Starwood Shutters SL ALoft Effort {*Update*}

The first time I blogged about Starwood’s CEO, Steven J. Heyer, it wasn’t because of their use of virtual world Second Life, it was because of a video interview where Heyer talked extensively about consumer Experience. I titled that entry using a key quote from the interview, “We Deliver Memories” (reLink).

Unfortunately, his ideas also seemed to represent a point of contention with his contemporaries, because apparently Heyer wasn’t delivering happy memories to a whole host of people… starting with his predecessor and board chairman, Barry Sternlicht, who resigned from the board shortly after Heyer’s arrival. The end result of all that ongoing friction (Sternlicht was still a major shareholder with influential ties) was that Heyer departed Starwood in early April 2007. I don’t follow that industry, but even I read about it as the split was widely reported in the media.

Now there’s word over on the Metaversed blog (Link) that Starwood is closing down their Second Life “ALoft” project (reLink). I suspect the reason is that with Heyer’s departure, the brand and marketing side of Starwood has reverted back to what it was before his arrival; which I assume will mean more emphasis on selling a bed for the night and less concern for understanding and delivering an overall consumer experience.

Consequently, Starwood’s move out of Second Life shouldn’t be surprising. Most companies trying to connect with consumers through new media channels seem to be having a difficult time figuring things out. Without Heyer to force change, cutting-edge efforts like this were almost certainly doomed upon his resignation. And where there’s no corporate funding, there’s likely no high-powered, marketing services agencies like ElectricArtists.

{Update: Glad I wasn’t as definitive as the Metaversed blog. It appears that Marc Schiller, CEO of Electric Artists and the individual who indicated Starwood was closing its virtual doors, has qualified the company’s involvement in a communication with the Clickz website (Link). Schiller’s comments include the following:

I did indeed say that I was disappointed that Second Life was not moving fast enough to make the experience more user friendly. I do think that this is an issue for brands. For a brand, the Second Life platform today is not much better than it was a year ago. My hope is that Second Life would scale quicker. For the most part it hasn’t. And because of this, I am more cautious today about Second Life then I was when we first launched aloft. My approach for many of my clients has been for them to evaluate how things progress this Summer before jumping in. The bottom line is that for brands, Second Life needs to be much more user friendly than it is now. That was the point that I was making.

… I think that [SL] can be a good place for brands to innovate, just as aloft did. What I don’t think it’s good for is to try to replicate who you are in the real world, in the virtual world. Second Life is not user friendly enough for that.

I have to be honest. I suspect the original story is closer to the truth. My sense is that ElectricArtists sold something without fully comprehending it. I also believe his frustration is what first came out along with the original words; hence the possible – though not disputed – report that ElectricArtists is effectively giving up on the Second Life platform.

Lastly, I believe his lack of understanding shows in that next-to-last line: “What I don’t think its good for is to try to replicate who you are in the real world, in the virtual world.

I disagree.

Perhaps the real problem for companies is that who they are in the real world is actually something people don’t like or don’t really care about, and what companies are trying to do in this new space is brand people instead of winning them over (Link).}