Last year, StyleLabs started exploring virtual environments (specifically second life(“SL”)) in an effort to build an international panel for eStyle.

As part of our due diligence/exploratory exercise, two of our researchers (myself included) developed avatars and familiarized ourselves with the  SL environment.  What we found was that doing research in Second Life is a lot like fieldwork in the real world.  

You must:

  1. Establish a reputation as being a credible organization.Advertised eStyle as an online market research company that paid “lindens” for your opinion.
  2. Develop infrastructure and collateral.  Built a virtual facility and online office space in Garman district.
  3. Advertise in high traffic areas. Built kiosks in high traffic spaces.
  4. Capture traffic  Developed virtual kiosks that redirected to an online “sign up for focus groups” form.

Once we had a sufficient panel, we picked a low incidence segment (HIV Patients) and developed a screener for the first Global Second Life Focus Group with HIV patients and high risk groups.  The objective of the research was to test extremely sensitive HIV prevention advertisements and gauge effectiveness, sensitivity, objections, etc.

The SL facility was robust enough to upload the stimuli (Video, Print and Online) and each respondent piggy backed a translator so that the moderator (myself) could freely communicate with each respondent in their own language via chat. Specifically, whatever I wrote them would be translated to them in their native language, and whatever was written to me was converted back into English.  

In one group (english speaking) respondents were permitted to use microphones, facilitating verbal conversations between avatars.  For the 4 groups we ran, the honorarium paid out per respondent was the equivalent of $15 US dollars for 90 minutes.

Using Second Life is extremely useful for specific types of qual and quant research.  We ran parallel groups in 3 Canadian cities (sponsored by our client) and found that in the SL environment, people were more honest, transparent and less susceptible to group think.  Furthermore, the data is transcribed real time, making reporting substantially easier.  There’s also the cost factor.  Considering advertising and programming costs, facilitating groups in virtual environments and extrapolating (in my opinion) richer data (greater breadth, broader perspective and a less intimidating environment to provide feedback),  is at only a fraction of a cost of even online focus groups or virtual round tables (asynchronous).  

Almin Kassamali is the Chief Imagination Officer of StyleLabs Marketing Group. StyleLabs offers full service business and marketing solutions for entrepreneurs, musicians, athletes and small/medium business.

 

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