I had the opportunity today to have a lengthy talk with BMW's principal representative in Second Life, Munich Express. He had contacted me following my recent blog entries to talk me through how BMW see SL and their place in it.
My first, trivial observation has been that I found the island too stark and austere. A lot of blinding whiteness, with little differentiation or contrast.
Munich: "In RL the colour white is essential in terms of our corporate identity. You will find it in all of our architecture. In real 'buildings' it is not an issue, because of the use of glass, i.e. windows, sort of [softens] it up, but the general structure of the island doesn't have a roof - and where there is nor roof you don't really need windows, [so] no glass."
He then went on to say that they had had a lot of feedback - both positive and negative - about the look of the island, but that "this is what always happens when you are not afraid to polarise - which this company is not."
An important feature of SL for BMW is the opportunity it affords for communication and interaction (as evidenced by our discussion!). As a result of feedback they are looking at experimenting with different contours, to explore visitor reactions. The current form is supposed to convey waves, though I think it feels more like icebergs.
I then went on to ask the meatier question: What is BMW wanting to get from the SL experience?
Munich: "First of all let me tell you that we openly admit to still be learning at this point in time. We didn't claim to have all the answers when coming in. We did realise from the beginning that to simply copy and paste from RL was bound to fail - and there are quite a few examples around to prove that. So the first intention was to learn by discussing with the residents, like we are doing today - to find out what drives them."
I remarked that I thought the BMW site had too little to keep people coming back at the moment.
Munich: "Well I can tell you that we are developing further. Look at this island as an outpost in the good old wild west if you will; a hub/presence that allows us to get to know people and their desires. I find the personal involvement to be very productive... you meet all walks of life here."
"Residents that have been in sl for longer than we have obviously know it better than us, so we can learn here. It is also an interesting platform to meet and discuss with other companies. I find that to be a lot more relaxed in SL than in RL." A point with which I heartily concur.
"So here we can exploit co-operation potentials, exchange experiences etc. In a way SL has set a future standard for the web. After experiencing SL (with all its deficiencies) would you gladly walk back to the 2-D world of the web?" [Actually, yes - though not for social interaction]
Much (much) further into the future, Munich could see a time when this immersive world could be used for buying your new BMW - no doubt with extensive option selection. At least, it would be foolish to rule it out. "Emerging media have led to the fact that consumers are a lot more powerful and less 'obedient' than they were in the past. [A] company has to face that reality."
We then talked about the possible use of SL for internal meetings, dealership meetings, training etc. He expressed concern about the security aspects for confidential internal meetings - chat/IM is stored on Linden servers, and that automatically gives a security concern. However, they may look at dealer presentations and training at a later date.
To quickly summarise - BMW are seeing SL as the basis for:
* Experimenting with 3D possibilities
* Learning from their own experiences and those of others
* Communicating their clean energy concept
* with a focus that is outward-facing, towards the general SL public.
And it provides "the opportunity to speak with a target group that is interesting for our brand - the early adopters."
We then spoke about SL cars. You may guessed by now, it was during an earlier conversation with Munich that I realised how crap cars are in SL.
Munich: "My view is that there is a trade-off between [SL] physics and graphics. If you want a car to [look] like in RL- it won't really drive well; if it drives well, it tends not to look very realistic. BMW decided that we would not do this trade-off." I certainly see the sense in this. Putting out a poor car in SL would certainly not enhance the brand. As a teaser, they do have a surprise of some sort in the pipeline - but we will have to wait to find out what it is.
Munich: "BMW stands for mobility - so our aim in the second stage is to propose something here. This way we stay credible as a company." We then talked about the need to play to the strengths of each communication channel - and replicating the driving experience is not in the strengths of SL! BMW see SL as a good channel for promoting clean energy - with links to websites that explain more... and "there is more to come. Give us another couple of weeks and I think you will be pleasantly surprised." Sounds intriguing!
Regarding the Geneva Motor Show, BMW are tackling this through other channels, and don't feel it necessary or appropriate to have anything special in SL. Given that Frankfurt (in September) probably carries far more prestige, this makes sense. BMW did tie the launch of their island to the LA Motor Show - which saw the world premiere of their Hydrogen 7 - clean energy.
In conclusion, I am now encouraged by the approach being adopted by BMW. I see what they are getting at now. They are not in SL for a quick marketing hit, but for the long haul. Munich likened it to being in a Marathon race..."you don't win on the first few metres... but the last." They want to be in SL at the beginning, learning and developing their use of 3D environments, rather than be a "me too" outfit coming along at a future date.
I will leave the last word to Herr Express: "Innovation is an important part of our brand identity. We are that way :)"
Update: Here's just some links to other talks Munich has done - the job of a Brand Relations man is never finished! He does seem to be happy to convert the World, one person at a time.
Business Communicators of SL
Second Life Herald
That's enough to be going on with, methinks.