There are probably about as many opinions on how to market one's business in SL as there are SL residents. Despite this, or in spite of, I try to carve out a certain amount of time each week to read up on the current issues of interest to merchants in SL via both LL sanctioned and independent forums. I've culled a lot of very good advice from other merchants, both large and small.
There are some very helpful, experienced businesspeople out there who are happy to share their tips for marketing their content. Scorpion Agency offers 140 Second Life Marketing Tips & Ideas, which are relevant for both SL and RL businesses; a recent post at the New Babbage ning site demystifies how to use SL's search to boost your business.
I would not call myself a "cutthroat" SL businessperson. In RL, I abhor certain types of marketing, like telemarketers who call during dinner (even when you're on the Do Not Call list). Other methods I respond to very generously with my hard earned cash. I love coupons, discounts, free shipping, etc. The businesses who politely offer these kinds of marketing campaigns generally have a repeat customer because they are willing to reward me for my loyalty.
So thinking along those lines, I wondered if there was a way to harness the loyalty of both new and longtime Montagne Noire customers, without being the dreaded dinner interrupting telemarketer.
Since Linden Labs effectively crushed the community that was the XStreet merchant forums with their new and confusing blog format, I've been visiting other independent forums to see where all the merchants have gravitated. I decided to ask about the issue of "gaming" traffic and search results at SLUniverse, which is emerging as the merchant go-to site. You can see the discussion my question generated here.
The response was an interesting mix. I asked if it was unethical to offer an incentive reward to customers who put Montagne Noire in their Profile Picks. Some said yes, some said no. Some said it depended on whether you gave it only to people in your update group and people who already had your shop in their picks. Some thought it was gaming search results to offer an incentive to anyone walking in off the street.
What almost everyone agreed on is that it can be a real challenge to publicize an SL business -- even more so as the business landscape in SL has changed dramatically in the last year or so. It takes a lot of creativity to effectively get the word out, especially when you are working with a modest budget.
Probably the most powerful tool for promotion -- and least understood -- is the SL search engine. It turns out one of the methods of improving search ranking is having people add your business to their profile picks.
The SL search engine counts each pick from an "Account Verified Resident" (an SL resident with credit card or Paypal payment information on file with Linden Labs) as a vote for that location when determining its rank in search.
After a good deal of thought, I decided to try an experiment.
I sent a notice to members of the Montagne Noire Fashion Society update group, and to a select group of friends.
Now my sincere hope in all of this is that my friends and group members won't regard this promotion as the equivalent of the obnoxious junk mail the postman brings everyday. I'm hoping that my friends know me well enough now to know I am not a scheming, money-grubbing capitalist who just has them on my friends list so I can flood them with marketing campaigns.
Would you like to earn an exclusive hat and dress set FREE while helping spread the word about Montagne Noire Clothiers?
If you are an Account Verified Resident (an SL resident with credit card or Paypal on file with Linden Labs) all it takes is putting MNC in your "picks" tab in your profile. Picks are a great way to show off your favorite people, places and merchants in SL.
It's a quick and painless process: Simply place Montagne Noire's Main store in your "picks."
If you don't know how to add your favorite locations and business in SL, it's super simple:
1) go to the "Edit" pull down menu in the upper left corner of your SL browser.
2) select "Profile" then click on the "picks" tab.
3) Click on the "New" button at the top of the picks page, and the location will be added (be sure to actually be standing in Montagne Noire's parcel location before you add it to your picks!).
If you already have MNC in your picks (thank you!), update the tab by pressing the "delete" button at the top of the picks page, then click on "New".
Once Montagne Noire has been in your profile picks for 24 hours (enough time for SL search to read your updated profile), return to the shop to claim your prize! Touch the sign below the one you received this notecard from and vendor will process your reward and deliver it!
To encourage users to actually keep MNC in their picks, I'll be changing out the special gift every so often.
To build subscriptions to the "Montagne Noire Fashion Society" update group, I'm now also working on a way to offer special discounts & sales for group members, where if you wear the group tag while you shop, you'll receive a discount on certain item(s).
So what do people get if they add MNC to their picks? This special limited edition onyx version of my "Fleur d'Automne" set.
A last thought on being a business owner in SL. I don't really think of myself as being in competition with other Victorian designers -- we all have unique styles, and our clientele all have unique tastes. I'm here to have fun, and if that also means I might be able to grow my business into something that pays a few RL bills, I'd be thrilled. But I am also thrilled when I see other designers succeed at something they love to do, too.