Unofficial brands in Second Life – the options for marketers

Unofficial brands in Second Life – the options for marketers. Although over 100 brands are now in Second Life, the number of brands represented on an unofficial basis is much, much higher.

People reading this post may well have their company or brand in Second Life without them even knowing. This raises some interesting decisions for companies in terms of managing this risk. But, as this article will illustrate, with risk sometimes comes reward.
Which categories are prone to unofficial representation?

As the typical evolution of avatars (residents) from a virtual consumption perspective leans towards personal customisation, the category most prone is fashion. This includes branded items such as jeans, t-shirts, shoes and other clothing. Lifestyle accessories are next on the list with items such as watches and jewelry frequently copied.

Cars are also extremely popular. Although there’s already a high number of automobile brands already in Second Life, there are just as many unofficial brands present.

Here are the options:

1. Ignore

There’s no such thing as bad publicity right? With revenue streams in Second Life for virtual products still comparatively low, there’s no real loss of company income. And, with SL being full of influential early adopters what’s the harm in our brand being presented to them? Doing nothing is an option, but it’s probably the worst option to take.

2. Remove

This is probably the first option that is considered. After all, unofficial representation can be a trademark infringement, IP violation or just simply stealing for commercial gain. Above all, if the brand is being used without company consent then that company has zero control over it and that’s usually a bad thing.

This does differ from category to category though. There’s a lot of fashion product in SL using unofficial brand logos and designs and just as with the real world and counterfeit products, these activities are never left at least un-monitored and in most cases tracked down. However, there’s a lot of unofficial Ferrari’s in Second Life but not so many being flogged on the streets of Bangkok.

3. Observe

This option provides excellent market research from a marketing channel not fully understood or experienced by the brand in question. If your company is not in Second Life officially but your product is, this presents a great opportunity (for free) to see how it’s used and presented.

Bearing in mind that for the majority of ‘amateur’ virtual retailers in Second Life, the income they receive from selling virtual goods is small, being able to observe their activity is valuable. This is because it’s more of a hobby for them and on this basis, a lot of emphasis is based on how they are interpreting the brand values associated with a product, the environments they create to display them and the customer service (and associated mechanics) to facilitate sales. This is test marketing for real world brands without needing a budget for it. Zero risk, all upside.

4. Endorse

As yet an un-touched territory but potentially one with major opportunities for real world brands. If a company has products unofficially in Second Life produced to a high enough standard, then they should consider giving official approval to the in-world creators.

Then can actually improve the in-world product if the brand can be refined and improved by the involvement of the real world brand/product managers and marketers.

This provides instant official entry into Second Life at a (virtually) zero cost. The distribution channel is already in existence (the virtual shop for example), the marketing communications are already in place and the payment mechanic exists.

The person/people who created the products in the first place can then either a) refuse and then face having the products removed due to trademark infringement b) remove the products and only offer virtual unbranded goods c) agree and gain the kudos of working collaboratively with a real world brand. A bit of a no-brainer.

5. Engage
This option has the greatest potential upside both in virtual and real terms. It’s important to remember that many of the creators of unofficial products in Second Life are brand advocates – they have chosen a particular brand(s) to recreate. This selection was made partly because they have a real world relationship with the brand – a relationship they have then translated into a virtual platform.

Closing down these brand advocates simply closes the door to future possibilities for the brand.

A strategy of involvement between the real world brand and the virtual one delivers many benefits. Firstly, it captures the endorsement element explained above. The company straightaway has a retailing presence in Second Life along with the research gathering that comes with it.

More importantly, an opportunity for NPD is created by combining the real world and virtual brand expertise. This post on metabrands explains the opportunities for brands in virtual worlds and explains that there is a major potential for brands to be created that fulfills virtual (not real world) consumption demand providing unique services to residents.

Just simply recreating real world products in metaverses has a limited lifespan – the novelty wears off. But, as populations of virtual worlds continues to grow, new demand and new types of virtual requirements will appear and this is the opportunity for real world brands – working with virtual retailing experts, leveraging their real world brand equity and creating branded products and services developed purely for virtual world consumption.

Required reading:

The 5 Rules to Virtual Brand Management. Order it here.