I was talking to a smart marketing guy in San Jose and we were talking about how to craft brands in the Cluetrain era, now that we can’t shout at the consumer until they "get it."
Most of the properties being created in the social media space are haunted by a problem. They are designed to be companionable and interesting. They are intended to be something the consumer will like well enough to repurpose for their own purposes.
When this, being companionable and being useful, is the condition of entry, we know that we can not honk the brand horn loudly. Indeed it’s not even clear we can mention it in anything more than a whisper. Anything more forthcoming makes us conspicuous and the marketing property disagreeable and distinctly not the kind of thing the consumer wishes to distribute through their own networks, under their own names, as it were.
The solution I personally love is putting virtual worlds on line. I love the idea of building a world that people can discover and examine and perhaps inhabit. It should be beautiful, filled not with puzzles or violence, but with subtle little clues that allows the visitor to glimpse and then by dint of their own imaginations complete.
The Sophie project I did at the Coca-Cola company was designed to work this way. We created the home of a creature who was half goddess, half teenage girl. The visitor wouldn’t actually ever meet Sophie. But there was lots of evidence with which to understand who she was and how she acted in and on the world. Someone stormed in and turned the thing into a TV show, or tried to, and that was the end of that.
But Sophie lives on. These worlds are rich, participative, cocreative, mansions within mansions. In a world this rich and this generous, the brand can make the occasion appearance, garner recognition, extract, dare I use this word, marketing value, and then make itself scarce. When there is something much going on, when the world in question is so fabulously endowed with imaginative resources, the brand couldn’t "barge in" if it wanted to.
I would love to hear from readers about virtual worlds that might quality. I haven’t ever seen a Second Life that seemed to fit the bill. I loved the atmospherics of Blade Runner and the beauty of Myst. I like the endless nooks and crannies of GTA. But none of these ends up a world that feels endless interesting and explorable. But then I don’t get out much. Please if you know good cases in point, sing out.