There is an interesting quote in the article “Virtual style? In Another Life, “9/19/07 in the London-based Financial Times by Sabrina Dent, alias Sabrina Doolittle, of Linden Lifestyles, Second Life “is an excellent platform for building relationships, cementing brands and building consumer loyalty – yet few real-life brands are doing those things correctly” adds Dent.This article is an excellent resource for anyone interested in retail branding and marketing in Second Life – it’s a must read. It addresses how Second Life can change the way we shop – but from what I have been seeing – avatars of all types are already changing the way we shop. My Virtual Model and E-Mees are well on their way to achieving that retail marketing goal – virtual worlds like Second Life are the logical next step. Here is an interesting piece about the making of the sidebar image (pictured above).
What happened? I know that iVillage ran Virtual Fashion Week in Second Life last February designed to coincide with Fashion Week but the overloading of avatars attempting to attend caused extreme “chaos” and ‘delay” as one blogger put it. Currently there are limitations of about 40 avatars per sim for live events in Second Life. I see the iVillage event used 4 sims so that would expand avatar limit to 150-160 for the event.
The in-world show can be viewed here and at the Girls Night Out at the i-village in Second Life site. It looks like they had great plans in the beginning but the limitation of virtual worlds are for major events are still a major obstacle. Some bloggers that attended expressed their frustrations. The concept was really great but it was ahead of it’s time – technology needs to catch up with it. The dilemma is that as the technology advances and the capabilities increase – users need to also upgrade to keep up. I spoke to some members of the iVillage group to ask if they had any communication from iVillage about events and happenings since the Girls Night Out Show in SL last Feb. No one has heard a thing – including myself. I did teleport over to the i-village Loft on Sheep Island (39,156,25) but it looks very vacant there – the HUD Tour was not working. One of my contacts stated that repeated attempts were made to contact iVillage regarding in-world events but there was no reply.
iVillage was ahead of their time planning for too large an event in Second Life but they started out with the key to building a successful virtual marketing strategy. They promoted well in the real world, started a group in-world and they created an on-line Girls Night Out blog in the real world – but it seems that they did not follow up. The last entry in the iVillage blog was Feb 2007 and no in-world events that I am aware of occurred since the Girls Night Out show . If I missed something or If anyone knows what is going on there – please let me know.
You can see from reading my previous posts that retailers like H&M and Sears are discovering that the secret to virtual marketing is by first embedding and integrating the brand and/or product into a social networking and/or game virtual environment. iVillage seems to have had the ball early on but dropped it after experiencing a setback based on large mega in world events that experienced technology constraints and perhaps too large of a learning curve for users new to virtual environments. Maybe they should have shifted their focus to regularly scheduled smaller in-world social events and worked to build on the social connection of the real world blog with lots of interconnectivity to the main iVillage site (especially the avatar related links). There is the “virtual hair stylest at iVillage, that is powered by the Hairstyler.com. iVillage also has the MVM and the Makeover O-Matic: Virtual Makover on their site. The virtual makeover lets the users customize hairstyles, make-up and accessories.
Makes one wonder if their media strategy and marketing company bit off more then they could chew with this start with a bang end with a fizzle virtual promotion campaign.
Perhaps the article from Communication Overtones titled” How to Successfully Promote Your Company in Second Life,” sums it up well. They concluded that to build a successful brand, companies need to create experiences vs. destination. I will add to that by suggesting that building social communities in controlled self-contained virtual environment like the H&M and Sears marketing strategies are currently doing will enhance and strengthen the brand identity as well as serve to provide a smooth transition (learning curve) for the target market to move seamlessly into a larger virtual environment in the near future.
Previous postings have focused on avatars being used to:
visualize the fashion product itself on a 360 degree rotation as with the 360 promo product.
cater to the mass customization trend by enabling individual customer fashion garment fitting using MVM.
“push” market new products and services as with the MVM i-mail product.
create social and game communities that directly connect to the online retail products as with Sears e-Mes.
initiate retail/game brand merging to create a retail familiarity and brand identification for the target market as with H&M and the Sims.
market fashion products simultaneously in the global virtual world and in the real world as the House of Nyla is currently doing.
This article titled, “Avatars Give Retail Websites That Important “Personal” Touch,” by Associate Marketing Professor Julie Baker is interesting. She states that the results of research concludes that “avatars to be potentially powerful marketing tools” for retailers and I tend to strongly agree with her. Can you help me find more examples of avatars that are directly being used to market products?
This example is from a company called Gizmoz has an interesting use of personalized avatars. Did anyone watch the 2007 MTV VMA awards 9/9/07? In addition to the Brittney meltdown they played a commercial ‘AVATARSMENT’ sponsored by Taco Bell. It represents a partnership between a company called Gizmoz, MTV and TacoBell®.
This note is from the Taco Bell® site:“Taco Bell® has chosen three lucky fans to star as virtual actors in an ad for Fourthmeal. The winners were chosen as part of Taco Bell’s TV Me! contest, in partnership with Gizmoz and MTV. In less than two weeks, consumers created more than 17,000 Gizmoz clips, which were viewed more than 920,000 times.”Here is a link to the final commercial ‘AVATARSMENT’ that was created from the winning entries.
Would you like to make your own personal avatar for trying on fashions before you buy them or have you already discovered My Virtual Model Inc. (MVM)?
This company was co-founded in 1993 by Louise Guay, Ph.D., and Jean-François St-Arnaud. They teamed up to build one of Canada’s leading multimedia agencies, Public Technologies Multimedia Inc. (PTM). My Virtual Model was released in 1997 and it was a major breakthrough in online customer service. In 2000, PTM became My Virtual Model Inc.
Two primary products: My Virtual Model™ Dressing Room and My Fit—enable consumers to “try on” clothes on the Internet. MVM users can create their own personal avatar model and “try before they buy” to get a better idea of how the fashion item will look on their figure. Optional features added to the basic MVM package are virtual shopping assistants that include zoom, fit & size suggestions, recommended items, shop by outfit and the outfit wizard; my closet where you can save your personal profile as well as your selections and an e-mail option where the user can e-mail their personal model to others.
The company also has a product called MVM – iMail that personalizes messages to a customer base. It seems to be a push marketing tool.
A novel use of the MVM avatar is the MVM – Weight Loss Manager for weight loss tracking and visualization. The display can show the start, current and goal weights side-by-side – nice.
The only (kind of/sort of indirectly related) comparable product I have located is the Virtual Reality Fashion Tour from a company called 360 promo. They offer services for developing 360 degree fashion, product and location virtual tours. You cannot customize the avatar or the products you select to place on the avatar – they simply provide a full 360 rotational view of the product as is. I would consider this a static virtual marketing tool and not an interactive (real-time) mass customization tool as the MVM products are. With the 360 promo, the user drags the mouse to rotate the image on a 360 degree rotation. Check it out yourself – here is a link to the fashion page.
As a side note (because we are focusing primarily on avatars here), the MVM company also provides services to other markets with a product called MVM Showroom™ that allows customers to visualize hard or soft goods. It can be used for kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, dining room, patio, etc.
If you would like to try My Virtual Model for yourself, you will have a large number of retailers to choose from. Some of the brands on this Webpage list Lands End, Sears, H&M, Adidas and Levi Strauss just to name a few. They also have links to i-village for trends and Nutrisystem for weight loss – it’s a very impressive list. If you would just like to play with creating a virtual model first to see what it’s like without going through a retailer first you do that right here. I take my students there when I talk to them about virtual retail merchandising.
The company also offers a Digital Merchandising Tool called DMT Web™ that can be customized for companies working via the Web on product development. It looks like a Web based version of the ClicDesign ColorTool module for Adobe Illustrator. ClicDesign was part of Age Technologies Inc. up until July 2006, when they were acquired by My Virtual Model Inc. ClicDesign has a full line of affordably priced modules for Photoshop and Illustrator developed specifically for the apparel, textile and fashion product development industry. I know the ClicDesign modules very well because I have been teaching them to my students for many years. The company is exceptionally supportive to education and sponsors an Academic Donation Program.
This company is covering all the bases – they even offer a product called the MVM — Configurator. They will work with a client to develop a specialized interface to enable customer customization of a clients products.
My Virtual Model will be a participating host of the upcoming World Conference on Mass Customization & Personalization (MCPC). This conference is designed to bridge academic research and management practice and provide an interactive platform for learning about mass customization strategies and exploring proven and new technologies and enablers.
The theme of the conference is ” MCPC 2007: Extreme Customization” it starts at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge/Boston, with an interdisciplinary focus on the new advancements in the field. The second part of the conference, in the form of a business seminar hosted by My Virtual Model at HEC Montréal—Canada’s oldest business school—addresses the application and implications of mass customization and personalization in retail.
I was very interested to see that My Virtual Model will sponsor a seminar titled “The Extreme Makeover of Retail,” Wednesday, October 10, 2007. Seminar participants include representatives from MVM, Sears and Reebok. Another seminar is titled “An Extreme Makeover of Product Creation and Merchandizing,” and my favorite one titled “Avatar Marketing: An Extreme Makeover of the Self,” is where Louise Guay, President and Founder of My Virtual Model will present. There are other interesting seminars also, here is a link to the conference schedule. This looks like an excellent conference on how technology is driving mass customization.
Well apparently H&M branding and marketing fashions virtually via the Sims are not the only big major retailers entering the virtual marketplace via “tweens” interest in virtual “avatar” fashion dolls.
According to the Chicago Sun Times, Sears has launched a partnership with myvirtualmodel.com and meez.com to develop the e-Me site. E-mes is another term for personalized avatar that the user can dress in a wide variety of customized shoes and apparel that is available on the Sears site. The user (tween) saves the virtual clothing in a virtual closet and the parent can then select items from the closet to order in the real life retail world – with a 10% discount.
I know the strategy is perfect to initiate this type of marketing because I have granddaughters that are entering the target demographic and they are highly responsive to these types of on-line sites. The concept is great and Sears is definitely on the cutting edge of virtual branding and marketing here but it needs more visibility – but maybe they are working on it because a large number of the gallery images were newly created. (note: they are working on it because “Internet Buzz” about e-mes is rising) The addition of the planned on-line games inspired by something like the Webkinz concept should push up the awareness several more notches. Webkinz like e-Mes is a controlled on-line environment that bridges the virtual and the physical worlds.
On a side note I just mentioned this virtual e-Mes marketing stratagy to my son who is an MBA and the father of tweens. He stated that Sears must have added some cool and cutting edge MBA’s to their management team to develop this innovative virtual promotion. I would like to think it is a combination of MBA’s, IT and Creative Management working together as a team on this project.
Kuddos to Sears for moving to the head of the pack with this marketing/branding trend!
Double kuddos – I just listened to the NPR Morning Edition from 6/18/07 titled “Firms Seek Elusive Real Profit in Virtual Business.” It’s about a recent conference in the virtual world hosted by the Center of Business Opportunities in the Virtual World.
It mentioned the positive promotional aspects of virtual marketing but also touched on the current simultaneous user limitations of 30 to 40 thousand avatars at one time. It mentioned that Sears was one of the major corporate participants along with IBM and American Express. The next logical move from a self contained virtual marketing package like e-Mes would be to a global virtual environment like Second LIfe and it looks like Sears is definitely leading the pack by exploring the possibilities of researching the marketing impact that an international virtual environment can provide. Past retail experiments in the virtual world have been unsuccessful because I suspect that based on what I have seen in the educational research – the key to success is building a virtual “community” as opposed to only a virtual replica of a real world store and assuming it will be instantly filled. The global virtual retail marketing community is being developed right now with Webkinz, Sims and now e-Mes.
NOTE: Here is a link to an excellent NPR studio session titled “Go Get a (Virtual) Life.“ It was on Talk to the Nation, 8/31/07. It has multiple guests addressing various psychological and social aspects in the virtual world and how and why it appeals to young users.
There is an emergence of the virtual avatar as a fashion marketing and product development tool. An avatar is a graphical image of the viewer that is widely used in massively multi-user online virtual reality environments and games. Avatars are currently emerging in the retail sector as an idealized generic and/or customized marketing tool for an expanding variety of fashion products. The combined marketing promotion of H&M and The Sims to integrate H&M into the Sims game as well as the Sims and H&M Virtual Runway Fashion Design Competition represents the branding impact of fashion in virtual worlds. According to the recent article in the International Herald Tribune titled “Fashion Giants are Venturing in Virtual Worlds,” the world is not big enough for the global fashion community.”
H&M is at the forefront of virtual branding with this promotion and it is only a matter of time before other retailers will really catch on to the marketing power of virtual fashion competitions and brand identity. Check out the “Virtual Value” trend from the 2008 Trendwatching Report.
Every virtual marketing strategy requires careful research to analyze the target demographic but Second Life teen grid and main grid is overflowing with interest in virtual fashion. A carefully planned virtual marketing campaign for the Harry potter IMAX movie resulted in 15,000 contacts in the target demographic.
A number of retailers are paying attention to the marketing/branding potential that virtual worlds like Second Life can provide. A real life version of the virtual Second Life firstbling™ necklace emerged just before the recent SLCC 2007 convention. The integration of the virtual world and fashion can only add up to strategic virtual promotional and marketing campaigns, and embedded virtual branding potential for retailers on an international level.
Lacoste recently ran a virtual modeling contest in Second Life for L1$ million. The House of Nyla has a Second Life link on her Web site to promote her virtual fashion location in Second Life. Nyla is a Vancouver Designer who creates one of a kind clothing from Bridal to Avant Garde. She has an excellent link on her site to a video aptly titled “Tex 100 Brand Building in Second Life.” A recent short U-Tube video titled “Brands in Second Life,” reviews some of the branded builds in Second Life.
The British branding firm Rivers Run Red is working with real-world fashion firms and media companies inside Second Life, where they’re creating designs that can be viewed in all their 3D glory by colleagues anywhere in the world. According to Business Week, the branding firm is working with a consortia of more then 200 companies (including retail giant Wal-Mart) to present how virtual worlds can be used for training marketing, collaboration and product development. So convinced of the value of the virtual presence and future marketing impact of Second Life is the Rivers Run Red firm that the CEO, Justin Bovington has set up shop on the virtual island of Avalon. He claims that the virtual presence has saved his company big $$$. The company recently collaborated with Scarlett Johansson, to release a new line of real-life clothing that will also be offered in Second Life. Inspired by real world collections some virtual Second Life versions are available and can be viewed at Mrs Jones Love, Set & Match.
Bershka (a Spanish brand) has a virtual fashion presence in Second Life and promotes it on the Website.
To be continued….