Today, I got another submission for a free ad that was basically just the grid’s name. And I regularly talk to grid owners who try to tell me that their grid is special because of its community, and to attract residents they offer low-cost land and free user accounts.
Having a name, low land costs, free user accounts and a “community” does not make a grid special. Every grid out there has those things, even if the “community” is just one guy with a smile on his face.
Few grids have any memorable characteristics.
Think of Domino’s and you think of the 30-minute delivery guarantee. Think of Kool-Aid, and you probably immediately remember that giant pitcher crashing through the wall. If you think of Apple, you probably think of their stylish designs and usability. If you think of Activia yogurt, you might think of Jamie Lee Curtis. Then there was the Verizon “can you hear me now” guy — well, that didn’t go as expected.
Marketing messages don’t even have to make a lot of sense. What does “the real thing” even mean? “We’re number two, so we try harder.” So what? Trying isn’t the same as actually doing.
Companies that are successful in their marketing find a message that resonates, then double-down on it.
I’m not arguing that marketing trumps the actual product. Okay, sometimes it does, but, on average, it’s going to cost a lot more to market a sub-par product, and it’s going to be an uphill battle all the way.
Before investing significant amounts into a branding campaign, make sure the underlying product or service is worthy of that effort. Read more here: How to build trust for your OpenSim product or service.
Once you’ve got that, here are some ideas that might work for your grid.
1. Spokesperson or spokes-avatar
You can build your marketing around a well-known celebrity, or someone who is relatively unknown but interesting or quirky or representative of your grid’s values or features. Or you can create a mascot from scratch.
Once you find someone or something that clicks with potential customers, leverage them in advertising, events, blogs and social media posts, press releases, promotional images and videos, and contests.
Spokespeople — and spokes-avatars — can be temperamental. They can get involved in scandals, switch sides and join your competition, demand huge salary increases if they get popular, or just go away one day and never come back.
Mascots, however, are a different story. You create the mascot from scratch, and you can do whatever you want with their likeness. And if you need a mascot to appear somewhere in person, you can get almost anyone to dress up as them.
Plus, when hiring spokespeople, you have to choose from the people who are already available. With a mascot, you’re only limited by your imagination.
And you can still use them in all the same places you would a spokesperson — ads, press releases, events, and so on. The only difference is that, unlike a spokesperson, a mascot isn’t someone you would send out to speak on behalf of your company.
Ronald McDonald can go out and hand out ice cream cones, but you wouldn’t expect him to talk about the company’s quarterly earnings report.
But a spokesperson, especially one already known as an expert or influencer, can communicate complicated messages on behalf of your grid.
3. Sell the sizzle
When I think of Coke, I think of the soda can being popped open, and that sound it makes when it fizzes. When I think of Burger King, I think of those burgers being flame grilled. I can almost taste them. It makes my mouth water, and I don’t even like burgers. When I think of Baywatch I think of those lifeguards running across the beach.
Is there anything about your grid that can have that same kind of visceral effect?
Maybe there’s a feeling you get when sailing your boat across a virtual sea. Or the joy of bashing in the head of your enemy. Maybe it’s a sunrise over your personal tropical island. Or a sexy avatar dancing in your club.
4. A feel-good story
Some companies are able to leverage their humble beginnings and turn them into an epic origin story. KFC’s Colonel Sanders, for example.
Or the story of Facebook being launched from a college dorm room, or Apple starting out in a garage.
Is there anything interesting, or compelling, or unusual, or funny, or relatable about how your grid got its start?
It can even be embarrassing. Many companies have origin stories where they originally were trying to do something else, or where the founders failed publicly at previous ventures. Laugh at yourself first, and your customers will sympathize.
5. Special offers
Some companies stand out by offering good deals. They might be the cheapest, or offer two pizzas for the price of one. My local supermarket regularly offers buy-one-get-two-free sales. I used to fall for it, until I noticed that all their other prices were super high, and even the super sale prices were not that much lower than other stores’ regular prices.
The offers don’t have to be discounts.
Publishers Clearinghouse sells magazine subscriptions by running a free sweepstakes. I still remember the commercials with people showing up at the door with giant checks.
McDonald’s runs a Monopoly game every year.
AviWorlds is known for offering free regions all the time. And then shutting down unexpectedly before people have time to enjoy them, but still.
Sometimes, a company becomes known for something embarrassing. Like, say, United dragging a passenger off a plane. With some imagination, and some hard, it could turn into a positive. Tylenol is the poster child for this. Seven people died eating poisoned medicine in the 1980s, and the killer was never caught. The company could have been wiped out by this, but instead responded very effectively, and returned to being the top-selling brand. When I think of Tylenol, I think of their slogan, “the brand hospitals trust most,” and it doesn’t sound ironic because of the work the company put into rebuilding that trust. More recently, Martha Stewart’s brand recovered from her actually going to prison.
6. Reality show
What if you don’t have a cool origin story or a crazy big disaster to recover from? You can still create a public narrative around your grid with something like a reality TV show.
Say, for example, you’re redecorating your welcome center. You can make the entire process public — finding the designers, chronicling the in-fighting and drama, asking the public to chime in on key decisions.
Becoming a reality star isn’t for everyone. You’re basically inviting public abuse and criticism. But if you’ve got a thick skin, and can find others who do, too, you can turn this into publicity for everyone involved.
To a large degree, the AviWorlds disasters have played out in the public eye. And whatever else you can say about the grid, it’s certainly not forgettable.
Think about it this way. If your grid is just okay – solid, but nothing special — and nobody has heard of it, you’re not going to see any growth. But let’s say you do something public and flamboyant and 100 people see it. Even if 90 percent of them think it’s dumb, that’s 10 new people who now know about your grid and who might become your customers. If you get the word out to 1,000 people, that’s 100 potential new customers. If you get the word out to 10,000, that’s 1,000 new customers and you’ve got a nice little business.
Even a scandal is an opportunity to get your core value proposition out in front of new people. Yes, you hold a Nazi pride parade once a month — but you also have really good prices on your regions. Sure, you flipped over the dinner table and swore at your best friend — but the jewelry shop on your welcome region is just adorable and well worth a visit.
7. Special events
Expos, fair, contests, hunts, fashion shows, concerts, fundraisers — these are all promotional opportunities for your grid, and reasons for new visitors to come and check it out.
Align the event with your brand, spokespeople or mascots, reality show, special offers or your own brand of sizzle and you’re getting even more bang for your buck.
If the event is also in line with a core value, that’s even better.
And speaking of…
8. Focus on your values
Whether you believe in human rights or in family values, or have a pet cause like cancer research, promoting it can serve two functions. First, it can help advance the cause or the values.
And, second, it can attract people who share your values — as well as people who don’t necessarily share them, but admire the fact that you have them.
So, for example, you might care deeply about cancer research because you have a family member stricken by the disease. Someone else might not care one way or the other about cancer — they might prefer that research money go to, say, preventing syphilis and genital warts — but they might admire the fact that you’re standing up for something.
Promoting a cause can involve charity fundraisers, donating a portion of regular revenues to the charity on an ongoing basis, speaking at events, putting the charity’s marketing messages on your grid’s website or welcome region, sharing their news announcements, and so on.
The cause can be an OpenSim-specific project, like, say, supporting OSgrid. It can be a multi-grid effort like Robstock (recently rebranded as the No Borders Festival). Or it can be something very personal and specific to your grid.
9. Focus on your personality
Some companies are well known for their public personalities. Southwest Airlines, for example, has a fun reputation. IBM was known as solid and reliable — no one ever gets fired for buying IBM.
Old Spice changed their total brand identity from old man to masculine with a series of very, very clever ads that showed that the company has a sense of humor.
Many other personality traits can be magnified and turned into a brand identity, including geekiness, social anxiety, being annoyingly loud, being nit-picky, being too nice, and always being second-best.
10. Be secretive
Yes, being secretive sounds like the opposite of good marketing. But you can market the fact that you are secretive — and lots of companies do this.
Apple is well known for being secretive about their new products, and this helps create buzz around them. Magic Leap became a $4.5 billion company while being very very secretive about what it was developing. Lately, that’s been backfiring on them a bit as news has been trickling out that its product isn’t all its cracked up to be, so this has yet to fully play out. But still, $4.5 billion is nothing to sneeze at.
It’s easy to be successfully secretive if you’re already a successful company, like Apple is, and people are desperate for any news about it.
If you’re not a company that people care about, nobody is going to care that you’re secretive, to boot. You’ll need to prime the pump by letting news dribble out slowly, with big public denials and leak hunts and threats of lawsuits. You know, the usual.
11. Promote your customers
If you promote your customers, they’ll promote you. A great example of this strategy is GoPro’s marketing campaigns, which feature videos filmed by their users.
A grid could build a marketing campaign around its in-world designers and creators, for example. Or around residents who create the most interesting builds, or have the best-decorated houses, or the best costumes.
11. Focus on a particular community
Let’s say you discover that you have a group of people on your grid who like vampire, and you decide to really embrace it. You can promote vampire-related events and creators on your own grid, and those elsewhere. You can go in as a sponsor on vampire-related shows on other grids, or even vampire-related events on other platforms.
By reaching out to the broader vampire community you expose your grid to a large population of people who might never have heard of it before, but who have an immediate connection with you because of that shared interest.
12. Be an educator
There are folks out there who want to, say, run their own grid. Or they want to learn how to install OpenSim, or to successfully hold events, or become a virtual performer, or build stuff.
If you are good at that particular thing, leverage it. Hold educational seminars, write about what you are doing, help others who are just starting out.
By teaching others how to do something, yes, you are potentially creating competitors. But you are also establishing yourself as the top expert in whatever that thing is, and a good member of the community. Your competitors will trust you to run joint projects and your potential customers will find you more credible.
Plus, most people who think they want to do something will decide against it when they find out how much work it actually requires, and will be more than happy to pay someone to do it for them. Such as, oh, for example, you.
13. Own a medium
Once in a while, a new medium appears, some company makes a big marketing using that medium, and is then associated with it for all time.
Take, for example, highway billboards and Burma-Shave. We don’t have billboards yet in OpenSim — but we could. It might be harder for a grid owner to get their billboards up on other grids. Though if enough money is involved, you can convince people of just about anything.
But a content creator who works on multiple grids can do this. Other media ripe for domination include Google Plus communities — though you have to be careful not to promote so much that you become spam. Or YouTube videos. Is there anyone who comes to mind right away when thinking about OpenSim and Pinterest or Instagram?
14. Provide a critical service
The biggest problem OpenSim had at the beginning was a lack of good, legal content. Linda Kellie changed that with her collections, and has helped transform the way people use OpenSim. She created a basic minimum for content that grid owners, builds, and designers could then build on top of.
She hasn’t yet turned this into a business, but that opportunity will always be there for her — or whoever she decides to partner with at some point in the future.
There’s a lot that OpenSim needs right now. A good web-based viewer. An easy way to travel the hypergrid. An events calendar with teleport functionality that knows where all our friends are. A commercial company can create one of these tools and distribute it to help the community.
Many of the most-needed functions don’t have an obvious monetization strategy — if they did, someone would already be doing it for money. That’s why they’re still needed. By stepping up and taking care of it, a company would position itself as a leader and a resource for the entire community.
Ask people what they need most. They’ll be happy to tell you.
For example, I could use a web service where I send in a list of LoginURIs and it spits back information about when that grid was last up, it’s uptime percentage of the past month or week, and whether its up right now. I’m not the only one who would benefit — this would be useful to anyone running a hyperport. Plus, by collecting all the information once and distributing it to everyone, grids won’t be queried by individual hyperports over and over again, slowing down their servers.
15. Be a leader
Nobody likes people who step up and take all the credit, and tell everyone what to do. So nobody wants to do it — who wants to be universally hated? Well, suck it up.
OpenSim needs leaders. We need people to step up and get things done. To organize the documentation, to create a roadmap, to recruit and motivate developers, to raise funds, to find and fix bugs, to be the voice of the community.
Nobody is going to knock on your door and invite you to come do it — unless someone stands up and becomes the one who does the knocking.
Yes, people will complain that you’re unfairly promoting your own grid, your own projects, your own friends, whatever. They’ll complain no matter who’s in charge. They’ll fight you on every step of the way, no matter how reasonable your ideas. That’s what people are like, and open source communities are no better than anyone else here. People be crazy. Leaders have to deal with crazy people. It’s just a fact of life. The more successful you are, the more people will call you names and threaten to sue you, and wage secret wars against you.
Becoming a leader is easy. Just look for something that needs to be done, with nobody doing it. This shouldn’t be hard! Then do it. And get other people to do it. And tell people that you’re doing it. And ask people for feedback about how you’re doing it. And improve how you’re doing it. And take credit for it once it gets done, and use that success to go tackle the next project.
And, by the way, taking credit for something means giving credit to other people. By standing up and saying, “We got our project done, and it was all thanks to Joe, stand up Joe, and take a bow,” you are not only praising Joe and giving credit where credit is due but — and this is most important — you are the one giving out the credit. It’s the ultimate humble brag, and the most successful kind of brag there is, and nobody will complain that you did it. If they do, they’ll sound like idiots.
Bad leaders say things like, “I did this all on my own and nobody helped me. Why isn’t anyone giving me the credit I deserve?” Good leaders say, “This wouldn’t have been possible without this amazing team. They’re the ones who deserve all the credit. I’m just lucky to be here to watch them go. It was inspiring.”
Meanwhile, the skills you pick up, and the connections you make, will be useful to your in all areas of your business. Your employees and customers will be proud to be associated with you.
And, of course, you’ll help move OpenSim forward, and that’s what we’re all looking for.
Check out her author page on Amazon or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Her first virtual world novella, Krim Times, made the Amazon best-seller list in its category. Her second novella, The Lost King of Krim, is out now.