Want a 24/7 employee?

Picture_5 One of the more interesting of viral marketing tools is the idea of using avatars in place of live employees.  Let’s face it, an avatar is never going to be sick, have to take their son to the dentist or want vacation time!

According to a study conducted by the Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University, "characters (avatars) can express social roles, emotions, and organized personalities that match learning goals, company brands, and transaction needs. Characters can increase the trust that users place in online experiences, in part because they make online experiences easier."

Avatars are also being used for in-house training and many other applications.  And your avatar doesn’t have to be human.  Remember CareerBuilders.com’s monkeys?  Odds are you received one of their Monk-e-Mails.  This is one of the ones I created.  Picture_6

A new viral campaign they’re running is Age-O-Matic — what will your job do to you.  And before you dismiss these are just fun and games, the Monk-e-Mail campaign increased traffic to CareerBuilders.com by 25%.

Certainly one of the most "famous" avatar driven marketing efforts is Second Life, the 3-D virtual world those boasts participants like Dell, the American Cancer Society and one crazy agency who announced their beginnings there.

Picture_8 Again, in case you think it’s all cute cartoons, according the the economic stats on Second Life’s home page, in the past 24 hours, $1,895,494 (U.S. dollars) was spent in world.

Want to check it out for yourself? You can create an avatar of your own, on SitePal’s free trial.

So, I’m curious.  Is this technology beyond your clients or your business?  Does it feel like this is only the territory of the big, retail businesses?

Is this one of those "cool, but not for me" things or have you used this sort of technology already?

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9 comments on “Want a 24/7 employee?

  1. Janet Green says:

    Drew, for me avatars are a huge turn-off. They’re downright creepy. I liken them to the telephone tree in that they are an attempt to “fake” the human touch, a trend that I strongly dislike. In addition, I’m not sure what they can actually do for a business except perhaps “mind the store” if you do happen to be on Second Life. ~ Janet

  2. Chris Punke says:

    Hmmm. I’d have to agree with Janet on this one, Drew. Those SitePal avatars are on my short list of the Top 10 most annoying things people slap on their web sites. The last thing I want to be greeted with on a web site is a talking mannequin with a computer generated voice.

    Personally, I feel that business owners should lean toward video greetings instead. Video has the ability to really connect with people and tell the business’ story in a very short period of time.

    As far as Second Life goes… I’ve tried it. And, I don’t ‘get’ it. Maybe I’m just getting too old, but I don’t have a whole lot of spare time to be wandering around inside a virtual world filled with morally-questionable advertising pasted on every surface. It’s an interesting concept, and certainly is a technical success, but it’s not for me.

  3. Janet,

    An interesting perspective. Have you ever seen one that wasn’t creepy in your mind? Does it help if they aren’t human or don’t try to look lifelike if they are human?

    I wonder if this is sort of like automated phone answering services at businesses. In the beginning, people hated them (and many still do) but they’ve gotten used to them.

    Hmm.

    Drew

  4. Chris,

    So do you find them creepy like Janet or just of no value? Can you see them being more effective in a promotional campaign or a virtual world than on a website as a “guide?”

    Drew

  5. Chris Punke says:

    Drew,

    I think it boils down to the impersonal nature of the site-pal avatars that just puts me off. (This company cared so little about me that the “person” they’re going to introduce me to as the first contact with their business is an artificial person?) Maybe it’s just me, but that seems to set the stage for more impersonal interaction with them in the future. Will I even get to talk to a REAL person if I want to? What will happen if I email them, will I just get a canned response?

    I think the big brands that invest in their own avatars, or license the rights to popular ones (i.e. Max Headroom & Coca Cola) can succeed in using them as a spokesperson… And maybe some local businesses could pull it off too using the “mascot” mentality. But it needs to be unique. Not some off-the-shelf mass-produced avatar.

    Just my 2 cents. Hope it’s worth at least that. 🙂

    -Chris

  6. Vanessa says:

    Hi Drew,

    This is Vanessa from SitePal. This is certainly an interesting post about avatars, and all your comments make good points. To clarify, SitePal avatars can be fully customized, with thousands of permutations of different models. You can adjust hair color and style, clothing, size/shape/color of facial features, and the voice. In fact, you can add the company owner’s voice or use a professional voice talent to add a more personal touch. We even create custom models to resemble a company mascot or owner. In terms of potentially “creepy” avatars, many SitePal users report positive feedback from site visitors, as well as increased site traffic and conversions.

    As for our clients, we have over 7,000 SitePal users. You can go to http://www.sitepal.com/showcase.php to see some of our small business client examples. SitePal’s parent company, Oddcast, is behind the Careerbuilder monk-email success.

    Finally, I’ll leave you with a fun new demo from SitePal, our Virtual Translator demo. Type anything you want, and an animated character will translate it for you and speak it in another language of your choice!
    http://www.oddcast.com/home/demos/tts/tts_tran_example.php?sitepal
    For more demos you can go here: http://www.sitepal.com/demos

    We appreciate your comments, and I hope I clarified a few things!

    Best,
    Vanessa

  7. Chris Punke says:

    Ok. This new stuff IS kind of cool, Vanessa. I stand by my previous preference for video, but I’ll keep an open mind about the potential of avatars, it is after all a very new technology. No hard feelings, I hope 😉

    Best regards,
    Chris

  8. Chris,

    I suppose the reality is…it’s probably an avatar or just text. The companies are opting for the avatar to be more efficient but to try and add a personal touch. Or perhaps the cool factor.

    Do you think if the avatar was also the “star” of other communications tools, it would make its presence on the website more comfortable?

    Drew

  9. Vanessa,

    Thanks for jumping into the conversation and providing some additional information.

    I’m assuming many people have an initial reaction not unlike Chris and Janet. How does your company help potential clients re-think the possibilities of using an avatar?

    Drew

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