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How to Win with Widget Marketing

To be added to the list of words that should be struck from the marketing vocabulary: "campaign." Campaign is a military term, and its use in marketing connotes the staging of repeated and/or sustained assault on targets, overpowering them with a resource inequity, flanking them to block a retreat, and ultimately compelling an unconditional surrender.

Maybe the word we should be using today is closer to "COM-paigns."

I'm not trying to coin it here because it's not quite right and even if it were, the introduction of new vernacular happens organically, not through some pundit's decree. Still, the point is that modern marketing is -- or certainly should be -- about collaboration: collaborating with consumers and, in the case of widget marketing, collaborating with consumers who are also publishers.

For example, CafePress.com has a neat little widget it distributes through TypePad which is a sort of CGM meets Affiliate Program meets AdSense. Personal publishers sign up for it and select some keywords that represent the content of their sites, and then upload the widget. CafePress then populates the widget with items from the 2 million or so CafePress.com stores which match the keywords.

If I were investing in (or invested in) CafePress, I'd be wild about this idea as it's essentially an affiliate program that nets the company sales, but takes the heavy lifting out of the process for publishers, allowing for seemingly targeted products at no effort.

And while it's a commendable first effort, it misses one of the fundamental tenets of widget marketing: the need for the marketer to collaborate with publishers. In the CafePress model, publishers who upload the widget really have no control over the products promoted on their sites, just as with the text ads served through AdSense. But since both are so easy to implement, their adoption is fueled more through "why not?" than by publisher profit potential.

The issue here isn't really one of inappropriate pairings for either the marketer or the publisher (for example, a store owner's products promoted alongside inappropriate content, or, since CafePress' products are themselves CGC, inappropriate products promoted alongside publishers' content). Rather, it's a model that has a very low ceiling of success for everyone except CafePress, who can win from sheer scale alone.

Widget marketing wins when ads (in whatever format they appear) show up on sites through a willful endorsement from the site owner. With many widgets currently available, as with AdSense, site owners are trying to make a quick easy buck. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. But the actual impact on sales will be minimal because the endorsement is marginalized (literally, way over on the side and probably below the fold). In a successful widget marketing campaign, publishers exercise more precise control over the content they include, and leverage their personal sphere of influence to benefit their marketer partner.

Widgets that automatically rotate content based on keywords are a fine way to add fresh content to sites without much publisher friction, but successful widget marketing will be a function of community, referrals and personal relevance, not algorithms.

It's an important lesson for all of us -- marketers and publishers alike -- to come to terms with. Right now, collaborating deeply with publishers on strategy, media and creative is the cost of doing widget marketing business for advertisers. In the not-too-distant future, this level of collaboration will pervade all forms of marketing. Widget marketing provides a fertile greenhouse, and an opportunity to develop critical new skills and thinking.

Shervin Pishevar is president and COO of Freewebs, Inc. .

Shervin Pishevar is president and member of the board of directors of Freewebs, one of the world's largest web publishers with more than 14 million members. Mr. Pishevar was an advisor for Freewebs at its early founding stages and joined as its...

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