What is it about new communications mediums, such as virtual worlds that seem to make marketers forget everything they learned about their trade since the 1950's?
There are a number of markets that marketers find difficult to penetrate, one of which is the so-called 'geek market' comprised of generally well-educated, strongly opinioned people of all ages, with high-levels of disposable cash. Marketers jump on new media that are perceived as geek havens, and then crank out the old, old, old messages.
Hint: If your market isn't responding to your message, you don't need a new medium - you need a new message.
That holds true whether you're aiming at geeks or 'jocks' or at any other demographic. It holds doubly true since marketing so often fails to adapt their message to new media. When you crank out the old messages in the old ways in new media you don't look fresh, sexy, cutting-edge and exciting; you look tired, lazy and confused.
We put forward the proposition that if you are making your brand look stale, and stodgy you aren't doing yourselves, your products or your company image any service.
Where are your marketers going wrong in virtual worlds? There's a bit of a list, but we'll talk about two particularly relevant ones here. One is mistaking the medium for the market, and the other is failing to understand how people are using the medium.
Mistaking the medium for the market is a pretty obvious one, but that doesn't make it any less prevalent. It is a classic stereotyping mistake. Take a look at Second Life; "Freaks and geeks" is one of the most common views of the demographic. Another is that it is slanted towards the younger crowd (say, under twenty-fives or even under twenties). Both of those views are, essentially, dead wrong. If you're operating your marketing strategy based on these views, you've shot yourself in the foot from the get-go.
If you've done your research, you'll know that your CFO, therapist, pharmacist or car-dealer are just as likely to be Second Life users as your company's IT staff . Second Life users come from all walks of life, though the most populous and heavy users are those who are 25 years and older. They're also very international, with users from most countries on Earth.
Treating virtual world users as a single demographic or as representative of only a couple of demographics is simply an error. It's an error that can kill your marketing efforts, waste your time, and waste your money.
Once you understand who you are marketing to, the next obvious step is to make sure that you can get your message to them, without souring or devaluing it. Those old messages sure can look tired in blogs and virtual worlds and out on the Web. Detrimental, even. That's like spending money to promote the competition. You don't want that.
What you need to do now is to understand how the users are using the medium. That's more than just a quick field-trip.
Just as you would do with marketing and product development in the physical world, you need to go and actually use the new media yourself. You need to interact with people, watch people, and find the gaps. If you don't understand why people are using the medium or how they are using the medium, the odds are good that the only effect your messages will have will be negative.
Find out how people are using the medium, and the sorts of messages they are receptive to in that medium. Look for spaces in which your messages will fit, and how to place them there. Otherwise you're just blowing your marketing budget on pissing people off.
You won't absorb a new medium in an hour, or a day -- and like more established media (newspapers, magazines, radio, film and television) the position of each medium in the attention-space of the market changes slowly over time, as do the uses that the market puts them to. As with these older, more established media, you have to keep current.
Every medium is a challenge and an opportunity, even the older media. Human interactions with media are constantly evolving and changing, and if you are keeping up, you will be more successful than those who are lagging behind.