Marketing beyond the frontier? Researching the new marketing landscape of virtual worlds

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University of Manchester Library]On: 10 October 2014, At: 09:08Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Marketing ManagementPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rjmm20

    Marketing beyond the frontier?Researching the new marketinglandscape of virtual worldsMike Sarena, Tracy Harwoodb, Janet Wardc & Alladi Venkateshda Leicester University, UKb De Montfort University, UKc Hanken School of Economics, Finlandd University of California, Irvine, USAPublished online: 07 Nov 2013.

    To cite this article: Mike Saren, Tracy Harwood, Janet Ward & Alladi Venkatesh (2013) Marketingbeyond the frontier? Researching the new marketing landscape of virtual worlds, Journal ofMarketing Management, 29:13-14, 1435-1442, DOI: 10.1080/0267257X.2013.833776

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2013.833776

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  • Journal of Marketing Management, 2013Vol. 29, Nos. 1314, 14351442, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2013.833776

    Marketing beyond the frontier? Researching the newmarketing landscape of virtual worlds

    Introduction

    It is more than 15 years since Hoffman and Novak (1996) and Venkatesh (1998)conceptualised hypermedia environments and the cybermarketspace respectively,and their implications for marketing. These so-called virtual worlds combine thepower of social networking with the technology of multiplayer computer games,allowing new forms of collaboration (Kozinets, 2002; Ondrejka, 2007) througha kind of virtual reality (Lanier, 1988). These have been dismissed as a sort ofephemeral fashion (Cagnina & Poian, 2009), having been associated with addiction(Hussain & Griffiths, 2008), cyber terrorism (Adrian, 2009), and gold mining inChina (Heeks, 2008). Virtual worlds are no longer simply games, however, butpotentially transformational technologies. They enable users in the form of avatarsto socialise and work as employees, set up businesses, hold international conferencesand events, attend lectures, conduct military plan battle scenarios, and providepost-combat stress support. For example, Bell (2008) defines virtual worlds as asynchronous, persistent network of people, represented as avatars, facilitated bynetworked computers (p. 2). More recently, Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce, and Taylir(2013) have proposed that virtual worlds are places of imagination that encompasspractices of play, performance, creativity and ritual (p. 1). They have created a newplace to enact the social (Law & Urry, 2004) and are therefore valuable sites forsocial science research (Bainbridge, 2007) and for marketing in particular (Hemp,2006; Messinger, Stroulia, & Lyons, 2008; Novak, 2010). Therefore, it is timely forthis Academy of Marketing Special Issue of the Journal of Marketing Management toconsider the role of virtual worlds in marketing, their input to marketing strategy, andtheir convergence with digital technologies, mobile applications, and social media.

    A previous JMM special edition on the topic of critical marketing called forexpanding disciplinary space (Brownlie, Hewer, & Tadajewski, 2009). The worldof virtuality often engenders a similar expansionist frontier spirit encouraging adisciplinary view of marketing as boundary breaking, boldly going forth to research,explore, and master new territories. But the new marketing landscape of virtualworlds exists and is experienced by people in the world of bricks and mortar too,not only in so-called cyberspace. Virtual market spaces are not separate territorialspaces, nor are they entirely imaginary. As the empirical evidence of online marketinghas demonstrated (Lindgreen, Dobele, & Vanhamme, in press), these operate just asmuch within the physical world with a significant offline logistical support of resourceinput, supply-chain, transport infrastructure. The question arises of whether variousrelated developments new market arenas, technology platforms, applications, andformats signify fundamental changes in market behaviours or whether they aremere extensions of existing trends. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

    2013 Westburn Publishers Ltd.

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  • 1436 Journal of Marketing Management, Volume 29

    For example, often, they constitute simply a new marketing medium and may evenrepresent a new market reality. Even if virtual worlds are not entirely separatefrom their existing physical forms, they are certainly distinct and do permit a newperspective on market phenomena and associated market behaviours.

    Technologies and applications are developing rapidly with a convergence ofdigital, mobile, virtual, and social platforms. Examples include virtual worlds withnew platforms such as BlueMars, OpenSim, and Kitely (Wasko, Teigland,Leidner, & Jarvenpaa, 2011). There is ongoing research on virtual worlds as sitesfor social and cultural innovation (Jensen, Phillips, & Strand, 2012). For marketersfamiliar with 4Ps, a typology of virtual worlds has been identified by 5Ps: purpose(content of interaction), place (location interaction), platform (design interaction),population (participants in the interaction), and profit model (return on investment;Messinger et al., 2008, based on Porter, 2004).

    Definitive terms and analyses are difficult in this field in that game environmentsare in a state of flux, and the game sector as a whole is currently in a decline,particularly at the small developer end, and many game artists are out of work. Disneyrecently closed its virtual world project for Star Wars because of developmentcosts and time, inadequate projected returns, and importantly because of increasingdemands for more sophisticated user interfaces, design and rate of technologyadaptations, and the fact that consumers are increasingly hungry for digital visualculture.

    In such a context, virtual worlds are a locus of coordination (Shirky,2010) that have the potential to enrich experiences online well beyond thecontent of the environment, providing models of experiences rather than merelyphotographic images, textual descriptions, or media for conversation. The game hastherefore become an interactive, persistent, and pervasive medium in transition a microhabitat that specialises in a form of exchange and communication amongits users according to its interactive design, aesthetics, and integration withcommunications technologies. It presents opportunities for individuals to formcommunities based on interests (Rheingold, 1993), and for businesses to reach newcreative heights with their brands and the potential to address secondary marketsand a long tail of untapped consumers directly (Blazer, 2006). This leads us to anew kind of mixed reality, where the virtual and the real co-exist the game is notonly played inside the magic circle but also invokes a real-world response and turnsgames for play into serious and purposeful environments what some have referredto as gwap, that is, games with a purpose (see gwap.com) or serious games (seehttp://www.seriousgamesinstitute.co.uk/).

    In general, there is an understandable tendency by both academics andpractitioners to consider and conceptualise new developments in marketing in termsof traditional and new categories. In this respect, virtual worlds are no exception.They could be studied by considering how they affect and are affected by consumerbehaviour, communications, marketing media, NPD, product portfolios, servicequality, customer touch points, value chains, relationship management, and so on.Some of these concepts do not apply easily in this context, however. Although virtualworlds are not entirely separate from their existing physical forms, it is difficultto identify the relevant frames through which to view the new phenomena duringthe process of transition and transformation. It is even more difficult to find anappropriate narrative by which to describe and conceptualise the new mergedreality. Here, some traditional marketing concepts reassert their relevance. For

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  • Editorial 1437

    example, notions of trust, interaction, authenticity, simulation, and meaning carryrenewed potential to understand virtual world marketing behaviours and processes.Readers will see that the papers in this edition not only treat old concepts in newways but formally explore new concepts and applications in order to augmentour understanding of virtual worlds and application of the underlying principles tomarketing theory and practice.

    Content of this special edition

    This special issue consists of six competitive articles and one invited commentary(in addition to this editorial introduction) which cover a range of important topics ofinterest to marketing researchers and practitioners. These papers comprise theoreticalreflections, state-of-the-art reviews, empirical methodologies of various types, specificapplications, and critical reflections on the virtual world environment. Specific topicsin the virtual world context encompass branding, consumer desire, product purchase,service quality, e-sports, and a virtual world closure.

    The role and meanings of brands in the context of virtual worlds has not been wellunderstood by academics or practitioners. This topic is addressed directly in the paperby Hansen which, using long interviews, explores how users experience brands in onevirtual world, employing symbolic interactionism and self-presentation. The findingssuggest that the real meanings of brands and branded virtual goods are related tosocial interaction, avatar displays, and general activities, with brands contributingpositively to user sociability, status, and achievement. Importantly, the consequencesof consumers experiences extend beyond the virtual world, and these can beinterpreted as marketer tactics with implications for the development of brandedspaces and goods in interactive, social environments and potential applications toother forms of social media.

    The next paper by Papagiannidis et al. studies user experience in virtual worldsfrom a different methodological perspective. It examines the determinants of userssimulated experience in a virtual store using an experimental quantitative approachin order to test three models of constructing user experience and how this influencestheir purchasing intention, both positively and negatively. For marketers, theirfindings illustrate how a virtual retail store can be an effective medium for creatinguser experiences and how this simulated experience can result in so-called valueco-creation for virtual store owners and users.

    Turning to other aspects of virtual retailing, Gadella et al. provide a frameworkfor retail service quality in three-dimensional (3D) virtual environments. Users cannavigate through a representation of a virtual store using a personalised avatar, andinteract with other avatars such as sales assistants and other customers similarly tooffline interaction. Also, users can create and perform multiple identities, createvirtual communities, tell stories, build things, and set up their own companies. Mostpurchases are of digital goods where user fulfilment is immediate, and these goodsare usually consumed in the 3D space.

    Because of these features, capabilities, and interactive synchronous userexperiences, Gadella et al. propose that retail service quality is significantly differentin 3D environments from that in 2D, which are mainly menu-driven web Internetstores that operate through a group of 2D web pages, containing texts, images, andmultimedia files. The paper identifies the determinants of service quality in terms of

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  • 1438 Journal of Marketing Management, Volume 29

    four key dimensions of retailing service which influence users social experiences andthe flexibility, co-production, and creative opportunities. This presents opportunitiesfor retailers in enhancing social experience, responsive service, and creative co-production opportunities, for example by meeting customer desires for novelty,consumption aspirations, and managing identity.

    Most virtual world research has focused on identifying the marketing potentialof virtual worlds and the potential benefits for companies of engaging consumersand their avatars in virtual environments. The decision of a brand to terminaterelationships with customers has been explored in traditional market spaces, such asoffline brand communities, but much less is known about the marketing consequencesof closing virtual worlds. The paper by Scaraboto et al. rectifies this neglected topic byinvestigating the consumer and marketing responses to the closure of Disneys VirtualMagic Kingdom. This was an example of an adverworld created for marketingpurposes to increase brand exposure and consumer engagement with the focal brand,where consumers contribute to the building of a brand-centric virtual world. Sinceadverworlds are part of the social media landscape, users tend to draw on the logicsof social media, emphasising innovation and creation, social bonds, sharing, andcollaboration which are particularly ap...