BY Andiara Petterle
CEO of Bolsa de Mulher

Marketers are waking up to the importance of associating their brands with the sale of virtual goods, making the category one of the fastest-growing advertising platforms online today. And new research shows that one key demographic almost every marketer is trying to reach — Latina women — is especially interested in buying and exchanging virtual goods. According to a recent study by our research arm, Sophia Mind, 45% of online Hispanic women living in the U.S. have purchased virtual goods, and 61% of those purchasers are between the ages of 26 and 40.Virtual goods –the non-physical objects such as game points, avatars, and gifts purchased online — are a massive market. According to market researcher Inside Network, Americans alone will purchase $1.6 billion worth of virtual goods this year, mostly for use or exchange with others in virtual worlds, multiplayer mobile and online games, social games, and social networks. In fact, half of all virtual goods purchased in 2010 will be within social games such as Pet Society and Buddy Poke.

Sophia Mind also found that Latina women are extremely open to receiving marketing messages and branded products and services alongside their virtual goods purchases. Some 75% of Latina women surveyed in the U.S., Mexico, Brazil and Argentina said they would buy more virtual goods if they also received a discount for the purchase of a real product, or an actual real product, like a magazine subscription.

Some new ways top brands are marketing their products in virtual environments include associating their brand with a specific virtual good, such as a branded virtual piece of clothing, necklace or car; offering buyers a coupon or discount for their products in return for purchasing a virtual good; and rewarding users with in-game currency when they buy a real product.

However you approach the virtual environment, here are some ways to get started:

Pick games that are popular with Latinas.

Similar to television programming, the most successful games are built from the ground up with a demographic in mind. Take Playdom’s Sorority Life, for example. This is prime hunting ground for any retailer looking to reach women between the ages of 17-35.

When adding social games to your marketing mix, make sure that this game appeals to your target audience and that your partner is able to target offers to your precise demographic. For example, our research shows that games from companies such as Zynga and Playfish are popular with U.S. Latinas as well as women in other Latin American countries.

Offer coupons for relevant goods.

Seventy-six percent of U.S. Latinas said they would buy more virtual goods if they also received a discount coupon for the purchase of a real product. Working with your social network and virtual goods partners, offer relevant coupons or discounts for your products when a customer buys a virtual good. For example, if a player in a social game buys a friend a new outfit, offer a 20% off coupon on her next purchase of an item of clothing.

Pair product purchases with free virtual goods.

According to our research, 68% of U.S. Latinas surveyed said they would buy more virtual goods if they also received a real product or service with the purchase, but what if you enabled them to get those goods for free? Many gaming companies are now pairing advertiser offers with free virtual goods or currency.

This practice, known as “transactional advertising”, allows consumers to get virtual goods for free in return for buying something from a brand like Gap or Netflix. As a brand, you can target Latinas (and other demographics who use social games) by offering them something they want (a virtual good), in return for making a purchase of your products.

For example, in a Valentine’s Day promotion, ProFlowers worked with transactional advertising company TrialPay to place offers inside Playfish’s popular Pet Society game; social gamers who sent their loved ones real flowers from within the game were awarded virtual Playfish Cash.

Engage Hispanics

Focus on security.

Even though the concern over online transactions for real goods has greatly decreased over the last few years, buyers of virtual goods still worry about security. Some 76% of American Latinas said concerns about security had kept them from making virtual goods purchases. Make sure every social network, virtual world, or social game your brand is associated with adheres to and publishes a strict security policy, and work with partners who have a trusted reputation in the market.

Also keep a close eye on what’s happening with Facebook Credits, a new sort of universal currency that gamers will be able to use across participating applications. It may be that users will be more apt to trust a credit card transaction with Facebook than an lesser-known game developer.

Make sure to cross-promote.

When running a special offer or ad connected to virtual goods purchases on a social game or social network, make sure to cross-promote it on your website, in email, video, and paid search campaigns, or any other way you usually market. For example, send an email to your marketing list saying “Get 20 Free Facebook Credits with your Next Purchase,” adding a link to your virtual goods promotion on Facebook.

The Latina consumer is one of the most attractive markets for brands today. This fast-growing demographic controls a large percentage of household spending, is technology-aware and socially focused, and is more willing than other groups to receive marketing messages from trusted brands. Since many Latinas are active users of social networks and social games, and repeat buyers of virtual goods, smart marketers should craft a strategy now to reach this sought-after demographic in the virtual world.

Story courtesy: MediaPost – Engage:Hispanics

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