This step-by-step approach helps companies make an informed decision on whether or not to establish a presence in virtual environments.
Phase 2: Launching a Test Environment The experimentation process may be carried out as part of a pilot implementation of the selected option. In a virtual environment, the costs of technology and experimentation--as well as the risks--during the pilot implementation phase are far lower than they would be in a real-world environment. Of course, the cost of establishing a functioning pilot business environment can range from inexpensive to exorbitant, depending on how elaborate the service scope is.
During the pilot phase, companies should track key indicators to determine the success rate of the virtual presences. These indicators include the number of existing customers visiting the virtual site, as well as the number of new customers gained through the virtual presence.
Phase 3: Full Implementation and Continuing Operations Following a three- to six-month pilot launch, a decision should be made on whether or not to conduct a full implementation based on the key indicator data collected. If the customer response to the virtual presence has been positive, there may be a good case to conduct a full launch of the site. Other factors that need to be considered include the continuing operational model of the virtual presence, as well as resources and cost requirements.
Virtual environments face risks that are similar to those marketing and branding must deal with online. Since a synthetic world is a consumer-controlled environment, organizations have little power over the impact of their message on the consumer. Therefore, enterprises should thoroughly assess the risks posed by virtual environments--including the collateral effects that could impact their brand and image--before making a decision to proceed. Once the virtual presence has been launched, it's vitally important to measure and track the business outcomes on a continuous basis.
Synthetic worlds have created a new way for people to socialize, entertain, innovate and transact business. This can be a daunting reality for many companies, since traditional inward-focused business models will not have long-term sustainability.
In this new virtual environment, as the authors of Wikinomics note, self-organized consumer communities offer lucrative opportunities and present grave new threats to business. Taking a long-term strategic approach to assessing the pros and cons of virtual environments ensures that enterprises decide to venture into this environment based on a thorough assessment of its possibilities and risks.
As the consumer environment changes, virtual environments offer a new route to market--one that traditional business models are unable to cope with. The inevitable changes brought about by virtual environments will redefine the way businesses interact with their customers. Companies that explore and understand these environments today will win consumer buy-in and loyalty tomorrow. n
Kamales Lardi-Nadarajan is a manager with the Technology Integration division of Deloitte Consulting GmbH in ZÃ¼rich, Switzerland.