Virtual business meets real business

I’m not really a computer game kind of guy. I spend all day writing at my computer, so when it comes time to relax, I like to do other things that don’t involve me staring at my monitor.

Although I tend to avoid the entire online gaming industry as a result, I have been increasingly fascinated by its growth and especially by the business opportunities that result. I’m speaking specifically of sites like Second Life or Google Lively where players interact with others in a virtual world.

For the average gamer, this virtual world allows them to do just about anything — from socializing to virtual roleplaying wargames. For business people, there are other opportunities that may seem strange now but could become increasingly attractive. For example, SecondLifeGrid.com, a Second Life support website, offers information to businesses about how to manage collaboration and efficiency using Second Life as a virtual office. And, businesses can sell virtual products and services to virtual customers.

So, if your business is looking for a way to collaborate more effectively, or if you are looking to increase your customer base without the high cost of inventory, a virtual business expansion may be a step to consider.

This article, although a little old and fairly long, talks about virtual businesses in the Second Life world which generates millions of dollars each month selling virtual goods and services. Moreover, this article highlights the opportunities for real estate and financial businesses that want to offer services inside this world.

From a personal perspective, I can’t really get into this kind of entertainment; I’ve got more than enough to do in the real world! But from a business perspective, there are a lot of dollars to be made if businesses can get creative enough to expand their services into this market. One place to start is to look at what you do now and extend that into the virtual world. (Just recently I wrote a proposal for a company that is looking to expand its social media marketing efforts and my advice included Second Life, where their services would fit nicely). And what makes this opportunity even better is the lack of competition to the new and still-unusual market.

* * * * * Note: After publishing this post, I revisited this topic a couple of years later and decided that there was more I wanted to say about virtual business* * * * *

Although I originally wrote this blog post because I was thinking about how tech trends were intersecting with selling opportunities, I’ve recently revisited this topic for a different reason: To think about why customers buy in a virtual world and how that can inspire business owners in the real world to sell more effectively.

Recently, I was traveling with my brother-in-law who is a pretty serious gamer. He described his favorite game in vivid detail (although I can’t remember anything about it — I confess I glazed over a bit. Sorry, Jon). To feign interest, I asked him what he liked about the game and he said that it felt like you were actually there, doing whatever it is that the game required.

This is called an immersive experience, and it’s the reason that gamers like games. Today’s gaming systems immerse players in a realistic environment and ask them to play in a way that feels real. For example, they might use system-connected guns or steering wheels or swords or whatever. Gaming is no longer a disconnected experience where you use a dial to swivel a paddle up and down, as in the classic game Pong. Today’s gaming is about putting the player IN the experience.

This is an important lesson for business owners who serve real customers. The immersive experience puts customers right inside the purchase so they feel like they already own the product or service that is being offered. They are interacting with it. They are part of it.

For example, compare the experience I’m having right now: I’m shopping for a dining room set of table and chairs to go in my nicely remodelled kitchen. Some places that sell furniture just jam in row after row of tables and chairs and it’s sort of overwhelming and every table looks the same after a while. But other places create these nice little mini settings, where the table and chairs are on a rug; there are pictures on the wall; there’s a place setting on the table. It’s like a vignette of what my dining room could be. As a result, I’m immersed in imagining me and my wife sitting at the table, entertaining friends. Yep, I’m WAY more likely to buy that dining set because I’m immersed. Oh, and I’m way more likely to pay more.

It’s not just the case with dining sets. Immersion is frequent in other selling scenarios, too: Model homes, test driven cars, “try it free for 30 days” offers, etc.

Your business can sell more by borrowing inspiration from the virtual world of immersive gaming experiences: Help each and every potential customer feel like they are already living the experience and they will be more likely to buy. Here are some ideas to apply it to your business:

  • If you sell a product, and if you can afford the brief cash flow interruption, offer it for free for a period of time and ask for payment later.
  • If you sell a service, try asking for money part way through or after the delivery.
  • If you can’t do either of the above (for example, maybe you sell an ebook), then your sales copy needs to do the work. Your sales copy needs to help your potential customer see, touch, taste, and smell the experience before they hand over their money. It IS possible to achieve. Why not add in some immersive elements into your sales copy and test the results for yourself?

Want to read more about this? Check out the blog post grow your business by selling with stories. Stories are a great way to immerse customers in the experience before they buy.

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