Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A real-world marketer with a smart SL approach

I just posted to my new CNET blog, Geek Gestalt, about something that I think is of interest to Second Life entrepreneurs.

Earlier, I had written that SL businesses didn't really have to worry that much about real-world companies coming in and selling their wares. There's lots of reasons for that, but mainly it's that just because you're a famous company in the real world, you don't have that many advantages in the virtual world.

A great example of that was the Armani store, which recently opened to resounding apathy and derision, largely because its products were boring, and there just weren't that many to sell anyway.

But now, along comes Herman Miller, the maker of the iconic and insanely comfortable Aeron chairs. They've just opened their store in Second Life, and as reported by Wagner James Au over at New World Notes, they're trying an interesting approach to winning over SL residents, particularly those who either have already bought or are considering buying Aeron knock-offs, of which there are many available.

For a limited time, Herman Miller is offering SL residents who have bought in-world Aeron knock-offs a free trade-in on a legitimate SL Aeron. And if you haven't already bought a fake, you can just go straight to Herman Miller and buy one for a few hundred Lindens.

The thing that's interesting here is that Herman Miller is reaching out to residents with the understanding that you may have already gone the knock-off route because you like the look of the Aeron and it simply wasn't available before. Now it is, and the company wants you to have their version.

I think this is smart, and it's good PR--something that Armani simply had no idea about when it came to SL--because it shows that Herman Miller understands something about Second Life and what people buy. And it's a bit of an olive branch as well: We don't care if you've bought a fake, come get the real thing and it won't cost you a single Linden.

Where Herman Miller may not quite get it is in the cease-and-desist notes it is sending to the makers of the in-world knock-offs. It is hoping that it can get those content creators to stop selling products based on its intellectual property, and in truth, that's fair. Whether sending (polite) C&Ds is the right way to go is up for debate.

Still, I think that if you're in business as an SL entrepreneur, you are going to need to beware of situations like this one with Herman Miller. Its ability to bring a famous product into SL--and I have to say, their in-world Aerons look really good--sell it for a reasonable price and also reach out to buyers of the fakes with the trade-in offer is a good way to come across like a company that "gets" it.

The ultimate lesson here? First, that if you're in business selling fake Aerons, you might want to think about how much future there is in that. And second, that if a real-world company is really smart about how it enters the virtual world, and how it addresses the community, it may in fact pose some kind of threat to existing businesses.

But as always, time will reveal the truth. For now, all you can do is be aware of how things develop and make business decisions based on the best information.

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