Brand guides, not brand managers." Nice 2.0, 2.5 and 3.0 ring to it.
Or you can just bowl with Klingons and Furries. But remember you gotta dress the part. Who knows - they may even love you for it. By the way? disturbing number of SL sex forums with Furries. One innocuous Google search netted this gem. Jeepers, people. I'm not saying, just sayin'.
Special Prize Opportunity:
First five people to post a mailing address in the comments section (if you don't want to go public, email me at email@example.com) get a real world copy of the "Girls of Second Life" calendar.
No, I'm not kidding.