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Value added — without the tax

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the August 5, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger

Last week we looked at one of the fundamental rules of marketing: don’t promote the product, promote what the product can do for the customer.

This week we’re going to carry that a bit further by looking at what value can be added to the product. When WordPerfect was the big word processor it offered its users a mega-featured package which could be used for everything from writing a letter to sophisticated desk top publishing. But what the company was perhaps best known for was their superior customer support. With a 24-hour number staffed by amazingly knowledgeable experts willing to stay on the phone for as long as was needed (or call back if required), the WordPerfect help line was a legendary piece of value-added marketing.

The more customers think you’re doing for them, the more loyal they’re going to be, and the more vocal they’ll be in recommending you to their friends.

Too many producers make the mistake of assuming that the public harbors a deep fascination in their business. Even when a potential customer is in the market for something that you sell, they’re not necessarily interested in the product itself; they’re interested in resolving a particular issue in their lives. The product is a means to an end. “Don’t make the mistake of believing that the consumer has a natural interest in your product or service,” advise the authors of How to Advertise. “Most strategies [of advertising] focus too much on the product, too little on the consumer. Instead of parading product attribute, talk about consumer benefits.”

But we’ve already covered much of that. The good marketer takes it a step further. Along with promoting the consumer benefits of the product, they also promote the consumer benefits of the company itself. As WordPerfect showed, great customer service can be invaluable in building and maintaining a large, loyal customer base.

In Second Life, the Virtual Kennel Club has put this into practice with lucrative results.

First of all, they truly understand what they’re selling. Although an outsider would say they’re selling dogs, VKC knows that what they’re really selling is far less tangible: companionship.

The VKC experience starts at the point of purchase. There are no “boxed” dogs with pictures on the front to show what they look like and a few rezzed examples so you can see how they move. Instead the customer arrives at a dog farm where the various breeds roam free. There the buyer has the chance to actually interact with the animals and make an informed choice. Once the choice is made, the customer buys that particular dog. He can take him into inventory, or simply walk off with the dog following, but there is no copy of that dog left behind. (Once a dog has been bought, another of that breed rezzes a few minutes later at another location on the farm.)

So right off the bat, there is a perceived connection between an individual dog and its new owner. The entire transaction is made as personal as possible.

But the added values don’t stop there. Knowing full well that Second Life residents are often faced with mysterious malfunctions of scripted objects and inventory items that sometimes softly and silently vanish away, the VKC has “veterinarians” standing by to help. If your dog disappears you merely go to one of the scripted vets, say the name of your dog and he’ll rez beside you complete with all the tricks and behaviors he’s learned under your care. If there’s a problem the scripted vet can’t help with, there’s always the VKC group whose members seem dedicated to helping out fellow dog owners.

“But wait,” as the old commercials used to say, “there’s more.” The VKC also holds regular training classes and competitions where owners can come to watch, learn, and show off the often complex tricks they’ve taught their dogs.

Simply put, the VKC has built their product into a brand. And a very successful brand in terms of in-world companies. When we talk about branding, this is essentially what we’re talking about: associating the product in the consumer’s mind with the value-added features.

Building a community is one of the best ways of adding value to a product. Harley Davidson owners haven’t just bought a motorcycle, they’ve bought a membership to a world-wide club. Linux users form a large family with shared interests and goals. VKC dog owners consult with each other on how to get their dog to sit in the car so they can go for drives.

Adding value like this takes work, but in many ways it’s an easier and cheaper way of marketing than simple advertisements. And while not every product lends itself to being the centre of a community, there is always a way to help add value.

You sell: fashion. You offer: a small studio where customers can take pictures of themselves wearing your clothes against a backdrop of exotic locales. If your products are of a particular style, such as Egyptian or steam punk, the backdrops can reflect this.

You sell: business equipment for in-world enterprise. You offer: free or cheap conference rooms which customers can use for meetings and presentations.

You sell: gifts and greeting cards: You offer: an automated procedure which will send customers a reminder for their friends and lovers’ rez days, birthdays, anniversaries and so on.

No matter what you sell, adding value to it will help you sell it. And selling it, all the experts agree, is the key to making money.

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