Train for Success hosted a panel discussion today in Second Life to both look back to 2009 and forward to 2010 and discuss observations and trends in virtual worlds.  The other panelists — Sam Driver of ThinkBalm and Doug Thompson of Remedy Communications — are really the experts on virtual worlds and all that is developing in and around them.  I spoke primarily about the rise of virtual event platforms, which the other panelists referred to as “pseudo 3D” environments.  Despite the denigrating nature of the label, I accepted that the platforms that I have focused on are less rich, and less interactive than Second Life and other “real” virtual worlds.  However, as my previous blog post indicates, that richness comes with a downside.  The barriers to entry are just too high for the use cases that the “pseudo” virtual environments have specialized in.  When using a virtual platform (of any kind) for marketing purposes, targeting a large and diverse audience, the “real” virtual environments just aren’t there yet.

However, I did want to share some of the observations that I made on the panel.  My comments were really based on adoption and use cases for “pseudo” virtual environment as tools for B2B marketers. Looking back at 2009, what did you see as highlights, lowlights, and trends in the virtual platform enterprise market?

  • We’ve seen what I call a new global imperative for marketers, in that they are now more than ever, expected to reach increasing far flung and diverse audiences with their marketing.  Among technology firms, global markets make up an increasing share of revenue.  69% of HP’s revenue comes from non-US markets, 65% of IBM’s revenues the same. But, at the same time marketers have faced often dramatic budget cuts – leading to the perfect storm for the need for new tools.
  • That trend has driven a sharp rise in the use of virtual events. We’ve seen an increased acceptance of the value of virtual events for marketing to global audiences – with events drawing thousands, and tens of thousands of participants from countries across the globe. =
  • Virtual events are now regularly used for product launches, trade shows (for brand awareness and demand generation), user group meetings, partner summits, customer events and sales trainings.
  • According to Forrester global technology adoption data, in some countries virtual events are a more influential source of information when making purchase decisions than traditional events.  In Mexico, Chile and Vietnam, buyers rely more on virtual events than on physical events.
  • At the same time, in some cases, this has brought a trial and error approach for effectively using them in that way – which leads to questions about best practices for reaching global audiences with virtual experiences: how do you structure a global event, how do you promote a global marketing event, do you need to localize the event etc.  Given the fact that it is very difficult to move beyond first impressions, virtual event platform vendors and the marketers using them need to ensure that the events are well planned, well designed and well resourced in terms of time, budget and subject matter experts.

Where do you see things headed in 2010?

A few of the things I see are:

  • An acceleration of the use of virtual events for marketing, particularly to wide global audience.
  • A greater maturity in planning, designing and executing virtual events with a greater emphasis on metrics capturing and developing qualified leads, through tighter integration with enterprise applications and CRM in particular.
    • A blurring of lines between physical and virtual event planning as all major and particularly global marketing events (product launches, trade shows, user group meetings) will increasingly be “hybrid” — virtual components will be a must-have for most physical events.  This trend increasingly recognizes the existence and value of audiences from far flung markets and those willing participants without the budget, or visa, to travel to an event.  We’ll likely no longer call them “hybrid” … that’s just what an event will be.