The art and science of promotional events

Gah, I miss footnotes on WordPress.com. No matter.

Last Saturday, I went on a gridwide hunt. The Bunny Hop gridwide hunt, to be specific. Normally, I consider the prospect of a gridwide daunting, but this one was supposed to contain numerous Japanese designers, which I know usually don’t make junk just to participate… Naturally, I put on my radar. I had plans to finish before supper. I made a special folder for landmarks of shops I like on the way, to visit them later.

It quickly got daunting. The lag was hell throughout the day, my own ISP’s packet loss did nothing to improve it, the first, second and third sims on the way were packed with the most clueless.

But that wasn’t enough, was it. Some of you had to go and make it harder. I have seen numerous visual decoy eggs (not going to slow me down at all), some name search decoy eggs (and this improves my opinion of your store how?) and a whole installation of objects with decoy names and decoy shapes with disparaging comments about my own customers and trying to have a cheap laugh at their expense (I will now make a point of avoiding having any business with Kaethe Dyrssen for the foreseeable future — and I don’t care WHAT she put into her gift, which I deleted immediately without opening, I found this demeaning and stand by my opinion.) … Well, the attempt to put some visual decoy eggs that contain nothing for L$25 late in the chain kind of takes the cake.

It’s not like any of that did slow me down — larger shop territory to search and higher lag was normally a bigger obstacle.┬áBut I have still ditifully collected the landmarks to revisit into a folder.

Bleeding 17 hours later, I was done. Annoyed to the point of hissing. And next day, when I actually woke up, I wanted to find something in the collection I would want to wear. Uuuu….

I’m often said to be inhumanly patient. That is not quite true — I’m inhumanly persistent instead. Nobody forced me to start, true, but it I didn’t finish it, I would never be justified in criticizing the whole mess, would I? It took me something like ten more hours, and the results are appaling.

Out of 300 (!) eggs:

  1. Only a handful are so memorable that I can recommend getting them. These are the eggs at Umi Usagi, Zephi’s Shop, Discord, HANAUTA, off-brand furniture. That is, 0.5% — and mind you, these are incidentally the shops I would send people to any time, any day.
  2. Only about 2.5% of all items gained made the cut. Most as separate shirts and pants. I kept their own landmarks with them in their folders like I usually do — when I look for a pair of pants to wear in my endless sea of pants and T-shirts, which, mind you, I don’t wear often at all, I might remember and look them up.
  3. Most of the designers that did not put out a complete piece of trash — even the ones I usually consider good, like Little Heaven — were apparently in the competition on who can make the more hideous shade of purple. Very few people can make hideous shades of purple look good on them, and I’m not among these.

Before any people who actually put some thought and effort in it complain, I have completely ignored almost all poses, all hair, and all skin. I have more than enough unsorted static poses, I only wear one very specific shade of hair which requires painstaking retexturing to get right, and no other skin looks good on my shape.

There were no less than fifteen different variations on the Playboy bunny costume, none appreciably different from any other one and all of them less interesting than the ones I already have, uncountable bunny slippers, tens of very, very similar Easter egg baskets… and mountains upon mountains of outright trash and kitsch. It might be that some of it was even cute in the end, or useful for something. But I’m sorry if I can’t appreciate it after ten hours uninterrupted sifting.

In the end, I couldn’t find anything I was happy with wearing, and wore something completely different.

Then I looked at the folder of landmarks to revisit later.

…and trashed it in disgust.

Now let me tell you something. YES YOU, ladies and gentlemen. The participating designers. I know some of you are reading this! What the frack are you thinking? Are you thinking at all? Well, if you aren’t thinking let me try and give you a lecture.

Repeat after me: Promotional events exist to promote sales and increase exposure.

They don’t exist to promote hate and increase lag, which is what you’re doing!

How exactly promotional events and most importantly, promotional giveaways promote sales? They bring in shoppers, who may (or may not) be interested in the products upon seeing a free sample. In particular, in Second Life, where the origin of every item is readily available in it’s object creator field, the normal way for a savvy shopper to think of where to look for when in the mood for some shopping is to find things in their inventory and go where they came from to see if there’s more in the same vein. Free giveaways increase the chance of this happening in the same way as buying more lottery tickets increases the chance of at least one of them winning. As long as your item results in a landmark to go to your shop, picking it when inventory sorting will result in a visit with intent to spend money, and in Second Life, this is an effect much more prominent than in the First, because it costs you nothing to distribute an unlimited number of promotional items, and visiting your shop after becoming interested in it requires far less effort.

How exactly promotional events increase exposure? There are multiple ways this happens:

  1. Running through your shop, people might remember your brand name and your general style.
  2. Wearing items created by you, people offer others a chance to ask where they got the stuff or, if any attachments are involved, directly look up the creator, i.e. they become walking word of mouth advertisements.
  3. By impressing notable opinion leaders (usually bloggers but not necessarily) with your work, your release may become newsworthy and will be reported and communicated to others in this fashion along with your brand name.

All of these indirectly bring people into your shop with intent to spend money. Intent to spend is cruical here. It is a very common misconception that high traffic equals high sales, or an indication of high quality of products, but it is anything but true — Waterhead and Ahern are high traffic locations, but have very little interesting things to offer and very little people with intent to spend money. So are highly botted locations which muddle the statistics. There is only so much money you will ever acquire from impulse buyers and the clueless, people who spend the most are also normally people who earn more and therefore have more of a clue.

Marketing done right involves lots of statistical mathematics and meticulous data collection, which you probably aren’t doing — many shop owners aren’t even aware if they’re making money or losing it. However, if you plot the sales by name against time spent in shop by every customer, you will notice that the middle of the curve — the highest chance of buying something and bringing you money — is in a certain hump in the middle of the graph, the median of the normal gaussian distribution. People who spent less time than that, didn’t have a chance to take a good look at your products and decide if they want that product for the price it’s offered at. People who spent more time than that, didn’t do it because they enjoy staring at your product images, (very few designers are THAT good!) they did it because something forced them to — couldn’t find what they liked at the price they liked, or had to wait for something unrelated — and they are now annoyed and are less likely to spend money. The median will be different for every shop and product selection, it will shift with seasons, days of the week and world events, but it will always be there.

So, when trying to create a prize for a large gridwide hunt, (in-store treasure hunts are a rather different beast altogether and different considerations come to the forefront, but I’ll write about that some other day) what you should be aiming for is making an promotional item that will be memorable, recommendable, and has as wide of a general appeal as possible given your strength in making products, promotional item that people will talk about, recommend to their friends, and be seen using. You should not be aiming to keep people in your shop for as long as possible, which will do you no good whatsoever, and in fact, the less crowded your shop is and the faster it loads, the higher is the chance that random visitors that a gridwide hunt provides will buy something — or, much more importantly, come back to buy something, and keep coming back to buy something.

Offering something you did not think would sell anyway, therefore, does nothing to improve sales or increase brand awareness — at best, your shop is quietly forgotten until the next time it comes up in the unending stream of information, and at worst, remembered as the site of a painful experience and recommended against. Get it in your head that you aren’t playing a game against your shoppers, aren’t out to make them work for the honour of owning something you made — you want to convince them to give you their money for your honest work. Erecting artificial hurdles for customers for no good reason does not make you look clever, it makes them hate you and avoid giving you money — but being rational actors, they will still try to get your work if it’s any good, and hate you even more for it.

Do you want to be hated? Really, truly? What gives you a bigger ego boost — more visitors or more money earned for your work? Did you think what will happen?

Did you measure what did happen?

P.S.: A dialog.

Peter Stindberg: What do you want in the first place? Do you want to kill gridwide hunts? Do you want to sell the server? Do you want to sell the radar?
Rika Watanabe: I want people to wake the fuck up. Start thinking instead of kneejerk reactions.
Peter Stindberg: Who? Hunters? Organizers?
Rika Watanabe: EVERYONE. All other considerations are there, true. But they’re secondary to that.