In this paper, we identify affordances in the virtual worlds that can be used to increase the state of flow experienced in a business virtual site, which in turn may enhance brand equity, or the perceived added value of a brand to customers. We present a conceptual model that can be used to guide future research and industry practice on business implications of the virtual worlds

Contents

Virtual World Affordances Free e-library
Sunran Jeon, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA

So Ra Park, Fiona Fui-Hoon Nah, David DeWester, Brenda Eschenbrenner University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA;

Sunran Jeon, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA Abstract Virtual worlds are three-dimensional, computer-generated worlds that are a natural extension of the existing Internet. Although many businesses are jumping on the bandwagon to maintain a presence in virtual worlds, there is no well-established knowledge or theory to guide businesses in their involvement in these environments.

In this paper, we identify affordances in the virtual worlds that can be used to increase the state of flow experienced in a business virtual site, which in turn may enhance brand equity, or the perceived added value of a brand to customers. We present a conceptual model that can be used to guide future research and industry practice on business implications of the virtual worlds.

Keywords: Virtual worlds; affordances; brand value; brand equity; flow.

This work is copyrighted under the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3. United States License by the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research.

Journal of Virtual Worlds Research - Virtual World Affordances Virtual World Affordances:

Enhancing Brand Value By So Ra Park, Fiona Fui-Hoon Nah, David DeWester, Brenda Eschenbrenner University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA;

Sunran Jeon, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA Virtual worlds are the next stage of the Internet and they present opportunities for businesses to find new ways to provide value to customers. Examples of virtual worlds include Second Life, There, Active Worlds, and Kaneva. Bryson (1996) defines virtual reality or virtual environments as “the use of computers and human-computer interfaces to create the effect of a three-dimensional world containing interactive objects with a strong sense of three-dimensional presence” (p. 62). In virtual worlds, people “exist” through their avatars, which are digital representations of the user in the form of simulated bodies.

Avatars do not have to replicate the user’s physical features or even look human (Walmsley, 2008). Digital representations can be anything from animals to animations. In fact, some of these “other than human” forms have developed their own subculture. Avatars increase one’s sense of socializing “by putting a face to the audience and reinforcing its presence” (Walmsley, 2008, p. 13). A user’s avatar can move by walking, running, or even flying. Also, a user’s avatar can interact with objects, either real or imaginary, and with other avatars (Pratt, 2008). Some virtual worlds provide communication capabilities that include textual, visual, and auditory to facilitate involvement and learning (Eschenbrenner, Nah, & Siau, 2008), which can help to create brand awareness or enhance the value of a brand. Such learning can occur by interacting with others through their avatars or with other objects in the environment.

In the virtual world environment, instead of looking at pages of product descriptions like on a 2D Web, one can participate in designing or customizing products, and carry out text or audio conversations with the avatars of business representatives, thus increasing the richness of conducting business activities. Almost any business activity that can be conducted on the Web can be conducted in virtual worlds. Customers can look at virtual products, customize and order items, and ask customer service questions about products and services. Dell, for example, allows computers to be customized in Second Life and then purchased through a Web page (Brandon, 2007). Businesses are participating in virtual worlds because they see significant potential and opportunities with the exponentially increasing population in these environments (Schwarz, 2006).

Due to the attractiveness and potential of the online virtual environment for promoting products and services, companies are including a presence in virtual worlds to promote their brands. However, what affordances in virtual worlds can help to enhance brand equity or the added value of a brand?

This paper explores the business implications and potential of the virtual world to enhance brand equity. Businesses are utilizing the immersive environment to enrich customers’ experiences, enhance interactions with customers on specific brands and products through handsJournal of Virtual Worlds Research - Virtual World Affordances on activities, and improve customer service by having the avatars of their representatives provide demonstrations and hands-on help, thus enhancing brand equity. We adopt the perspective of the theory of flow to explain how businesses can create and enhance positive perceptions of brand equity.

Background On Business Opportunities In Virtual Worlds Virtual worlds are creating new windows of opportunity for business applications. In fact, the opportunity as a new commercial tool is very appealing (Brandon, 2007). For example, IBM is utilizing the virtual world environment to enhance customer training, create immersive socialshopping experiences, and host events (LaMonica, 2007). Best Buy’s Geek Squad extended their customer service into the virtual worlds. Geek Squad, for example, will answer computerrelated questions in Second Life (Brandon, 2007). Issues with computers that cannot be resolved within Second Life provide an opportunity to refer customers to a physical Best Buy location, where technicians can fix computer problems at Best Buy’s regular rates. Many other companies have also created a presence in virtual worlds such as Second Life. They include H&R; Block, Cisco Systems, Reuters, Dell, Sun Microsystems, Pontiac, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Circuit City, Sears, MTV, Adidas, American Apparel, and PA Consulting.