Iggy O has posted on the “In a Strange Land” blog regarding a recent Linden Lab marketing piece that evidently appeared on the SL web site. I’m unclear if it has shown up in other contexts as well. But it certainly is “interesting” for a number of reasons. I don’t know if it will beget a reaction from potential new customers...but it certainly got a reaction from many existing ones.
Iggy’s reaction was, I think, representative of what many thought:
“So this vision is the best that Linden Lab can do for us today? This is pretty far from what creative residents have built on Linden Lab's infrastructure. The Lab currently seems to be casting about, wildly, for customers. The campaigns flail back and forth, from the far slicker and interesting 'put some steam in your punk' images that ran a couple of weeks back to...this.
It's The Sims....”
My own initial response, which I posted on the “Strange Land” blog was an extension of this:
“...it is rather suggestive of something I have always suspected about the Lindens--even back in the "Philip" era.
The people at the company simply don't "get" the majority of us. It is not just that they don't understand or appreciate the diverse majority of their customer base--they seem to be downright embarrassed by us. They may even be a little bit afraid of us. Otherwise, I believe they would have followed a strategy encouraging their staff to more aggressively engage with the residents on their own turf rather than from the safety of "office" hours.
Yes, back in Rosedale days, someone at the lab had a more sincere appreciation for a certain element of the artsy-freaksy cool creator class people, but they still seemed confused, unsettled and uncertain with regards to the rest of us loonies, especially in the historical/literary/rp based communities. They weren't terribly supportive of us, and certainly never acknowledged us.
So is this new focus on marketing to "norms" all that different from the days when they focused on celebrating and recognizing (they really didn't do marketing in those days) a different particular limited class of people?
I think I feel a Dio Rant coming on.”
Basically, I think that reactions of people like me and Iggy come from a sense that what happens in SL--and the majority of the people you will encounter on the grid--are not represented in that advertisement. I have spent a lot of years in this goddam pixelated vale o’ tears and covered a shitload o’ territory in my time, but by Gawd, I don’t think I have ever seen a happy white suburban family quite like those photoshopped folks in the picture...not even as a parody, or in some kind of bizarre John Cheever-esque vision of suburban hell.
That just isn’t us. Those people are not in SL, at least not in the places I’ve explored.
So I was ready to let go with both barrels and have some fun with it. But then...instead of spewing the usual verbal pyrotechnics framed within the context of my SOP of “shoot first and then maybe think about it a decade or so later,” I thought, "well, maybe there’s some rational reason for this." I tried to think about it as if I was a marketing person, and look at the situation through the filter of that peculiar world view. And yeah, I could see how you would design marketing pieces that feature what isn’t on the grid as an element of your efforts to broaden your customer base. You don’t market to the people who are already here, you market to the folks who ain’t.
Now just to be sure, I thought it would be nice if I could get someone from the Lab to confirm my suspicions on this. So I wrote to T Linden the following:
I would very much like to have a comment from a Linden about the recent trend in LL marketing that seems to de-emphasize the creative aspects of life on the platform, and instead pursues a market segment that appears to be more "The Sims" type of audience, as is suggested by the recent marketing piece showing a happy nuclear family in front of a boxy suburban house.
I would assume that part of the strategy here is to try to go after a market segment that you have not already significantly engaged--as you currently have with the existing "creative" type resident population. I could argue that it makes sense for you to put your marketing emphasis into going after people who aren't already in the fold. But it would be nice to have someone from the company to actually state that...or whatever the strategy might actually be.”
And bless his heart he wrote right back to me:
“Our marketing strategy contemplates *both* creatives (with the value
propositions of "create your world" and "make money from your
creations") and to consumers (what you might call the "sims"
demographic) who need to buy/consume the experiences and products that creatives create.
One dynamic here is that b/c the ratio of consumers to content
creators in SL today is something like 20:1, and in the broader world
is probably something like 100:1, we have to spend disproportionately
to acquire consumers. As a result, that marketing and message is much
more visible, so I can understand where you are getting the impression
that is our focus.
Later this year, when we ship Mesh import (enabling a whole new set of
content creators, content, effects, and experiences) I expect we'll
lean our marketing mix towards acquiring new creatives - as there are
100s of thousands of users of 3D studio and Maya for whom SL is a bit
of a black box today, with unfamiliar tools, characteristics, etc.”
So yeah, it was about what I figured.
But I also found T’s reply interesting with his distinction between “consumers” and “creatives”--especially as I consider myself a mixture of both: one of those people who is a probably considered a “creative” in terms of social/educational situations and interaction (rather than much actual stuff-type content), but who relies on other content creators for most of the virtual buildings and artifacts I use to enhance and augment the situations and interactions I help organize. At the same time, even with my limited building skills, I do enjoy sometimes making stuff if no one else is making something I want or need. So it’s not always clear who is a creative versus a consumer.
And just a thought...if the lab is going to try attracting more of the “consumer” market segment, are they perhaps selling those folks short by offering things like a jolly, idealized, whitebread suburban lifestyle as the product to be consumed? Yes I know, that old white picket fence ideal is a powerful mythology these days, as economic, socio-political and environmental considerations make that lifestyle even less of an attainable reality than it was in the post-WWII “good ol’ daze.” For many people it is as much of a far-off fantasy as Battlestar Galactica, Hogwarts, or 1870s Deadwood.
Nonetheless, I would hope that as the Lab seeks to engage these “consumers” who are needed to grow the population in-world, they balance this one sort of fantasy with the others that can be attained on the platform. Even the “consumers” have the potential to be “creatives,” not only of stuff, but even more so, of shared narrative. Don’t just assume they’re all boobis americanis, longing to settle in a virtual Levitttown and crank out 2.5 prim babies.
Don’t sell them short. Show them more of the different “lifestyles” that people in world have evolved--historical and futuristic, literary and arts-themed, mechanoid and fur-covered.
Oh, and one other thing, before we wander off onto other subjects: while I get the whole idea about marketing to the people who aren’t your customers yet, there still is the need to keep the existing customer base happy.
In other words: you provide exciting, engaging marketing materials to hook the people you don’t have in the fold yet...
...and you provide good responsive customer service to hold the people who are already in your camp.
Please remember LL, that you need both new and existing customers. Don’t hide in those offices--there’s a world out there that isn’t as scary as it seems. And you really don't have to be embarrassed by us.