Are virtual worlds an over-hyped waste of time for marketers?

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Below is a short piece I wrote for Marketing magazine on the topic of “Are virtual worlds an over-hyped waste of time for marketers?” Four other people also contributed, including executives from Sulake (creators of Habbo Hotels) and Naked Communications.

If marketers have a time horizon of 6 months or less for their employers’ success and their own careers, then virtual worlds are in many cases an over-hyped waste of time. Online spaces such as Second Life, Entropia, World of Worldcraft and many others are now a significant phenomenon. However this is just the beginning. Online interaction began on bulletin boards, then shifted to Internet browsers. The next phase will allow people to immerse themselves completely in online worlds. Eventually the experience of interacting online will be difficult to distinguish from real-world interaction, and be used extensively in our work and play.

There are three reasons why marketers would want to get involved in virtual spaces now, when they are nascent, rather than waiting until the majority of the most attractive consumers spend significant time there.

1. Lead consumers and influencers are already heavily involved in virtual worlds such as Second Life. If you want to access or learn from the most interesting, influential, exploratory people around, there is no better place to go.

2. By being active in Second Life, you demonstrate to your clients that you understand the leading edge of where society and marketing are going. (Of course if you don’t understand that this is the case, then don’t bother.)

3. By exploring and engaging in virtual worlds, including trying out marketing campaigns, you will discover – and in fact create – the best ways to get results in this booming new domain.

If you don’t believe that virtual worlds will be a significant part of how people interact and engage in the future, stick to what you know and don’t waste your time. If you recognise the potential then get involved now, forge a path in this new space, and leave the others behind.

  • Ross,
    Finally someone who ‘knows’ the future that isn’t writing a ‘world is falling’ piece on Second Life.
    http://www.Cognation.net has a specific project we are working on in Second Life that utilizes first world/virtual world interaction so we’ve been working with a number of people on the ‘bleeding’ edge of virtual marketing for the last 6 months.
    It’s been amazing to see the swing from hype to hysteria about virtual world commercial opportunities.
    The only advice I give to people is what you are seeing today is the very tip of virtual interactions. Sure it has flaws (in fact certain aspects just plain suck).
    But so did most websites when they first began to be adopted by companies for ‘global marketing’.
    Seriously the web has been mainstream for less than 10 years – lol don’t believe me go check out what the SMH.com.au site looked like in 1997 here http://web.archive.org/web/19970111111044/http://www.smh.com.au/
    I think the problem with technology is that we live breath and exist in it until all of a sudden it’s just here and we forget how freaking cool it actually is.
    Either way great advice Ross – I’m some people will take your advice and play it safe but I’m also some Australian brand managers might just ‘pony up to the virtual bar’ and knock a campaign out of the park with a super successful marketing campaign.
    Cheers,
    Dean Collins
    http://www.Cognation.net