As I mentioned previously, the HBR article, Avatar-based Marketing, talksa bit about how 3D worlds and online characters are becoming asubstantial population online. The author (a senior editor at HBR)mentions the big names like World of Warcraft, Everquest, etc. thathave millions of members focused in game-based environments, and theopportunity to market to this audience. He also mentions the otherenvironments that are more based on socializing such as SecondLife, Stagecoach Island, MyCoke/Coke Studios, There, etc.
The article has potential and certainly opens this topic up to a wholelot of others who would probably not be familiar with this newtechnology (i.e., HBR readers tend to be high-level business andmanagement folk). This is a hot topic obviously if it is starting toinvade such ranks.
However, the article seems to focus primarily on how to advertise in such environments as the marketing strategy, in subtle or obvious forms. This is a certainly of interest to the avant-garde advertisingand marketing firms. My interests lie elsewhere primarily in the newdomain of building online communities as not just an advertising basebut an actual loyal following of members.
The utility of the online world still seems to be lost on many people;instead they focus on existing strategies/mechanisms that they couldtranslate into an online setting, such as the advertising strategy.Advertising will always have a place in the world, but it is only thevery first stage of gaining a following.
In my view, there is actually a progression of "people interested in what you have": the uninitiated, the aware, the casual member, the customer (or user), and finally the fan (theeager customer). Advertising primarily focuses on driving the firstthree towards a vague hope of them becoming customers. Most companiesare happy when people become customers, even if some are reluctantcustomers. The real wins come from those who become fans.
The thought goes that the fans are the ones who assist in acquiringother new customers. This makes it easier on the organization's effortstowards growth. The fans are worth a whole lot more to an organizationthan just a regular customer. An easy example is Apple, which has asignificant number of fans compared to regular customers. This hashelped them not just stay in business but also in the lead as one ofthe most insipiring and innovative companies.
The honest truth is that it takes a lot to elevate customers towardsbecoming fans. This is based on not just the creation of innovativeideas technology but also on how these innovations are conveyed anddelivered. Then comes the on-going support of these fans, not just theproducts and services.
The million dollar question: How do you start and cultivate fans?
I'll give a hint, it's not a short-term process...
Marketing in the virtual world