Monday, November 19, 2007

My Second Life Avatar and Branding

I've been thinking a lot of about my avatar as a brand. The fact that she has the name "Cybergrrl" is no coincidence. That is the name I made up in late 1994 when I published my first web site - "The Web According to Cybergrrl." Back then, I was wary of putting my own photograph on the Internet so I drew a cartoon character of myself, added a hot pink cape and bold yellow letters on her chest - CG - and Cybergrrl was born.

The origin of the name was a combination of "cyberspace" coined by William Gibson in Neuromancer and "grrl" which to me meant "girl with attitude" along with a nod to the Riotgrrrls (I had been in the music business for years so was familiar with this underground community of female rockers). Within the first year of calling my business Cybergrrl, Inc. and launching a more official Cybergrrl site, I became synonymous with my online alter ego. I was Cybergrrl. In fact, people stopped calling me by my real name and only referred to me as Cybergrrl.

As far as brands were concerned, Cybergrrl seemed ideal. This was at a time when the only major "brand" was Pathfinder but that wasn't yet catching on. Yahoo was just a fun - and useful - project launched by some kids in college. The Cybergrrl site quickly gained popularity and hundreds, then thousands, of visitors a day.

The downside of a brand like Cybergrrl was the spelling. People thought I was saying "Cybergirl" and would inevitably visit the porn site that had set up shop at the alternate - albeit correct - spelling of the name. No amount of legal action could get the porn site to relinquish the name, despite the fact that my company eventually owned the registered trademark to the name. The name was especially problematic when I'd be interviewed on radio or television. On radio, people would hear and write down "cybergirl," and on TV, producers inevitably "corrected" the spelling of Cybergrrl to Cybergirl before airing the segment.

Five years later, I left my company, and all of its assets went to my former business partner. I was allowed to refer to myself as "The Original Cybergrrl," but in essence, I lost more than my brand identity - I lost my identity.

So now I'm on Second Life, and I'm reviving Cybergrrl. When I first downloaded the software and registered, I couldn't think of a more perfect name for my 3-d avatar roaming through the 3-d space. Of course, once I began meeting others in SL, I realized that my name was a bit - dated, antiquated. And hard to spell. But by then, my avatar was already getting "known." People were saying "yeah, I heard about you" or "I read your article on" or "So and so told me to get in touch with you." Cybergrrl was alive again.

Most people inworld call me Cyber and that's fine with me. I'm not so touchy about the Cybergrrl name right now, but maybe that's because I'm still the only Cybergrrl in SL. And Cybergrrl is an inworld brand. She represents my work in Second Life. She even has her own umbrella company - Cybergrrl Productions - to encompass all her activities from inworld consulting, community building, marketing, branding, event planning and organizing.

Cybergrrl Oh is me. She is an extension of what I'm doing on the real world platform. In the same way I continue to build my own personal brand, I'm building Cybergrrl's personal brand. Because when it comes down to it, we are our own most powerful brand. As far as marketing is concerned, if we can leverage ourselves, we're golden.

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