Is your company a ‘communicator’? If so, it stands to reap the greatest rewards from virtual worlds helping new companies ‘land’ and getting its message to consumers.
Virtual worlds, real dollars
Last week I described the overall business climate of Second Life from the inside looking out. While it’s easy to create a virtual business in Second Life, and even profit on sales of products in Linden dollars, such businesses are more suitable for those who want to create small cottage industries to supplement real-world income.
While it’s essential to understand the psychology of virtual businesses, the advent of virtual worlds will yield revenue opportunities far greater than what is achievable by today’s Second Life virtual businesses. This week and next I step out of the realm of virtual dollars and discuss the greater opportunities for all businesses that use the web today.
Greater economic benefits will come to two groups of companies: the catalysts and communicators.
The “communicator” companies will reap the greatest rewards from virtual worlds, and although there are many “early adopters” trying their hand right now, ultimately it will take some time before sound strategies are commonplace. Most companies that use the web today potentially fall into the “communicator” category. I chose the word carefully because it’s vital to understand that virtual worlds are not some kind of new “profit making” technology, but rather a disruptive technology that will gradually enhance and, for some, totally replace, the way the web is used today. Like the web, virtual worlds are a communication technology, and like the web, those companies that determine how best to profit from them will do so by understanding how to use them to communicate better with customers, employees, and partners.
Catalyst companies are those that understand Second Life now, and can profit from assisting businesses to have a “safe landing” in Second Life, and experiment at achieving goals. Like early web design companies, such catalyst companies have specialised expertise necessary to enter Second Life. I’ll spend more time talking about catalyst companies next week.
In the long run, however, it will be communicator companies who achieve the most in virtual worlds. Is your company a communicator company? Chances are, it is. For example, banks use websites to communicate with customers and facilitate transactions as well as knowledge of their products. Amazon uses the web to communicate the details of their catalogue and to engage consumers in making transactions. Fairfax uses the web to deliver news and information more quickly, and to engage readers in commenting, contributing, and being a part of their news and information community. Just as these online activities replaced many of the same activities that were done using a telephone, virtual worlds, starting with Second Life, will replace many of the activities now done on the web, especially those that involve human contact.
How to get started? Well, there are some immediate Second Life activities that any company can benefit from. One of the most significant is “trade shows”. A Second Life trade show is every bit as “real” and effective as a real-life trade show. Because they are virtual, they are cheaper. There are no geographic boundaries. And, if you’ve been to a Second Life trade show, you know that the networking opportunites are just as significant. If your business does event management, if you are part of a government agency like Austrade, considering virtual trade-shows should be high on your list. You’ll achieve measurable cost-savings and an increase in business development opportunities. Even greater achievements can be made in training and distance-learning.
Another example: If you are in a business that involves architecture, shopping centre design, interior design, city planning or anything related there are immediate opportunities. Creating virtual spaces where customers and clients can “feel” the space and comment directly can almost completely replace meetings, architectural models, and other visualisation tools.
And then there is the “perception” that Second Life adds right now to your business. Don’t underestimate that. Imagine two architectural companies bidding on a multi-million dollar project. One has a virtual version of the building that clients can walk through and experience. The other uses more traditional methods. All things being equal, the company that puts its best foot forward and uses new techniques to help customers understand their products stands a better chance of getting the job.
These are just some examples to get you thinking. The challenge for communicator companies is that, aside from publicity, the real opportunity is one to two years away. Right now, it requires a great deal of thinking and understanding. That’s why catalyst companies are an important part of today’s virtual world’s economy. Next week I’ll talk about how catalyst companies operate, and how to choose and use their services to start developing a Second Life strategy.
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