No brand is an island

No brand is an island. In metaphoric terms in the real world, of course, no brand or organisation can afford to be an island.

In other words, almost by definition, brands in any market place have to have outward personality in tune with their customers and prospects as opposed to having an isolationist character. Why? Because companies want relationships with their customers and to have a relationship, the attitude and tone of a brand combined with the levels of service and touchpoint experiences combine together to form an opinion and perception in the minds of their stakeholders.

So how does this translate into a metaverse environment?

On a literal basis, 73.3% of the real world brands in Second Life decided to start their virtual world existence on a dedicated island as opposed to locating on the mainland or third-party venue. The (updated) brand map clearly shows this preference.

In symbolic terms, the decision to create an entire island presence in SL has been de rigueur for the majority of organisations largely as an external statement – ‘hey, we’ve just opened our Second Life island (because we’re a cutting-edge company in tune with the latest developments in online technology)‘.

But, for some of the companies on islands, this approach has not been the right one.

One of the primary issues with locating on a dedicated island is space – there’s lots of it. And, having a large parcel of land means you have a fill it. And there lies the issue. Having to fill an island with content means the overall metaverse strategy is heavily influenced by assets as opposed to idea – ‘we need to fill this island‘.

This explains why some companies has features on their islands with apparently no relation to their real world offering. It also explains why a lot of corporate islands look barren – when an island has been used but the actual focal point of the island is actually a small venue.

Shifting back to metaphoric association, having an island off the mainland of SL appears to contradict the rationale many companies use when entering SL. This is the rationale of wanting to resonate and create relationships with the early adopter community inside SL. So, if you want to ‘seed’ into SL, surely you should be where all the people are – on the mainland.

This argument can of course be counter-acted by highlighting the ease of transporting, or rather teleporting easily from any point in SL to another. Therefore apparently negating the issue of an island being disparate from the mainland. But, just because you can (teleport) doesn’t mean you will.

The message given to residents when brands opt for dedicated islands has both symbolic and metaphoric connotations. The former point is one of purposely not wanting to be on the mainland. The latter to a degree implies not wanting to be near the residents (the higher degree of control over a dedicated island supports this). And, probably goes some way to explaining the backlash sometimes demonstrated towards real-world brands.

But, this isn’t an anti-island post.

There’s a lot of benefits to having an island as part of an overall metaverse strategy – as long as you have a strategy.

Of course, some strategies are in fact scale-driven. Pontiac and Motorati Island is a great example of this. Motorati Island has several different elements to it and requires a lot of space. This was the strategy, so an island is appropriate.

Room for expansion is another good rationale for having a private island. IBM has a vast footprint in SL due to the many different ways they are exploring the metaverse. Mercedes Benz is another example of a company that has bolted on additional islands around their initial one. This would not be as easily possible on the mainland.

Another reason is brand control and positioning. A mainland presence does have the potential downside of undesirable neighbours – establishments deemed unsuitable to be associated with a real world brand. Dedicated islands remove this issue.

So which brand islands would have benefited from a mainland location?

Movietickets is a brand better off on the mainland. Their concept is a virtual cinema complex streaming film trailers. It’s not rocket-science to figure out how cinemas make their money in the real world and how a venue can be more popular in the virtual world – footfall – traffic – maximising the opportunity for residents to find the venue and explore it.

Retailers (a fast growing segment in SL) would also benefit, for the same reasons as Movietickets. Entrants of late (Aveda and Cecile for example) have opted for mainland presence and some of the older locations (Telus, American Apparel) were also here. Coldwell Banker also decided against a dedicated island.

But goes that mean islands are a no-no?

Absolutely not. Think of it some instances as the head office. What is extremely important for the vast majority of brands in Second Life is to realise that residents are in many cases what makes or breaks metaverse activity. Get involved in the action – bed in – and think about how to shape the strategy around the residents and mainland.

There are of course other options for brands in Second Life….

Some campaigns/initiatives have been hosted on third party islands. Bantam Dell, iVillage, Renault Twingo, 1-800 Flowers, CNet, Calvin Klein and others have all set up residence on SIMs managed by developers. The rationale for this option is part spacially-driven, part cost-driven, time-related and strategically in line with their objectives.

We’re also now seeing brand tie-ins, where two brands combine in Second Life. Whether or not synergy is created here remains too be seen (simply because it’s too early). But when one brand partners with another, say by one being integrated into the other’s existing island (Reuters and Acura have just deployed such a campaign) then there are benefits for both parties.

And let us not forget that in some instances an actual official venue is not required at all. This new concept, in most (future) cases is product-centric strategy. K Zero invented the term Metabrand – a product created purely for virtual consumption. In this scenario, all the product needs is a distribution channel – shops or advocating avatars involved in the promotion and selling (or in some cases giving away) the product.

Virtual competitions and promotions can also follow this lead – as long as other channels are used effectively to advertising the initiatives.

No brand is an island.